‘Licorice Pizza’: from 1973, legendary NME writer Charles Shaar Murray meets legendary legend David Bowie – in full

In honour of 'Licorice Pizza', Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie set in the heady days of 1973, we’ve opened the NME archive and pulled out this classic interview from May 12 of that year

Ad feature with Universal Pictures – This article was originally published in May 1973 in the New Musical Express

Angie Bowie is a gas. She really is. She’s sitting between Cherry Vanilla and an ice-bucket at a table in the colossally elegant main dining room of the George Cinq Hotel in Paris, and she’s entertaining.

If you put a TV camera on Angie and simply left it there for an hour, you’d have an amazing show if she’s on form, and today she is.

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She’s recounting the story of her husband’s first post-retirement gig with the Spiders, and as the story progresses, she slips into various roles: Tony DeFries; Bowie’s bodyguard Stuart; 600 Groundhog freaks; and David himself.

Her mimicry is uncanny.

When she mimics DeFries a faint hint of a double chin appears from nowhere, and her tones become measured and thoroughly British. She’s talking loud, and despite the patented Gallic imperturbability she’s freaking out the waiters par excellence, but she’s doing it in style.

Suddenly a bellhop materialises by Angie: ascertains her identity; and then informs her that her husband is waiting for her upstairs. Her face lights up, and she makes her excuses and dances towards the lift, skipping like a little girl on her way home from school.
There’s a press conference due in less than an hour, and the French Press are going to have to get all their bags and baggages back from the station in a hurry – but what are expense accounts for, anyway?

The gathering is to be held downstairs in a huge red room prefaced with wood panelling and large ads for Steiner makeup. Inside, the French press are milling around: a curious mixture of older cats in suits and rent-a-hippies. Bowie’s late, and they’re certainly not getting any happier.

Suddenly he’s there…

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Bowie’s hair is in 1966 Marquee pillpopper moddy-cut, and he’s bedecked in various shades of purple, mauve and silver. More than ever, he has one of those beakily ebullient English gamin faces, very much like the young Tom Courtenay. He seems in good shape.
The opening question is fairly disastrous. “Should we address you as she or as he?”
But Bowie isn’t that easily flustered. With perfect urbanity and case be replies: “You address Cherry Vanilla as ‘she’. And me as ‘Mr. Bowie’.” To use the current argot around the Bowie camp, faaaabulous.

Across the room someone calls out, “Mr. Bowie, how was your trip?” “Eventful. We set off from Yokohama to Nahodka. We took trains through Siberia, and we stayed in Moscow for the May Day parade, and we came out via Poland and East Germany. That’s the actual geography of it.

“Russia’s an impossible country to talk about – it’s so vast. There’s really very little to talk about. The people, we found to be very warm, generally. When we got to Moscow they were colder. They were very warm in Siberia.

“There’s very little to talk about except the people. There was a television producer whose name I can’t remember, on the train, who wanted some Japanese books that I had with me. He hadn’t seen any Western books in something like sixteen years…

“This was Vladivostok, which is now a fishing harbour. He was thoroughly intoxicated and he offered me vast amounts of money for the books. I would have given them to him, but they were given to me by the artist – Mantandori Yoku from Tokyo.”

By now a horde of photographers is crouched before the table. David is semi-obscured by an amorphous tangle of bodies and equipment. The constant clicking and blazing of the flashes soon becomes seemingly divorced from any prosaic cause and rapidly assumes the status of a natural phenomenon.

Next subject is Mick Ronson. “No disrespect to Mick, but he’s what one would call a technician, and he puts things down on paper I can’t put down myself. I can’t write music, and he can. He translates for me.

“I try, if I can, to do a little demo tape at home, and I try to overdub the sounds I want. He does all string things.

“I can’t write strings – I can’t think strings. I usually look after electronic effects and patterns and some guitar phrases. I tell him what I want; he expands on it.”
The next contestant seeks an explanation of the three dates in ‘Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)’.

“I was just trying to preface the song a little with feelings of imminent catastrophe, which, at the point in America when I was writing, I felt. It was the next jumping off point for disaster. I suppose I’ve felt like that since 1940-whatever-it-was.”

There’s a mention of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Mott the Hoople, and an inquiry as to who’s next.

“I really have no idea. There’s nobody that I have in mind whom I want to work with. I have no idea if anybody wants to work with me. At the time, I had time.

“Now, time’s another commodity I have less and less of.”

He’s asked if be feels he’s ripped-off Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. Bowie counters with “You should ask Iggy Pop and Lou Reed”, but later be confides that his knuckles were white beneath the table.

How does he feel, comes a question, on the successful reissue of his early records?

“Oh, I’m too old to have opinions.”

How old is he? “I’d love to say I’m ageless, but I’m 26.”

david bowie
David Bowie at Victoria Station, London, 9th July 1973. He is on his way to France to record his covers album, ‘Pinups’ at the Château d’Hérouville. (Picture: Smith/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A little later we’re ensconced with the caviar and champagne and smoked salmon, talking about this and that and the other thing with Cherry, Angie, Andrew Hoy, Geoff MacCormack, Lee Childers and Joe Stevens.

A gaggle of international RCA-ers are wheeled in; gawk politely at the product; and are wheeled out again.

Eventually David, Angie, Geoff, Joe and I climb into the limo and go out for dinner, and virtually every conceivable subject sneaks into the increasingly wine-drenched conversation.

Morning brings the Gare du Nord, and we await the coming of the Bowie Travelling Circus so we can get the 12.30 boat-train and escort The Man back to good ol’ England. The train pulls out. David hasn’t shown, and needless to say we’re not on it either. I get an icy little feeling things are starting to go slightly wrong.

12.45 and Lee and Cherry and David and Angie and Geoff and Andrew turn up. The minions of the George Cinq hadn’t been quite as nifty and zippy with the trunks and stuff as they ought to have been, so with an air of faint trepidation we head across the road for beer and ham sandwiches.

From train to Hovercraft. Photography and duty-free goods. Bowie cine-films everything that moves, and a few things that don’t…presumably to get over the drama of actually being six inches off the ground for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile at Victoria, three hundred or so young chicks are going quietly bonkers. Every time a train came in it gets mobbed, which must confuse the passengers more than a little. Eventually a Tannoy message reveals what’s happened. Half the chicks hightail it over to Charing Cross, while the other half, convinced it’s a hoax, hang on at Victoria.

Back at Dover station Bowie is starting to get noticed. At the dock he signed an autograph for an earnest Scottish lady – only he signs it “Edmund Gross”.

“Is that your real name?” she asks plaintively. He assures her it is. As he’s getting stuck into his tea and sausage roll in the canteen the fans are starting to peer through the windows. And by the time he’s out onto the platform, they’ve got their platform tickets and they’re rushing out.

“Where is he, where is he?”

“That’s him there, the one with the sausage roll!”

Now, can you dig that? The people Bowie is standing with are me and Joe Stevens, and the way they point him out is to mention that he’s the one with the sausage roll.

Before we know where we are it’s Charing Cross and there’s a high-pitched howl shafting through the windows. Instant turmoil as everyone tries to get their luggage together.
Behind me Angie pulls at my sleeve. “Will you guys go out with him and protect him a little?” But in the crush of the corridor there’s no chance to form a ring of confidence around David, as he’s already slipped out onto the platform and disappeared under a seething mass of teenage flesh. And that, as they say, is faaaabulous, too.

Within seconds the police have hauled David into his limo and a few of the kids devote their attention to Angie, begging her for anything she has. Soon, she, too, is ensconced in a car. She looks very small and alone in the plush leather cavern.

The following night Bowie has a welcome home reunion party in his flat in Beckenham, and all his friends are there. Tony Visconti with Mary Hopkin, Lindsay Kemp, Mick Ronson, Chelita Secunda, Ken Scott, Sue Fossey, Fred from the East End and many other glittering folks, all eating chicken and drinking wine.

His son Zowie is running around being hotly pursued by Angie with a feeding bottle. She plays with him in a frantic attempt to tire him out, but only succeeds in exhausting herself. And incidentally, the next time you hear rumours of the Bowies splitting up – ignore ’em. They ain’t true. No way.

The man is looking fine in his Japanese shirt and silver pants. “The police were fabulous. They were all big guys with beards” – he magically becomes a hefty policeman – “and they all said “‘Ang on Dave, we’ll get you through’. They were great.”

So right now it’s party time over, and all of us are looking forward to the big gig at Earls Court.

It should be faaaabulous – you know?

Licorice Pizza is in cinemas from January 1

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