A really strange one this. Should it have been in print at all? Is this something that people needed to know? NME thought so, but I am unsure. In Norway the Press have made some ethcial rules for themselves called the “Exercise Caution – Placard”. It contains a set of rules that journalists are obliged to follow. The placards last words are written in uppercase letters: “WORDS AND IMAGES ARE POWERFUL WEAPONS. DO NOT ABUSE THEM!”
I don`t know if something like this exists in other countries, but it certainly should. The written word can be incredibly powerful, and sometimes people may have to be protected from themselves (But not in a oppressive regime kind of way). This one is out there already, and that`s why I chose to print it on my blog. The story told between the lines may be of interest to Bowie fans.
A Mother`s Anguish
David never comes to see me
David Bowie`s mum pours her heart out to Charles Shaar Murray
Mrs. Jones lives in a fairly pleasant block of flats on one of those wide, tree-dotted Beckenham streets that seem to display examples of every conceivable variety of 20th century British tack architecture.
Her flat is a curious mixture of the commonplace – i.e. the kind of stuff that you`d expect to find in the home of a middle-aged lady living alone – and the unexpected. Like the stack of David Bowie albums over by the TV set mixed in with the movie soundtracks and the better-known classics, the huge, garish Bogart poster over the Bahaus table, the display of gold discs propped face-backwards against the wall in the hall, the family-size black and white print circa “Space Oddity” David Bowie ranged dead centre on the living room wall, the painting of Bowie-as-Ziggy in the corner.
Mrs. Jones is David Bowie`s mother.
She phoned up the NME office a week or two after our Bowie/Hitler cover story, and said that she thought that her boy was “a terrible hypocrite” and that she wanted to do an interview and elaborate on same.
Which is weird in the extreme. I mean, I`m entering my sixth year of writing-about-rock-for-fun-and-profit and one thing I`d never encountered before was the act`s parent ringing up to do some vicarious scolding of their famous prodigy. The closest parallel was the infamous affair of John Lennon`s dad back in `63.
Halfway up the stairs and Mrs. Jones is waiting in the doorway. Paul McCartney would probably describe her as a sort of mum kind of thing. She`s wearing a sleeveless floral dress and sensible shoes, and around the mouth and eyes she looks very much like Mr. Bowie.
“The only thing that a person over sixty can say to me,” Lenny Bruce once said, “is `Have you had enough to eat`?” In short order, I`m supplied with a glass of lemonade and an Embassy and the brass tacks are gotten down to.
What had initially aroused her ire was Bowie`s spiel about how morals had become so disgusting and how it was time for a bit of good ol` fashioned fascism etc. etc.
“But he changes so, doesn`t he? He`s changing his views about everything all the time. He`s like a chameleon. There`ll never be a dictatorship here, and why he says he`d want one I don`t know.”
Uppermost on her mind, though, is her own particular situation. “What about his mother?” she asks rhetorically. “I`ve been widowed five years, and at the beginning of my widowhood he was very good to me. This” – she gestures round the flat – “is my property, but he furnished it for me…”
Which figures. The furniture definitely bears the stamp of Bowie`s taste circa `71.
“… and then he got the contract with that awful man DeFries.”
Cue dramatic background music.
“Then he seemed to change. I`m a very sensitive person – in fact I`m oversensitive – and I get upset very easily. If it`s anything to do with David, it breaks my heart. We sent him to boarding school, he`s had a home always, he was always able to go to his father for everything… and since he went to America I`ve only had one phone call from him, and that was last Christmas. Mind you, he was very good. He sent me a mink coat, something I`ve never had before. I`ll show it to you. I was really chuffed with it, and then I thought, it`s lovely to have a mink coat, but where can I go to wear it? I`ve got no money in my pocket. I`m an old-age pensioner. I`m living on £11.50 a week.
“David said in a paper – I think it was the Sunday Mirror – that he left home when he was 15. That`s a lie. He was at home until his father died five years ago. His father supported him financially. He and his father were like THAT, but he didn`t get on so well with me because I`m a very erratic person.
“I can`t see both sides of an issue; I can only see one side.”
It begins to add up. Bowie is the possessor of what we might politely describe as a somewhat fluid personality, a character trait that he would seem to have inherited from his mother, and it was this aspect of him that made him tend to gravitate towards his late father, a solid and dependable man, and on the death of his father to Tony DeFries, who, despite his own comparative youth, emitted a decidedly patriarchal aura.
Over to you Sigmund.
Mrs. Jones produces a sheaf of letters from Tony DeFries, originating out of MainMans`s New York office, all of which coldly interrogate her for production of receipts and a precise accounting of her expenditure as a pre-requisite for the payment of any of her bills.
“DeFries rang me up one day and said, `You must understand that David is under no legal obligation to finance you.`
And then he said, “Why don`t you go out to work? My mother did.”
“Don`t think,” she says, “that I`m a pathetic mother. I never have been. My husband and I lived for David. We approved of his work. My husband said to me, `Love, if we don`t let David go into this business he`ll be frustrated for the rest of his life.` I was frustrated. I would have loved to have been a singer. My own father was a musician – he used to play the clarinet. This is where David gets it from. My husband and I encouraged him right from the very start, and when his father died he said to me, `Mum, don`t worry. I`ll always look after you.` And he did until Mr. DeFries came along.
“I saw Angela in May, and I went to the Ideal Home Exhibition with her. She has always been very kind to me and I think very differently of her than I did at the beginning.
“When I lost my husband I lost my prop. I lost somebody who understood me, someone who had a lot of tolerance. He always used to say to me, `Don`t worry about David, love, he`s going to get on and he knows what he`s doing.` I don`t bear David any malice. I can`t bear him any malice because I love him too much. He was such a dear little boy.
“When he was at Bromley Technical College he started getting rebellious. He seemed to resent it if I said anything to him, and it hurt me because I`m so sensitive. I used to burst into tears. If anybody mentions David I cry. I`ve got all his records and I play them and I sit here howling my eyes out.
“Terry (David`s half-brother) is such a loveable chap. He`s so loyal to me, and that`s what I want David to be. To show a little care and sympathy.”
It all comes pouring out. I don`t think Mrs. Jones` motive in getting in touch with the NME was to get any mileage out of pillorying Bowie in public or to pull any sensationalist numbers. She just seemed to want to talk to someone – anyone – and get it all off her chest.
Really, it`s an action replay of “She`s Leaving Home” – the classic syndrome of what happens when a kid grows up in the early 60`s and turns into something that the parent(s) just can`t understand, and when a cultural mutation of that kind takes place, the old `we gave up the best years of our lives for you / sacrificed everything / gave you everything you ever wanted` bit just doesn`t cut any ice whatsoever. Because that just ain`t the point, and it never was.
Part of Bowie`s progress over the last few years has been dependent on the systematic progressive rejection of his past, the discarding of his old skin, so to speak. So it goes, as Mr. Vonnegut would have it.
As time passes, Mrs. Jones` anguish at her plight begins to dissolve, eroded by motherly pride in her son. She hauls out his school photographs and affectionately recounts his teenage anecdotes, as if they`d happened just last week, as if David Bowie was still that person. “I bought this record” (the Decca reissue of “Images”) “even though it was all old songs, because it had such a nice picture of him on the cover. One of my neighbours said to me, `You must be in love with him.` Of course I`m not. I love him because he`s my son.”
As photographer Kate Simon and I prepared to leave, she impulsively says to Kate, “May I kiss you goodbye?” and hugs her. As we say our goodbyes outside, she turns back to us.
“I`d like to thank you both for coming to see me. So few people ever do.
“I must be the loneliest person on the street.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: The Who, Eric Clapton, The Tubes, Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, Bert Jansch, Van McCoy, Budgie, Gerry Johnson.
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