Off The Record: David Bowie
Off The Record: David Bowie
Om Off The Record: David Bowie
Off the Record is a new in-depth music biography series that profiles the extraordinary life of an iconic artist over the course of each season. Music journalist Jordan Runtagh (People, Rolling Stone, EW and VH1) offers a revelatory look at the human behind the hits through rich, dramatic storytelling, extensive research, and interviews with those who knew them best. You know the songs, now meet the legends.
Our final episode on the life (or lives) of David Bowie begins and ends with a birthday. We start in 2013, when David reentered public life nearly a decade after his heart attack with the surprise release of “Where Are We Now," his first new song in a decade. It was one of the most stunning comebacks in music history. Most fans assumed that David had simply retired from the industry, content to live out the rest of his days as a father, husband, and anonymous New Yorker. Instead, he'd recorded an entire album of new material called 'The Next Day' entirely in secret. Even at age 66, he still had the power to shock. The story concludes with 'Blackstar.' Released the day David turned 69 in January of 2016, it’s an album that many believe was his parting gift as he faced down the illness that would claim his body two days later. Was this a knowing goodbye? We'll examine the evidence and conflicting theories. Intentional or not, it’s a fitting farewell — one that highlights David's creative daring and his absolute fearlessness. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
We’re taking a brief break from the story this week. (We’ll be back with our final chapter on David Bowie on Monday, May 3rd!) But today we have something very special in store: a conversation with Carlos Alomar — a funk guitar icon, and one of David’s most crucial musical collaborators. He cut his teeth in the late ‘60s as one of the youngest players ever in the Apollo Theater’s house band, leading to stints backing James Brown, Chuck Berry and Wilson Pickett, all while still in his teens. Carlos’ influence helped inspire David to take his famous trip to Philadelphia in 1974 to record the soul-steeped ‘Young Americans’ record. To get the sound, David tapped Carlos, who in turn assembled a group of top shelf funk musicians that included his wife, vocalist Robin Clark, and an old schoolfriend named Luther Vandross. So began a musical partnership that would last almost thirty years. Carlos played on 11 of David’s albums, including classics like ’Station to Station,’ ‘the Berlin Trilogy, and ‘Scary Monster (and Super Creeps),’ and cowrote his first American number one, “Fame.” More importantly, he was a loyal friend throughout his life. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Our latest chapter covered David Bowie’s creative renaissance in the ‘90s and early 2000s. The records that he made in this period are often overlooked but rank among the most experimental of his career, as he rejoined formative ‘70s collaborators like Brian Eno and Tony Visconti to create some of the most daring music he ever made. But one crucial collaborator during this period was new to Bowie’s circle — bassist Gail Ann Dorsey. Over the years she’s worked with everyone from Lenny Kravitz, Gang of Four and Olivia Newton John to Boy George, Tears for Fears and the Indigo Girls, not to mention her own solo work. (Definitely check out her 1988 debut LP called ‘The Corporate World’!) Her partnership with Bowie began with a call out of the blue. It was 1995 and he was looking for a bassist to join the tour to promote ‘1. Outside.’ He had seen Dorsey performing on British television seven years earlier (!) and had never forgotten her. She accompanied him on every tour for the rest of his life, and played on the albums 'Earthling,' 'Reality' and, most thrillingly, his secret comeback album 'The Next Day.' Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Today we’re looking at Bowie the Rock ‘n’ Roll Elder Statesman. Throughout the ‘90s, he continued to change and challenge, inspiring new generations with his work. Far be it from David to go gently into middle age. In this era, he produced later-career gems like '1. Outside,' 'The Buddha of Suburbia' and 'Heathen,' reconvening with creative partners like Brian Eno and Tony Visconti. But more than ever, he enjoyed life outside of the spotlight. David had a second chance at marriage and fatherhood, and was deliriously happy in both. He’d faced his demons and won. Now he faced his own mortality. And that would be a much more difficult battle. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Today’s ‘Labyrinth’ Week guest is puppeteer Steve Whitmire, who performed several characters in this beloved film — including one of the fiery figures in the “Chilly Down” dance sequence, and (my favorite) Ambrosius, the trusty dog of Sir Didymus. But these roles, impressive though they are, are just a minuscule part of his resume. If you know anything about Muppet history, then this man needs no introduction. For 26 years he was the voice and soul of Kermit the Frog. And don’t forget Ernie (of Bert and Ernie fame), Rizzo the Rat, Bean Bunny, Wembley Fraggle, Statler (of Statler and Waldorf fame), Beaker — the list goes on and on. Jordan spoke with Steve about the Muppets, the cosmic philosophy of puppetry, whether or not it’s actually easy being green, and, of course, his unforgettable encounters with Bowie on the set of ‘Labyrinth.’ Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
This week on 'Off the Record,' we're playing special tribute to Jim Henson's 1986 film 'Labyrinth,' the beloved cult classic that introduced David Bowie to generations of kids. We're kicking off the festivities with conceptual designer Brian Froud, the man who imagined world of 'Labyrinth.' A legendary illustrator and painter, the movie began with Brian’s drawings of goblins, monsters and surreal landscapes. These visions formed the basis for the film’s script, written by Monty Python veteran Terry Jones. Brian helped oversee the construction of elaborate character puppets along with his wife Wendy, a famed sculptor and puppet maker perhaps best known for fabricating Yoda for the Star Wars series. And they were also joined on the set by their baby son Toby, the child abducted by Jareth the Goblin King (aka David Bowie). Brian put his heart, soul and firstborn into this film, so it seemed only write that we kick off 'Labyrinth' Week with him. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
The climax of our last chapter is David Bowie’s set at Live Aid in the summer of 1985 . Our guest today was alongside him on the Live Aid stage – and in the helicopter on the nerve-wracking ride out to Wembley Stadium. His name is Thomas Dolby, and his time with Bowie is just one entry on his extremely lengthy resume. On his twitter bio, he describes himself as a recovering synth enthusiast, but even that barely scratches the surface. He’s best known as a techno-pop pioneer who helped define the sound of New Wave with albums like 'The Golden Age of Wireless' and 'The Flat Earth'.' His immortal 1982 smash “She Blinded Me with Science” seemed to predict his move into the burgeoning Silicon Valley tech sphere in the early ‘90s, when he developed innovative audio software for websites and cell phone ringtones. Between 2002 and 2012 he served as the musical director for TED conferences, and is presently on faculty at Johns Hopkins’ Peabody Institute, where he heads up the Music for New Media program.. Dolby was kind enough to share his vast musical insights about David Bowie’s work, and also his truly mind-blowing memories performing with Bowie at this historic concert for an audience of a billion people. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Today’s episode looks at David in the ‘80s, a time that saw him grow from a famous artist to a global superstar — a one-man brand bolstered by the fresh force of MTV. David embraced the exponential growth of mass media, and shamelessly courted mass popularity with the Nile Rodgers-assisted ‘Let’s Dance.’ He got the success he craved, but it changed his reputation in a way that was irreversible. Up till then, he was the world’s most famous outsider. To all who felt marginalized or misunderstood, he had been a towering example of power, strength, grace and courage. Now, his move to the mainstream read as a rejection of those who felt othered and looked to him as their patron, voice and guardian. Bowie himself would struggle with the impact of his creative choices — was he a sell out? It was a classic case of be careful what you wish for... Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
So far we’ve discussed the making of Bowie’s landmark track “Heroes” — one of the most mythic songs in his cannon. Everything about its creation is loaded with drama. It was recorded in an old Nazi concert hall within sight of watchful East German snipers atop the Berlin Wall. And of course there was the famous kiss by the wall, which allegedly inspired one of the song’s best known verses. Jordan’s guest today not only worked at the legendary Hansa Studios (the so-called Hall by the Wall) when “Heroes” was recorded — he actually sang on it, nose to nose with Bowie himself. And that’s just one of his many incredible stories. His name is Peter Burgon, and he worked as an assistant engineer under our previous guest, Edu Meyer. When Herr Meyer was on vacation during the sessions for ‘Heroes’ in 1977, Peter stepped in and took over. Peter shared his stories, busted some tall tales, and provided fascinating insight into Bowie and his music. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Our last two episodes followed David Bowie in the late ’70s as he recorded ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes,’ the twin pillars of his so-called Berlin Trilogy. (Sorry, ‘Lodger’ fans.) These records are an artistic triumph on nearly ever level, and contain the most innovative music Bowie ever made. In addition to co-producer Tony Visconti and mad musical scientist Brian Eno, another crucial collaborator during the German sessions was Edu Meyer. Edu was an engineer at Hansa Studios — the famous Hall by the Wall that served as David’s creative home during his time in Berlin. Edu helped David put the finishing touches on ‘Low,’ and even played the mournful cello part on “Weeping Wall” — inspired by the symbol of division and oppression looming just outside the studio windows. He also assisted on the album’s David produced for Iggy Pop, ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust for Life.’ Their working relationship stretched into the ‘80s, when David would return to Berlin to record the soundtrack to the Bertolt Brecht play ‘Baal’ in 1981, and perform his legendary 1987 concert at the Reichstag. They’d remain friends until the end of David’s life. Edu spoke to Jordan about his memories working alongside Bowie during his most creatively daring period. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Today’s episode looks at Bowie’s years in Berlin. It was a time of tremendous personal and artistic growth as the newly minted 30-year-old escaped the trappings of his showiness bubble and re-entered reality. Holed up in a nondescript apartment with his friend Iggy Pop, Bowie lived a generally anonymous life in the German capital. The experience forced him to grow up and become an adult — a scary proposition for anyone involved in rock ‘n’ roll. But newfound maturity brought exciting new music, including the landmark album 'Heroes.' At the end of the decade he’d dominated, David built on all he’d learned through the many characters he’d played. Now he was ready to move forward as himself. But the transformation would be a difficult one, as he says some painful goodbyes. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Our latest chapter chronicles The Thin White Duke, David Bowie’s most infamous and unsettling character. He makes his grand entrance on the title track to Bowie’s landmark 1976 album ‘Station to Station.’ Today we’re visited by Mr. Earl Slick, the man response for much of the album’s incendiary guitar work. Earl is a bonafide rock legend, and Bowie is just a part of his remarkable resume. That’s him on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Double Fantasy,’ and he’s also played with David Coverdale, Robert Smith, Ian Hunter, and so many others. He was just 21 when he got the gig to join Bowie on 1974’s Diamond Dogs tour, filling the lead guitar role recently vacated by Mick Ronson. He went on to become one of Bowie’s go-to guitarists and most frequent collaborators, playing on ‘Young Americans,’ Station to Station,’ ‘Heathen’ ‘Reality,’ and ‘The Next Day.’ He also performed with Bowie onstage for an incalculable number of live gigs spanning thirty years. Jordan spoke to Earl about Bowie, the Beatles — and lots and lots of guitars. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Today’s chapter is a portrait at The Thin White Duke, the manifestation of megalomania and paranoia that gripped David Bowie at his personal low. Among his most frightening creations, the icy character unveiled on the title track to 1976’s ‘Station to Station’ is the physical embodiment of the drug abuse and psychic darkness that threatened to destroy him following years of mired in the toxic hedonism of Hollywood. Thankfully, he would rescue himself from these dire circumstances and move back in Europe, ultimately settling in Berlin along with his friend (and fellow substance abuser) Iggy Pop. The city would be both his savior and muse, providing the right environment to purge the noxious influences of Los Angeles and foster some of his most daring musical achievements. With help from longtime co-producer Tony Visconti and new friend/synth enthusiast Brian Eno, Bowie abandoned the flashy theatricality of his past and rewrote his musical language — fusing his beloved R&B with the proto-techno sounds of German bands like of Neu! and Kraftwerk. The result, ‘Low,’ would rank among his greatest work, kicking off a stunning string of albums later dubbed ‘The Berlin Trilogy.’ But more impressive than his musical reinvention was his personal one. David curbed his drug use and enjoyed an anonymous life that approached a healthy sense of normalcy. “Berlin was my clinic,” he said years later. “It brought me back in touch with people. It got me back on the streets; not the street where everything is cold and there’s drugs, but the streets where there were young, intelligent people trying to get along.” The city had rescued him from the almost certain oblivion. Not only was Bowie growing leaps and bounds as an artist, but he was also making his first tentative steps towards peace. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Our latest chapter of ‘Off The Records’ delves into a dark era for David Bowie: the months spent in Los Angeles in 1975. Famously subsisting on a diet of cocaine, milk and red peppers, he stayed awake for days at a time, driving himself to the brink of sanity through malnutrition and sleep deprivation. “It was a dangerous period for me,” David would later say. “I was at the end of my tether physically and emotionally and had serious doubts about my sanity.” But from the depths of his personal hell, he produced the landmark ‘Station to Station,’ an album that most fans rank among the best work he ever made. For the first few months of his stay, David lived with his friend Glenn Hughes, a rock icon in his own right. Glenn was in the midst of his tenure as the bass player for Deep Purple. They’d met in Hollywood the previous year, when the band was recording their hard rock epic ‘Stormbringer’ and David was in town to perform his Diamond Dogs extravaganza. The pair hit it off and stayed in touch. When David made the move from New York to LA to make his feature film debut in ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ a few months later, he decided to stay with Hughes to keep a low profile. The excesses of the period have gone down in rock lore. Witches exorcising pool. Phantom falling bodies. Nazi news reels on loop. Thankfully, both men made it out of the grips of addiction. David decamped to Berlin to push his music boundaries with albums like ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes.’ (But we’ll get to that.) Glenn Hughes continued to enjoy a remarkable run in Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, the supergroup Black Country Communion, and a host of solo projects. Most recently, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer joined the group the Dead Daisies, who released their latest album ‘Holy Ground’ in January. Jordan spoke to Glenn about his new music and his time as David Bowie’s housemate back in 1975. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
At the height of his fame in the mid-'70s, David Bowie battled his deepest demons in the City of Angels. After a costly split from his management company, he found himself adrift in Hollywood, driving himself to the brink of sanity with a diet of cocaine, milk and red peppers. Time passed in a breakneck blur as Bowie stayed up for three or four days at a stretch. The mix of sleep deprivation and drugs drove into a state almost indistinguishable from psychosis,. His grasp on reality slipping, he lost himself in paranoid delusions and obsessions with paranormal phenomena.. Bowie would remember few specifics of the period — just disturbing emotional impressions. Over the course of his days-long bouts of consciousness, his world would transform into “a bizarre nihilistic fantasy of oncoming doom, mythological characters and imminent totalitarianism.” It was the low point of his life, and nearly the end of it. Somehow, in the midst of this personal nadir, he pulled himself back from the edge of oblivion, filming his defining movie role, and recording an album that many consider a masterpiece: 'Station to Station.' Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
In our latest chapter, David Bowie went from Starman to Soulman, trading high concept sci-fi tales and glam rock for the music that had enthralled him as a boy — rhythm and blues. David’s renewed love of R&B was stoked by his new girlfriend at the time, a striking young model and burgeoning singer named Ava Cherry. They’d met at a party in early 1973 and quickly hit it off. As she would later say, their romance had all the hallmarks of a fairy tale — strolls in Paris, nights in an elegant castle, cheering crowds, celebrity friends and lots of great songs. Sounds almost like a Disney movie — except for the fact that David was still technically married to his wife, Angie. That part’s a little different. Ava acted as Bowie’s guide through the American soul scene, fulfilling his lifelong dream by bringing him to Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater. David’s renewed passion for soul led him to Philadelphia to cut the relentlessly funky Young Americans, which featured Ava on backing vocals. She also joined him onstage as part of the so-called ‘Philly Dogs’ tour in late 1974. In addition to her role in helping shape Bowie’s musical legacy, she shared his private life — loving a side of David that few would ever get to see. Ava spoke to Jordan about her time with David, and the memories and music that they shared during those golden years in the mid '70s. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
In August 1974, Patti Brett was among the throngs of supremely devoted David Bowie fans camped outside of Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound while the man himself toiled inside, undergoing his transformation from Starman to Soulman. Bowie was hard at work recording ‘Young Americans,’ the funked-out R&B album that would mark his most abrupt musical shift to date. Seeking some instant feedback on his new sound, he invited a handful of fans inside for an impromptu listening party. It was the least he could to do thank them for their unwavering dedication. Bowie sat alongside his young admirers — including Brett — as they absorbed the new tracks and danced together until dawn. The night remains one of Brett’s most cherished memories. In the latest bonus episode of ‘Off the Record,’ she recalls the unforgettable moment when her wildest fan fantasies came true. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
David Bowie arrived on U.S. shores in the spring of 1974 to launch the mammoth Diamond Dogs tour, the Broadway-style production inspired by Orwell’s 1984, and his own unnerving trip behind the Iron Curtain. The show was his most elaborate venture to date, epitomizing the dystopian drama that had made him a star. Yet as David spent more and more time in the States, he found himself reconnecting with the music that enthralled him as a young boy: American soul and R&B. This radical departure brought the risk of alienating his fans, who all but worshipped David’s sci fi characters. But with the help of some of the finest funk players of the era — plus a Beatle — it became his biggest success to date. Trading choreographed theater for genuine emotion proved to be a revelation for David, and a major artistic leap forward. But his escalating cocaine use threatened everything: his career, his marriage, and his life. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
We’re taking a quick a quick midseason break from our story this week; we’ll have the next chapter of Bowie’s life for you on Monday, March 8th! But today we have something extra special in store — a conversation with Mr. Ken Scott, the man who co-produced a string of Bowie’s most beloved albums, including Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane. For most people, that’s enough bragging rights to last a lifetime, yet it’s just a small part of Ken’s legendary career. On his first day as an engineer at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, he was enlisted to assist a little band called the Beatles. (No pressure, right?). The list of names he’s worked with reads like a roll call for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame: Elton John, Lou Reed, Jeff Beck, Harry Nilsson, Supertramp, Devo, Duran Duran, Procol Harum — and, of course, Bowie. His 2012 memoir, Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust, provides illuminating insights on how these classics came together in the studio. Tune in as Ken goes deep with Jordan on making some of Bowie’s best. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Tony Zanetta is a crucial figure in New York’s experimental downtown drama scene of late '60s and early ‘70s. He first entered David Bowie’s orbit as a cast member of Andy Warhol's play ‘Pork’ in 1971 (co-starring with last week's guest, Cherry Vanilla.) Soon he would be swept up in the whirlwind of David's management company, MainMan, headed up by Bowie's larger than life manager, Tony DeFries. In practice, the organization was more like an elaborate performance piece than a strict bottom-line business. This may explain way DeFries hired Zanetta to be MainMan's president despite his total lack of business experience. Zanetta would later be drafted into a much more demanding role as David's tour manager, overseeing the treks for Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs. Keeping the show on the road and the egos in check, all with a daily operating budget of close to zero dollars? It wasn’t a job for the faint of heart! Zanetta spoke to Jordan about those thrilling days on tour with David, as his star soared to new heights — and how everything changed in an instant. Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
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