(A Kinda Album Review of Bowie’s The Next Day)


photo by Tom Hearn
Legs McNeil 1976

While I was perusing the records in the Williamsburg hipster record store, in my on-going attempt to rebuild my vinyl collection, I came across the new David Bowie album, The Next Day. Since I’ve been enjoying quiet a few lesser known (at least to me) Bowie cuts these days, I decided to throw caution to the wind, really get wild– and buy Bowie’s new record. This is real feat for me, because I’ve certainly never bought a record sight unheard– where I hadn’t heard at least one song off the album. I’ve never bought a record on blind (deaf?) faith alone. It was finally time, since I’d been hearing good things about the record and I was curious to hear what an artist like David Bowie had to say at the end of his career– and if the rumors are true about him having cancer– at the end of his life.

While I was paying for the record, I was reminded of the famous Mick Jagger quote about David Bowie, “Never wear a new pair of shoes in front of him.” Jagger’s implication was that Bowie was a notorious thief– of ideas, trends or the latest fashions, so you never wanted to wear anything new in front of him– or Bowie would run right out get it in order to claim “ultra-hipper-than-though-trend-setting status.”

Yeah, be the first one on the block with a new, red-rooster uni-sex cut and ten-inch, sparkling platform shoes!

Which is what Bowie’s career was truly about, but that doesn’t make him any more or less of an artist in my book, since he created the future in front of our eyes and ears, (even if Bowie’s future resembled a cheesy 50’s sci-fi movie) and ended up making some really great rock & roll. I mean, the best people steal from great inspirations; it was just a bit funny that Bowie was so desperate about it.

I had a run-in with David Bowie at Andy Warhol’s Factory one day in late 1976 or early 1977 that proved Jagger’s quip about David right on the money. I’d become friends with Andy Warhol after doing an interview with him for PUNK magazine, and I used to bring the new issues by for Andy’s “expert critiques.” Andy used to stand over a desk, furiously thumbing through our latest magazine, whining, “Oh you’ve got so many brilliant ideas! I don’t have any ideas! This is so wonderful, I wish I could have ideas like this!”

I’d just grin as I stared at all Andy’s wonderful skull paintings hanging on the walls and say, “Yeah, right Andy.” I’d never been anywhere where the term “art” was so furiously questioned, examined and discussed– or so beautifully created on such a regular bases. The Factory was truly a magical place where anything seemed possible.

I forget who told me Bowie was going to be at the Factory, but when PUNK editor-in-chief, John Holmstrom, heard the news, he packed me up with a cheap cassette tape recorder (the kind I still use) and told me not to come back to the “Punk-Dump,” our cave-like offices at 10th Avenue and 30th Street– without a David Bowie interview.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this was David Bowie’s second summit meeting with Warhol– after their disastrous first meeting in 1971 when Bowie was just starting out and had been so excited to play his new song, Andy Warhol, for the pop artist. Andy, in typical Warhol fashion said absolutely nothing after hearing the song, then pulled out his Polaroid camera and said to Bowie, “I really like your shoes!”

David was crushed. But that day at the Factory in the mid 70’s, Bowie was returning as a genuine rock & roll star, he had proved himself to be a viable commercial entity– and of comparable status to Andy Warhol. He was returning as an equal! Like I said, I knew nothing about this at the time, I was just excited that Marty Thau, the producer of the new Suicide album had taken my advice and mixed Alan Vegas vocal’s above Marty Rev’s savage organ.

When Marty Thau played me the rough mixes of the Suicide record, the vocals were so buried as to be unintelligible– well, they still are– but I yelled at Thau to mix them above the organ– and he actually did it– and had given me an acetate (test pressing) to prove it. Yeah, Alan’s vocals were still dementedly whispered– but at least now you could hear him screaming. I’m sure Alan Vega also insisted on a new mix too– but I was proud of my little contribution as I was a huge Suicide fan.

Unfortunately I’d just picked up the acetate from Marty Thau before I had to go to the Factory to try and get the Bowie interview, and couldn’t wait to get to some girl’s apartment or the Ramones loft on Second Street to play it, since I didn’t have my own place, and Holmstrom monopolized the stereo at the Dump with Lou Reed’s shitty Metal Machine Music, a double album of pure feedback–and the worst record in the history of noise.

“No, you don’t understand,” Holmstrom would say when I told him to take that shit off, “It’s really punk!”

Yeah, right John.

There was a crowd of people surrounding Bowie when he walked through the Factory to the back room where Andy was waiting for him, surrounded by his own coterie of supporters. It was more like a gang-war then private meeting, as all the hangers-on were topping themselves with one-liners, vying to be noticed for the history books. I’m sure Andy was relieved to have so many people around because he seldom had much to say, ever.

I waited by the receptionist’s desk, up front, for 45 minutes to an hour, for Bowie to remerge so I could ask him for the interview and be on my way. It was excruciatingly boring, as all the gay guys who worked for Andy were too important to talk to me. Real fucking snobs. I tried hitting on the only girl in the place, Katherine Guinness, the heiress to the Guinness beer fortune, who was mildly amused by my efforts., but wasn’t interested. Like I said, boring.

Finally Bowie came out the back room, still surrounded by his minions, who seemed to have doubled in size behind the closed door– and as he was bidding Andy a fond farewell, I slipped up to him and said, “Mister Bowie, I was wondering if you’d be willing to do an interview for Punk…”

And then Bowie grabbed the Suicide test-pressing out of my hand as his entourage swept him down the hall, into the elevator and outside to the waiting limo, where he was off to the next fabulous event.

I didn’t even have time to say, “HEY YOU FUCKING POOFTER, GIMMIE BACK MY FUCKING SUICIDE RECORD,” which is what I was thinking. (Hey, David, if you’re reading this, please give it back before you croak. I love that record!)

I did get back at Bowie though. A few weeks later he came to CBGB’s with Bianca Jagger, which wasn’t that strange, what was strange about it was that it was on some off-night, in the middle of the week, when some shitty band was playing and only the die-hard drunks were there, me, Cheetah Chrome, Joey Ramone, Robin Rothman and bunch of others.

“Ha, ha, ha, you ain’t at Studio 54 now, asshole,” I thought to myself as I watched David and Bianca traverse the piles of dogshit on the floor that Hilly Krystal’s Saluki’s had deposited. Then I went outside and stole the hubcaps off his limousine– and I even fucked that up– as I read in the New York Post the next day that their limo got a flat tire on the way home from CB’s.

Which brings me to my review Bowie’s new album, The Next Day– it’s okay, it’s a double album, and one side of it’s really boring and one side of it’s really good. But since it doesn’t have any of the songs printed on the label, I can’t tell which side is which. The good side has some song about some girl from a small town that he can’t believe, “is the boss of me.” And another really great song where the lyrics are just, “Blah, blah, blah,” which he probably stole from Iggy, ha, ha, ha!

Nice to see that something’s never change.

And that David Bowie can still pull it off, irregardless of what shape he’s in…


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