She helped make her now-legendary husband David Bowie a star—managed his early career, shaped his Ziggy alter ego, even sewed his costumes—but had enough after 10 years and one child (film director Duncan Jones). When faced with what to do for an encore, Angie Bowie-Barnett started a new life as a writer, performer, even working construction for a spell. Today, she’s still pursuing her various muses. She spoke with Lucretia Tye Jasmine for PKM.
A few years ago, Angela Bowie–Barnett stood in the bar of the Chateau Marmont, her presence as charismatic as any rock star, including that of her former husband, David Bowie. She was reading from her book, Lipstick Legends (2012), and she looked so great in a black dress that fit her perfectly, her short blonde hair tousled and sexy, her voice raspy, her glitter shoes and big–as–life gestures! I complimented her shoes, and she said she’d affixed the inexpensive glitter decorations herself. What charm!
Angie was 19 when she met David, who was 22, in 1969. They met backstage after David played the Roundhouse in London, introduced by a mutual lover who worked at Mercury Records. They dated, going to a King Crimson concert and dancing the Jive at the Speakeasy. By the end of the year, they moved in together to South London’s Haddon Hall, a vast Victorian building with towers and corridors and roof beams. They rented the ground–floor, painted their ceilings silver, and conceptualized David’s alter ego, Ziggy Stardust.
According to The Girl in the Song (2010), by Michael Heatley and Frank Hopkinson, when Angie left to visit her parents for the holidays, David called her and played an acetate of a song he’d written for her over the phone, “The Prettiest Star.” They married in 1970.
Angie and David looked like androgynous siblings in those wild days of the 1970s. The Rolling Stones released the song “Angie” in 1973, but Glimmer Twins Keith and Mick deny that the song is about Angela Bowie. In 1975, she sang “I’ve Got A Crush On You” on The Mike Douglas Show, and David called her afterwards to congratulate her. Over the phone, he dedicated his latest recording, “Golden Years, ” to her.
Angie, who promoted her husband’s musical career, sewed the first Ziggy costume, and gave birth to their son, was permanently banned from going on tour with David after she was sent home during an American tour. They divorced in 1980.
It wasn’t the first time she’d been expelled. According to Victoria Balfour’s Rock Wives (1986), when Angie was 16, she attended the Connecticut College for Women, which expelled her because of her intimate relations with another (female) student. So Angie travelled to London (where she met David), for studies at secretarial school and Kingston Polytechnic.
Born Mary Angela Barnett on the island of Cyprus on September 25, 1949, Angie’s upbringing was cosmopolitan and consistent. Her parents were married to the death, and they “got on famously.” Her Canadian mom, Helena, was an artist who was 43 when Angie was born, and her American dad, George, a mining engineer and a war hero. Angie has an older brother, but there was “no roughhousing.” Angie grew up surrounded by books and music provided by her mother, who had a musical ability to learn languages, speaking Italian and Russian and English, and her father, who was a U.S. Army colonel.
“They answered my questions,” Angie tells me. Her mom said George was her “library of essential information,” and her dad said Helena was his “moral compass.” The family travelled all over Europe.
“They were wonderful,” Angie says.
At about eleven or twelve, “when I got good at sports, I started to realize that I really didn’t give a rat’s ass about looking like a cute girly,” Angie said. She was a talented athlete—a ballet dancer who skied, did gymnastics, skated, and joined the debating society. She competed. In theater, she played the parts of boys because she was so tall. “That was fun,” she now recalls.
She also didn’t care if she was popular. “All I had to be was the best.” When she lived in Switzerland for seven years, studying at an exclusive Swiss boarding school, it was “sheer joy.”
By age 12 or 13, “I also noticed how easy it was for me to curl my hair, put make–up on, get men to do what I needed. That was just another skill.” Her dad didn’t want her to embarrass him, so she promised she wouldn’t sleep with any men until she was 18 and out of the house. “So when I went off to Connecticut College of course I had an affair with a girl because I knew I wouldn’t get pregnant.”
That changed her life. She realized it was one or the other, boy or girl. It didn’t matter; you could find the attraction. What’s more challenging to find, Angie tells me, is a person with a “balanced and stable attitude. People have to grow into their sexuality.”
She says, “It’s really a good idea not to get involved seriously with anybody” at a young age and to “just experiment, because you can get wound up in really weird relationships.” A young person’s mental balance is still being established regarding sexuality, which is such “a huge part of our personalities.”
The stage command I hear in her voice makes room for others. Her voice sounds like an attentive good time, focused and freewheeling. When she asks how I’m doing during this pandemic, she really listens to my answer (I’m okay as long as I stay in the moment and focus on a project). During the quarantine, she misses seeing people in person.
“It’s fun to watch their body language, and how they perform for each friend differently,” she says. “I miss that. I miss the daily street theatre of life.”
She believes we should learn from history. For example, we could be better prepared with protective gear and emergency services, and not hasten re–opening. We could maintain funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adding to the general malaise, she says, is the realization that doctors are in league with the pharmaceutical industry, charging exorbitant amounts for in–patient care.
In her memoir, Backstage Passes, she wrote that letting her son go was like performing an amputation on herself. But Duncan Zowie, born in 1971, had always been her gift to David. The couple promoted sexual freedom and pansexuality even as they married and had a child, and, “according to a lot of people whose lives it influenced, it must’ve been the right thing to do.”
I mention a film clip of her with David when a reporter asks her if she minds all the attention he got. She didn’t mind, they wanted him to be a star! And, she added, “I had lovers of my own.” Her glamorous gown and his fans and their open marriage!
She had no problems with groupies, either. Groupies were “amazing fans who were totally fabulous,” she tells me. “You show your appreciation in whatever way it is.” But she wasn’t a groupie because she didn’t (and doesn’t) want “anything that undermines my ability to be who I am, that is, a person who has a point of view and an opinion, and every right to have all of them.”
Finding trusted friends is “hard work. It takes a lot out of you. It tires you out. There’s always a lot of disappointment that goes with meeting wonderful folks. There’s a lot of enemies and a lot of predatory people around who would like nothing better than to take all the good things that you have to offer and to serve them up as a banquet to somebody else and take a commission.”
“Some people are gorgeous and kind and fabulous, some people are gratuitous and assholes, some people are womanizers, some people are drug addicts, and sometimes they’re all of the above. You just have to see what you can tolerate, and what you can endure…What you can make work.”
Responding to my question, “Was David the love of your life?” Angie says, “Excuse me?”
I repeat the question, falteringly. “Good God, no!” We laugh. “I had a headache with David, I really did. And it wasn’t anything to do with him. It was to do with the people stealing the business from me…I was furious.”
But managing someone’s career is tedious. “They’re totally and utterly egocentric. Not at all interested in anyone else on the planet. Dealing with them becomes tedious after ten years.”
Their break–up didn’t feel like a betrayal.
“I was dying to get out.” David’s drug addiction made him the best liar. “I just couldn’t stand it. It was nauseating. It made me sick. So I just wanted to get it over with and be gone.”
“At a certain stage, you just stop. You’ve realized…it’s enough now. And you want to move on.”
It was difficult to find a lawyer who would represent a woman giving up custody of her son. She was viewed as “a disgusting female. How could I not want custody of my child?” She found a lawyer in Los Angeles. Zowie stayed with David.
Some people are gorgeous and kind and fabulous, some people are gratuitous and assholes, some people are womanizers, some people are drug addicts, and sometimes they’re all of the above. You just have to see what you can tolerate, and what you can endure…
After the publication of her second memoir, Backstage Passes (1993), “I had a lot of difficulties.” She moved to Atlanta, with her daughter, Stacia (born in 1981, from Angie’s former lover, the musician, Drew Blood). “I had to do all the parenting, and I had to find a way to earn a living.”
At a local club where she was performing, she met Michael Gassett, who was 17 years younger than she. Her good friend Leee Black Childers said, “Why not?” They’ve been together ever since.
She began working in construction with Gassett, a licensed electrician. “I’m strong and I know how to do shit,” and liked being employable outside the arts, knowing she could earn an hourly wage. She could “feed my child, pay the rent, yadda yadda.”
“Are you a feminist?” I ask.
“Oh yes. Big time. All you gotta do is talk down to me, patronize, minimize, marginalize…and I will be on you like a ton of bricks. You will not know what hit you. You will wish you had woken up another day on another continent.”
I ask her about #MeToo. “Everyone has a right to be heard,” she says. She was raped in NYC at the Seville Hotel after being roofied, the entire staff of MainMan (who managed David Bowie) watching as she was carried off by two strangers. Her driver, Tony Massia, was the first person she saw afterwards. “When he stood up and saw me, with my dress covered in blood trailing behind me, he burst into tears.” She didn’t report the rape. Cops “treated you like shit if you came in with some kind of sexual abuse case.”
How do you deal with that, I ask. “Just carry on. Worse things have happened to people.”
I ask her about underage sex. She replies: “It’s never been acceptable to rule people with drugs,” which is related to sex trafficking. “Poor everybody,” she says. “Whatever we say or do, it’s not going to change how people act and how they use drugs and inebriation as a tool to get what they want sexually from their partner.”
Angie says if the statute of limitations has run out, then perpetrators must be shamed, publicly “known as a type of sexual pervert.”
All you gotta do is talk down to me, patronize, minimize, marginalize…and I will be on you like a ton of bricks. You will not know what hit you. You will wish you had woken up another day on another continent.”
We discuss the use of violence and sex in films, agreeing that those are ways used by creepy directors to avoid telling a story. “Tell me a good story!” she proclaims. She’s serious about writing, going to bed early to “get up in the middle of the night, write for 3-4 hours, then domestic goddess catering for my partner, and after a rest, I write for another 3.”
In 2002, Angela Bowie-Barnett released her debut album, Moon Goddess. She’s written several books: Free Spirit (1983), Backstage Passes (1993), The Pocket Essential Guide to Bisexuality (2002), Lipstick Legends (2012), and Pop.Sex (2014). A poem and coloring book, Cat-Astrophe (2014), and her poem and lyric collection, Fancy Footwork (2015), are both illustrated by Rick Hunt, with whom she runs Whamco Publishing.
After we talked, I dreamt she and I were on a boat in the ocean. She fell backwards over the helm in the water. She was so graceful and fun about it that I took photos. So she did the fall twice! Her gown diaphanous and colorful with water and sunlight sparkling. She was smiling and so happy. I intuited a resistance from the people on the boat to her beauty in tumult. But she looked so beautiful as she threw herself back in the water, so life–loving, her laughter pure and real.
She was making sure we got it right.