David Bowie and Russell Harty Fail to Connect
The Thin White Duke is interviewed over a satellite link to somewhat baffling effect
Isn’t David Bowie wonderfully polite in this interview with the highly impertinent Russell Harty?
It would be tempting to ask at exactly what point ‘pop stars’ ceased being this well-spoken, though Bowie was always distinct from his chart-topping contemporaries — even The Beatles were scousy rough around the edges, despite Paul McCartney’s precise inflexions whenever in front of a journalistic microphone.
It is also interesting to note that this television interview from 1975, essentially to promote the movie The Man Who Fell To Earth, came at a complicated stage in Bowie’s career. Despite appearances (or perhaps confirming them), The Thin White Duke was at this point a heavy cocaine user and depressed beyond belief following his recent exposure to the American, and particularly West Coast, pop star lifestyle.
To see the full impact of being on the road and snorting his way across the States, take a look at David Yentob’s documentary Cracked Actor from the same year, which shows in shocking detail what touring the US whilst dealing with a rehabilitating cocaine addiction had done to Bowie.
It is not a pretty picture, as opposed to that of the man on the satellite link here in this video.
On the back of Cracked Actor (which had been shot during 1974), you would expect Bowie to be a drooling, yabbering caricature of a strung-out, broken-down superstar at this point, plonked down for his transatlantic interview with the waspish Harty.
In fact quite the reverse.
Sharp, twinkly-eyed and arch to the ceiling, particularly in the face of Harty’s bemusing attempt to connect with the singer, Bowie is a man of the moment and in total control of his words and actions throughout this slightly awkward interview. He is also (and again, regardless of Harty’s showbiz schtick), interested in having a meaningful conversation about something, anything, despite Harty’s harrying questions about Bowie’s mother and supposed otherworldliness.
Bowie is a delicate, fascinating and exotic flower in this video, at a tipping point creatively and in terms of his career progression, moving away from his early 70s rock star persona(s) and about to appear on the big screen in Nick Roeg’s beguiling sci-fi movie. But Bowie is also neither a fool nor lost in the show business undergrowth during his time batting off Harty’s at times skating questions.
On the British side of the Atlantic for this interview, Harty seems confused and fascinated by what he sees and hears, as he has every right to be. It is a classic example of what happens when the show (Bowie, obviously) meets the business (Harty, utterly bewildered), purely because that’s the way the entertainment industry works, and both of these gentlemen know it.
It’s inevitable, unavoidable and, in its slightly awkward and entirely beguiling way, also rather thrilling. It may not be an extraordinary meeting of minds or scintillating television, but it is fascinating.
And also rather charming.