A wonderful island: Iggy and Ziggy


I’ve been lucky, in that there’ve always been magical, unforgettable voyages in every book I’ve worked on. With my David Bowie book, my trips to see the various interviewees resulted in over half a million words of transcripts, giving me more detail than can ever be packed into a book. But I always hope that mass of research can somehow be sensed, like the unseen bulk that lurks beneath the visible portion of an iceberg.

This Iggy interview was one such. Looking through my transcript, of him speaking about his friend David Bowie, there were at least 5,000 words, all of it with new insights and facts. I think that interview, plus others first-hand accounts, helped me give a far more detailed portrait of life in the Hauptstrasse than any other source. But I don’t remember the interview for that alone: I remember the intense heat, then how cool it was in Iggy’s little house, and the tiny child’s toy drum kit that he told me Rock Action used when the newly-reconvened Stooges practised here. I remember the smell of the nearby creek, and the iguana that basked in the sun. This interview, of course, was done when David was still alive. One could sense a certain carefulness when Iggy – or rather, Jim – talked about him. But our conversation went on so long, into such dark corners of Jim Osterberg’s life, we got to a unique place, I think, talking about death, deception, disaster… and, I think, especially in this section, something deep. Not perhaps love… but a feeling equally profound: surprise and awe, at how a life can turn, and appreciation for a friend, who took you to places you would never have quite reached on your own.

What did you think the first time you met Bowie?
I thought…. he was very canny, very self-possessed and… a not-unkind person. Which you don’t usually see in people so self-aware . I listened to his stuff and I realised, oh, he knows how to do thing A B and C and he can, he can make a chair, and he can do an inlaid tabletop, if we’re talking about song-craft. It was not anything to do with what I was trying to do. But.. then I watched him, pretty interesting, watched him changing clothes, changing hair and acquiring new friends in the new world. And, uh, never had a problem with him. Never had a problem with him. But. He would be a little, especially by the time we got to London, he would come around, and .. singers will do this some times they’ll challenge you to see.. hey, are you cool enough not to freak out if I try to kiss you on the lips! He did that to Ron in the hallway… just to let you know, I’m pretty freaky, , tee hee, that sorta thing. Always had an outlandish pair of shoes. And an interesting hair colour.

Then, Freddie Sessler brought the two of you back together in February 1976. How had he changed?
He showed less pressure then. Yes. I think by that point. There was something going on with the business and personal life that were bugging him, and I never heard about it ’til there was a tour break in Switzerland, in Europe, later, then I saw some of that and he would talk about it without wanting to be too… he’s English, reserved and all that.

Because the common view is that he was a bit damaged, and you were a soulmate.
Of course he was but he wasn’t gonna show it in a certain way. You’d notice it , you’d have to wait long periods for him sometimes to do certain work, there were certain quirky, odd, theatrical, slightly megalomanic way of er, relating, but I was used to that ’cos I got some of that myself. But it was all professional. And I first heard the Ramones in David Bowie’s car on that tour, I first heard Tom Waits in David Bowie’s car on that [Isolar] tour, first heard Kraftwerk in David Bowie’s car on that tour.

How did you feel about using drum machines etc?
I realised right away when I heard that first demo that there was a power to the music that he was willing to provide for me, and that he wanted to do. There was music this guy wanted to do, and it wasn’t gonna come out in the reality of his situation. Because he could do better than do something so amateur. But for me it was perfect! And I loved it, when I heard it I went whoa! There wasn’t one stinker on that whole period, he only pitched me great balls and I grabbed every one, I don’t remember one thing on there that I turned down, not one. [There was one… which I will write about at some other time].

You told me once you were living on red wine and German sausage, and were your happiest ever.
Happiest ever! In many ways! Maybe not as fulfilled as I’ve been in the last couple of years, these last couple of years have been good for me. Yeah, there were a lot of good things about that place, and my time in that place.

What would be a typical day? Perhaps at the beginning of your Hauptstrasse period, when you shared an apartment?
First I was living in their guest room until the completion of the tour around the Idiot – which was my first proper tour in my life where you started in one place then went in one direction until the end. After that I moved into a very modest place in the back, called the Hinterhof, a kind of a Mews apartment. As to the sort of things that we would do: One day we might go out to look at an antiques market then went out to look at the Wannsee, all the time using the public trains, then went and got some paints, and he showed me how to apply acrylic paint, like how to to prep a canvas.

And you took cold showers in the morning?
Sometimes. And then there were local characters you would meet. And then instead of the constant, insane mindless American drug culture there was an artsy-crafty weekend drug culture.

…The wall was beautiful by the way. It was wonderful. And it created a wonderful island. It was as if, the same way that volcanos create islands in the sea, the opposing pressures that were all afraid to quite meet created this place that they all studiously (ignored). The Russians didn’t bug you, the Americans, the French, the British, nobody bugged you there. Not even the Germans. It was wonderful.

Categories: Bowie

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