David Bowie: Star Dust Memories | EW.com


David Bowie: Star Dust Memories

On the verge of yet another incarnation, a 50-year-old David Bowie looks back on his glittery, glam past

Dave Grohl is backstage at New York’s Madison Square Garden when an envoy hands him a cream-colored envelope. As he slides it open, Grohl — the frontman of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana’s former drummer — suddenly realizes that David Bowie and his Somalian supermodel wife, Iman, have invited him to a private soiree. He presses the invite to his lips and gives it a smooch. He leaps up and down. He breaks into song: ”I’ve got the golden ticket! I’ve got the golden ticket!”

”’Iman requests the pleasure of your company…!”’ Grohl reads aloud. ”How hot is that? This is not supposed to happen to dumb people like me.”

Actually, it wasn’t supposed to happen to Bowie, either. On this slushy night of Jan. 9, aristocrats of the alternative nation — Grohl, Sonic Youth, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, Robert Smith of the Cure — have gathered at the Garden to pay homage to the Thin White Duke as part of a gargantuan benefit concert to celebrate his 50th birthday. Originally, Bowie says, the show’s producers wanted to fluff up his half-century bash with safe choices — mainstream Bowie cronies like Tina Turner, Luther Vandross, and Mick Jagger who would entice pay-per-viewers when a filmed version of the concert airs on HBO March 8. But the artist formerly known as Aladdin Sane opted for all the young dudes. ”I didn’t want to do that sort of tribute-y retrospective thing,” Bowie says. ”I made a wish list of the guests that I would be happy working with, so that the event felt as though I’m still doing stuff now. I’m not a nostalgic person.”

Indeed, Bowie refuses to go gently into his golden years. Repudiating the slick, floppy-haired soul of his most commercially flush period — the Let’s Dance phase of the big ’80s — Bowie’s upcoming Earthling album, due in stores Feb. 11, burbles with the dense, spiky, hyperkinetic dance sound that’s taken Europe by storm: electronic music variously known as jungle or drum-and-bass. Last year Madonna inducted Bowie into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; he neglected to show up. He shuns his old hits in concert. ”My understanding of success over the last 10 years has gotten back to what it used to be when I was working in the ’70s,” Bowie says. ”The thing I always wanted more than anything else was creative success.”

True, that contrarian attitude hasn’t given Bowie a hit in over a decade, but it has put him back in the ”cool” column. Just as the ornery, ever-wandering Neil Young was embraced as the Godfather of Grunge six years ago, Bowie — the Master of Morph who declared his bisexuality in 1972, changed stage personas faster than most rock stars change chords, and slyly impersonated Andy Warhol in last year’s film Basquiat — is suddenly seen as the brave emblem of an endlessly shifting pop climate. ”He set the prototype for so many things,” says Corgan. ”It’s the chameleon aspect,” says Grohl. ”He can do anything well. He can look like a bum, he can look like a supermodel.”

Bowie may cringe at nostalgia, but lately everyone seems to recall that first outrageous glimpse of a glammed-out Ziggy Stardust in the ’70s. ”He was emaciated, he had bright orange hair and silver lipstick and no eyebrows,” says the Cure’s Smith. ”And he looked fantastic. The potency of the image was so strong that the next day at school everyone was saying ‘Did you see Bowie on Top of the Pops?!”’