David Bowie was fed up with rock and roll by 1975. He said as much to Cameron Crowe, who was interviewing the British superstar on behalf of Playboy Magazine. “It’s a boring dead end,” Bowie claims. “There will be no more rock ‘n’ roll records or tours from me. The last thing I want to be is some useless fucking rock singer.”
Of course, Bowie would make experimental rock-adjacent music for the next four decades, and he would stage many a tour in the process. Still, he never became the useless rock singer he thought would come with such actions and age.
The interview itself is a wild ride from start to finish. Bowie makes a series of flippant remarks about sexuality and rock stardom, and this is the infamous interview where he makes his regretful remarks about fascism. “I believe very strongly in fascism,” he said, adding: “The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that’s hanging foul in the air at the moment is to speed up the progress of a right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny and get it over as fast as possible. People have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership… Television is the most successful fascist, needless to say. Rock stars are fascists, too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.”
It’s worth keeping in mind that this was the time when Bowie was supposedly living on only cocaine, milk, and peppers, so anything and everything he says should be taken under consideration that he was likely out of his mind on drugs when he made them. Still, it does make for a fantastic time capsule of Bowie during his ‘Thin White Duke’ era, especially when it comes to his view of his fellow rock and roll contemporaries.
Crowe attempts to get Bowie to talk about Elton John, but Bowie demures and distracts him with an out-of-the-blue suggestion. “I’d much rather listen to him on the radio than talk about him. Let’s do something else. Want to write a song?” he said. From there, Cameron Crowe and David Bowie begin woodshedding a new song that features references to other rock stars. “We’ll call the song ‘Audience’ and it’ll be about rock ‘n’ roll,” Bowie explains. “All right? I’m gonna say, ‘Led Zeppelin is solid. They make you like a wall.’ [Writes it down] Quick. Give me the name of an artist, someone in rock.”
Crowe offers up Stevie Wonder, “Good. ‘Stevie Wonder is growing and you love him most of all.’ [Writes it down] He’s sort of the golden boy, everybody loves him. Who else? Name a good songwriter.” This time, Crowe mentions Joni Mitchell.
“Joni Mitchell has our hearts.” [Writes it down] She does, doesn’t she?” Bowie says. “OK, let me get my guitar. [Looks at what he’s written and begins strumming and humming softly] All right, here we go. [Sings] ‘Led Zeppelin is growing, erasing our minds / They make us feel stony, they make us go blind / Hey, Stevie Wonder, there like a wall / So good to lean on, the hardest of all.’ Isn’t that a nice little tune?”
‘Audience’ never became an actual song, and it was likely just a diversion for Bowie to reclaim control over the interview. Crowe was a 19-year-old superfan, so what better way to get him to stop asking you questions you don’t want to answer than by writing a song right in front of him. It’s genius, probably mad loony genius, but still.
Crowe asks if that’s how he wrote ‘Changes’. Bowie says no, but claims that was how most of Diamond Dogs was written. He then proceeds to make a reference to Rodney Dangerfield before the duo move on to a different topic. The only word that can properly describe the interview is “bananas”.