Reporter’s Notebook: David Bowie: That time the Thin White Duke needed reassurance
“Hallo Dean, it’s David,” came that unmistakable voice on the phone, the voice of Ziggy Stardust, the voice of the Thin White Duke. It was 1999 and I had just bought my first cellphone and now he was talking on it: David Bowie.
“Oh, hi,” I said calmly, curling up in fetal delight on the salt-encrusted carpet of my apartment in Marina del Rey. Eventually I choked out, “What’s up?”
“Ha ha!” he laughed, he was always laughing. “Look: I want to talk to you about a movie idea,” he said, and we went on to discuss writing a film treatment together based on “The Man Who Sold The World.”
But the clues for what he wanted from me were there in the shattered, remixed graphic design style born with Raygun. Like several other artists, Bowie had come to us looking to be part of a new aesthetic, a hybrid magazine for the ultimate hybrid artist. “End of Print” designer David Carson had famously quit Raygun when the publishers rejected his cover featuring Bowie’s neck – just his long, iconic neck – about which Bowie belly-laughed when I was editing his original essay on Yoko Ono, Tony Oursler and Roy Lichtenstein for the book, “Raygun Out Of Control.”
A week or so later we were in a little workroom at Isolar, Bowie’s offices on 5th Avenue, just him and me and his longtime girl Friday, Coco Schwab, all of us scribbling notes. He was beautifully dressed and coiffed and always himself, Bowie, but unguarded, spitballing, and making huge leaps across subjects.
Our treatment had to make sense but, as anyone who has seen his videos from “Blackstar” or his new theatrical production “Lazarus” can attest, Bowie preferred a certain surreality.
My heart broke. He worried that his surreal vision was too obscure, his many personae too fragmented. I reassured him that when your art is one of the root references of the present, you are always relevant.
“I wonder,” he said, unconvinced.
We never made our movie. But when my son was born later that year, he and Iman planted a tree in his honor, and I was privileged to edit her book, “I Am Iman.” It’s a little-known fact that Bowie gave great hugs.
He leaped onto the stage for the last two notes and that voice emerged: “White Light!” That’s how I think of him now.
Dean Kuipers is a writer living in Los Angeles
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