David Bowie Talks and Sings on The Dick Cavett Show (1974)

I can think of very few taste­ful phe­nom­e­na to have come to promi­nence in the sev­en­ties, but David Bowie’s albums and Dick Cavet­t’s talk shows both make the short list. In the mid­dle of that decade, Bowie cer­tain­ly made the tele­vi­sion rounds; we pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured his 1975 appear­ance oppo­site Cher, and today we have his appear­ance oppo­site Cavett from the pre­vi­ous year. “David Bowie is a super­star in a cat­e­go­ry that has nev­er actu­al­ly been defined,” says the host about the rock­er, to audi­ence cheers, “because as soon as a crit­ic tries to say what he is, he changes, like a chameleon.” It seems that Bowie, then at the height of his self-trans­for­ma­tive ten­den­cies, could reduce even the most elo­quent man on tele­vi­sion to that not-quite-accu­rate cliché. As the for­mer host told Esquire thir­ty years after this broad­cast, “Does­n’t a chameleon exert tremen­dous ener­gy to become indis­tin­guish­able from its envi­ron­ment?”

Yet Cavett ulti­mate­ly holds his own with Bowie, a feat I doubt many of the rest of us could pull off then or now. The appear­ance involves more than just music; while Bowie does per­form, he also sits down to talk, some­thing that his fans had­n’t yet seen him do in 1974. To many of them, he remained for the most part a mys­tery, albeit an astute­ly rock­ing one. “Who is he? What is he?” Cavett rhetor­i­cal­ly asks the crowd. “Man? Woman? Robot?” In the event, they dis­cuss his school days, his ride on the Trans-Siber­ian Rail­way, the unfor­get­table Dia­mond Dogs cov­er arthis step back from “glit­ter,” why oth­er peo­ple would have feared inter­view­ing him, and whether he pic­tures him­self at six­ty (in the far-flung year of 2007). How easy to for­get, in this age when we can often con­verse with our idols by mere­ly send­ing them an @ reply on Twit­ter, how much a show­man like Bowie could leave to our imag­i­na­tions. He remains admirably secre­tive by today’s stan­dards, but back in the sev­en­ties, any­thing he said would have come as a rev­e­la­tion — espe­cial­ly if prompt­ed by no less art­ful a con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie and Cher Sing Duet of “Young Amer­i­cans” and Oth­er Songs on 1975 Vari­ety Show

David Bowie Sings ‘I Got You Babe’ with Mar­i­anne Faith­full in His Last Per­for­mance As Zig­gy Star­dust

David Bowie Releas­es Vin­tage Videos of His Great­est Hits from the 1970s and 1980s

David Bowie Recalls the Strange Expe­ri­ence of Invent­ing the Char­ac­ter Zig­gy Star­dust (1977)

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Paul says:

    I live in New York City. One night about three years ago, I watched that entire Dick Cavett episode fea­tur­ing David Bowie. Then THE VERY NEXT DAY, I ran into Cavett him­self while he was shop­ping at Williams-Sono­ma! I told him I had just watched his Bowie inter­view, and Cavett said, “Oh, yeah. He sniffed a lot, did­n’t he?” So Dick was total­ly aware that Bowie was coked up at the time. Not much he could do about it, I guess.

  • Linda says:

    I don’t know why some peo­ple think Bowie is so bizarre and embar­rass­ing in this inter­view. It’s obvi­ous he is coked up, but he does­n’t come across like some freak. He makes absolute sense in every­thing he says, he is artic­u­late and inter­est­ing and seems sort of sweet and shy. And he is clear­ly, obvi­ous­ly extreme­ly intel­li­gent. I often think that in these ear­ly inter­views the hosts are a bit patron­iz­ing with him, treat­ing him as the per­son they expect­ed him to be — some dumb flash-in-the-pan gim­micky rock star. I’ve seen a few where part-way through the inter­view they seem to start to clue in to his lev­el of intel­li­gence, and it’s so sat­is­fy­ing to me to see that reg­is­ter with them.. He was an artist, he was the real deal. I always won­der — what did they think lat­er on when it became obvi­ous what a unique, last­ing tal­ent he was? I’d love to know what Dick Caveat thought of how Bowie turned out, and how the 60 year old Bowie he spec­u­lates about in the inter­view actu­al­ly was! He would have no way of know­ing that Bowie would turn out to be one of the most influ­en­tial, endur­ing, impor­tant artists of our time, and one who is beloved by so many, not just for his gifts but because he was such a great per­son (which is read­i­ly appar­ent in the mul­ti­tude of inter­views through-out his career that are on YouTube, and which every­one who knew him spoke of.)

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.