As you’d expect, updating the book was an emotional process. I spent three years working on the book, interviewing well over 200 people, most of them in person. A scary number of people that I met several times, whom I liked, who were a real help to me, are no longer with us. And now our subject is gone, too.
Over the next week, I simply plan to give a taste of some of the many people I spoke to. And, given the fact that the official opening of Lazarus is tonight, I thought I’d start with Enda Walsh, David’s co-writer on his last work. To get a full sense of Enda, and what he achieved, please go out and buy this month’s MOJO, and my story on Lazarus, which also features Michael C Hall, Robert Fox and Henry Hey. I didn’t feel I could extract the emotional part of the story in this setting… but hopefully you get a sense of it here. More than anything, it gives a good idea of how Lazarus was important for David, a positive and vital way to use his energy as the end of his life approached.
Tomorrow I will investigate the very beginning of this story, via the person who first realised that David Bowie would make the perfect Thomas Newton.
If anyone particularly wants to read more from one of my interviewees, please email me via the link at the top. Check here for a few more stories, extracts and photos. And if you want to find out/ask more in person, please come see me at the Write Idea Festival on Commercial Road this Sunday, 13 November, 2.30.
The legacy of Lazarus – it’s a visceral thing, not like a movie that when it’s made is completed, it’s very physical, like having a little family. It feels potent.
Jesus, I agree with that. I always think of as theatre as being some kind of ceremony that you do night after night, you embody it emotionally and physically, then you go out and you do it again. Then you do it many, many times. There’s something so fucked about that, but you get to meditate and be in that world over and over. And I think he really dug that. I imagine he could’ve made a film [but]… the live performance, the danger, the strange repetitious nature of it, having to live it all the time. I’m sure, yes. He wanted that. He wanted to see that. The thing was deeply personal, that’s for sure.
We know David had the idea of the play for some time. Why The Man Who Fell To Earth? Was that very powerful in his own mythology?
I think so. He was very connected to that person, to that character. I think he could see, he could feel a lot of that character in him. This man who becomes.. ridiculously powerful, that no one knows who the hell he is. Then that thing when David disappears. And all of that. And living up there in that apartment in New York. It’s an extraordinary, rich character.
There are many moments that struck me in the New York production, especially the new songs. Another was Where Are We Now? Michael to me had seemed the essence of Newton… then suddenly I felt this was David, especially with the footage of Berlin, expressing a… nostalgia.
I was, I think, Oh God. That song to me is this huge soliloquy. At a halfway point in the piece. You feel the purity, the simpleness, the naiveté of the lyrics pierce you. And just the way it builds… you’re suddenly face to face to the character, much closer to that character than you were before. I was really surprised when Ivo said… there will be this nostalgia for the world. As much as the character. This momentous occasion: the wall coming down. And you’re thinking, oh it’s that! A time gone. So Newton starts to become, not just Thomas Newton, but he becomes man.
For David, this was writing in a new medium – a leap into something new for him, too. How did that work for him ?
This guy went to a lot of theatre, he was talking about the plays he liked. I think, being in the room with him, he was excited by this mashup, people chatting, breaking into song, the oddness of it. I think he felt really comfortable in it. The guy was like an actor, you could see him enjoy watching people’s process, where they were going with the work and he’d be supportive with that. He would discuss it with them, like an actor would discuss it with another actor.
At one point you clocked he was ill. How did you feel?
It’s. You know. I had a really good pal who died in September then my mum died in October then we were working on this and I was going Jesus. It was bloody sad. ‘Course it was sad. He’s this fantastic, fantastic person. Then watching somebody who’s ill and thinking, ‘They’ve still got a lot of work in them!’ [PT: Read the MOJO story to find more about how Enda and others felt.]
Does Newton feel sorry for himself?
I think he does which is an appalling thing. Because feeling sorry for yourself can kill you and eat away at you and I think definitely he does.
What was beautiful is that David, by your account, didn’t feel sorry for himself. He got on with it. That’s beautiful.
I think that reaching out and being with people who make things for a living… ‘course we all respond and get involved … in making stuff. It doesn’t exist. Then you put in the graft. And then it does. You’ve made something out of nothing. It’s all about the journey and just getting involved. Getting involved.