Your latest album “Post Pop Depression” is a retrospective, right?
Only in some ways. I am looking back, but I am also looking ahead. This balance is very important to me. For example, look at the song German Days about my years in Berlin, where I am using the word “Schnell-imbiss” – a great German word, and quite retrospective. But the next line is about The End of Pain, and that’s the present; it is the title of a wonderful book by a German doctor in Düsseldorf who specializes in bone disease. He also looks after me. He is a nephew of Pope Benedict, by the way.
In “German Days” you also sing about “glittering champagne on ice / garish and overpriced” – where in Berlin did you order that?
Does the name Eden still mean anything to you? (in a theatrically deep voice:) Rolf Eden! The nightclub tycoon – “I am the man who knows what you want!” At the time, Rolf Eden was Germany’s Donald Trump. You know, my whole life has been like that: a balancing act between Rolf Eden and Pope Benedict.
You also mention a speakeasy you went to in Berlin, which one was that?
Oh, that was the Lützower Lampe, a place where I hung out a lot when I lived in Berlin. It was a small cabaret bar with good beer and ten wooden tables. The barman and the bouncer and the guy on stage were all the same person. There are some good memories in the song German Days. When I listen to songs I made in Berlin, like Lust for Life or The Passenger, a film plays in my head which reminds me of that time. But actually there are other songs which I connect even more with Berlin.
Do you know Daddy Cool?
The Boney M. song?
Exactly: Boney M.! Whenever I hear Boney M., I automatically think of German bars. That was the real sound of German bars in the seventies.
Did you like Boney M.?
Liking would be too strong a word. I tolerated them. Wasn’t it also Boney M. who sang (sings loudly) Girls Girls Girls?
That was a band called Sailor.
Oh! I really loved that song. Bowie and I often listened to Sailor.
When you arrived in Berlin, you were not in good health.
People always say that, but it isn’t actually true. Before, in Los Angeles, I really had been in a bad state. But then David Bowie took me along on his tour and took care of me. My health improved dramatically on that tour. So when I came to Berlin I was really quite fit. I ate healthy food and got enough sleep. In fact, I practiced such a sensible lifestyle that it was beginning to get on my nerves. I kept nagging David about how fed up I was with this healthy lifestyle.
At the time, Berlin was not exactly the place one would associate with a healthy lifestyle, was it?
Not at all. I’ve always been attracted by slightly dangerous places. When I moved to Miami 18 years ago, where I still live today, you really had to watch out for yourself there. But people like me, who have experienced and survived a few things, have special sensors signaling to them what kind of stuff and which places they should avoid. You do become more careful over the years. To get back to Berlin – I only let myself go toward the end of my time there. The city was changing, and the people, too. From one day to the next Berlin was flooded with drugs, and I did not always make the best decisions. To cut it short: I came to Berlin totally fit and left it as a wreck.
Even though David Bowie looked after you in Berlin, as well.
That’s true, he looked after me as well as he could. And I really appreciated it. Bowie was a good influence.
Apparently he even intercepted taxi drivers who were bringing you heroin.
Hold on! I know these stories about the taxi drivers, but I don’t believe them. They are all made up, if you ask me. I never took heroin in Berlin, and I certainly didn’t have it delivered to me by taxi.
No hard drugs in Berlin?
I did not say that. But no heroin in Berlin. A few times I had my mouth full with opium balls. Some people may have thought it could be a good idea to try and offer me heroin. Anyway, after 1975 I was pretty much through with heroin for the rest of my life. And once I was off heroin, I still crashed many times, but never that badly again. I took pills and some kinds of powder. And I drank. Plus chain-smoking, thai sticks, valium, cocaine, and so on. In 1980 I quit most of these and for the next ten years I just smoked dope. Since 1990 I have pretty much stayed away from all of that stuff. At the end of the century I had a Colombian girlfriend for a year and lived in Bogotà for a while. She took cocaine regularly. I may have tried a little, too. But I regretted it every time, and I always felt terrible afterwards.
So what kind of drugs do you take today?
None! A few weeks before the new millennium started I hit reset. I stopped smoking and have not touched any drugs since. That’s why this millennium is my millennium. Things have been going better for me. What I do is considered to be quite interesting now. The Stooges used to be hated so much and dismissed. But since 2000 the Stooges are suddenly cool. And even my solo albums sell. Iggy Pop? His songs should be used in ads and movie soundtracks! Great! I love this millennium. Although all this harmony is beginning to make me a little nervous (laughs loudly).
You have even become a character in a Lego video game. Don’t you find that a little surreal?
Most of all it’s funny. Just the idea, I have never seen the game itself. I checked out some pictures of the Lego version of myself and found them hilarious: Lego jeans! Lego hair! Bowie would have loved it.
What have you learned from Bowie?
He taught me about theatricality and encouraged me to try genres other than music. He helped me to be more confident around celebrities by taking me into circles I didn’t know before. He explained to me how these guys ticked and how to deal with them. Bowie taught me a lot about the world around me. He took me to Europe and explained Europe to me. That was a revelation. And Europe has always been good to me. Even though a lot of people keep telling me that I am really just an understudy compared to Bowie. It took me quite a while to come to terms with that. But I can’t complain. Things didn’t go so badly for me, after all.
Espiner's Berlin David Bowie: Where are you now?
This Q&A is an excerpt from a much longer interview which appears in the new issue of "Zeit Magazin. The Berlin State of Mind". You can order your copy (8,90 Euro) by email via: [email protected]