'I'm Not Quite an Atheist, and It Worries Me'

In an interview, David Bowie talks about becoming a family man and the role spirituality plays in his music.

BY: Anthony DeCurtis

 

For this interview I met David Bowie one afternoon in June 2003 at Looking Glass, the Manhattan studio where he was finishing his album, "Reality." Bowie was 56 at the time, and he walked into the control room promptly at noon, looking fresh and completely composed, even though the weather was wiltingly hot. He plopped down his bag, and asked one of the studio workers to bring him a strong French roast coffee. Then he was ready to get to work.

Before Reality, Bowie had put out "Heathen" (2002), a record that reflected a spiritual crisis brought on by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Bowie, his wife-- the model Iman--and their daughter, Alexandria, who was born in 2000, live less than a mile from Ground Zero. He spoke movingly about the impact of that day and its aftermath.

He seemed interested in conveying as genuine a sense of himself as he could. The everyman identity with which he'd grown so comfortable now seems all the more poignant after the heart attack that forced him to cancel months of touring in the summer of 2004. A significantly longer version of this conversation appears in a section of

"In Other Words"

called "Beyond Irony," which also features interviews with David Byrne, Iggy Pop and Bryan Ferry.

After all these years of unsettling absolutes, you're calling your new album "Reality."

It is ironic. You haven't seen the artwork yet, but there's a fakeness to the cover that undermines that. It's the old chestnut: What is real and what isn't? It's actually about who's stolen this world.

Do you feel like your thinking about those questions has changed or deepened?

I honestly believe that my initial questions haven't changed at all. There are far fewer of them these days, but they're really important. Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. It's because I'm not quite an atheist and it worries me. There's that little bit that holds on: "Well, I'm

almost

an atheist. Give me a couple of months." [

Laughs

]

Describe the process of making this album.

Very simple. I'd just written some songs, and I amalgamated them with a couple of covers I'd wanted to do. I didn't approach this with any kind of through line involved. It wasn't a conceptualized piece at all.

"Heathen" was very different. It was written as a deeply questioning album. Of course, it had one foot astride that awful event in September. So that was quite a traumatic album to finish. This one hints at that, but it's not really trying to resolve any trauma. [September 11] did affect me and my family very much. We live down here.

"If all the other clichés are true..."
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  • Continued on page 2: »

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