Glam Fab

From glam rock to Sheetrock: Angela Bowie's long, strange odyssey to Tucson

Ask Angela Bowie which of her ex-husband's albums is her favorite and--assuming she answers--she'll probably name David Bowie's second disc, a 1970 effort titled The Man Who Sold the World.

But two decades after the couple parted, the Godmother of Glam isn't as much interested in peddling the planet as getting it up to speed--her speed. And if she happens to make a few bucks in the process? Well, so much the better, luv.

Sitting at an outdoor cafe near her home in central Tucson, Bowie, now 48, isn't immediately recognizable as the distaff half of the glittering couple whose scandalous exploits kept the rock press humming half a lifetime ago. Her sleek Marilyn Monroe-from-Mars hairstyle has long since transmuted into a tousle of gray-streaked auburn locks; meanwhile, her signature Designer Duds From Another Galaxy have been replaced with a bulky sweater over spandex leggings.

If not for her outre footwear--buckled bondage stilettos--it's hard to imagine that this is the same woman who helped orchestrate David Bowie's early '70s media blitz. Is this really the bisexual libertine who was once at the forefront of rock's glitziest moment, the flesh-and-blood inspiration for the Rolling Stones' 1973 hit "Angie"?

Shoes aside, any suspicion that Bowie is just another one of those suburban ladies-who-lunch is eradicated the moment the former Mrs. Ziggy Stardust opens her mouth. A larger-than-life presence who speaks as though she were playing to the last row of an English music hall, the Auntie Mame-like Bowie punctuates her conversation with more facial mugging than you'll see in a month of I Love Lucy reruns.

"The reason I can't have a face-lift," she explains in a booming rasp that commands the attention of all within earshot, "is that if I did, I'd forget everything I've learned!" Her boisterous laugh fills the air. "I rather fancy that line, don't you? I wrote it for the show I'm putting together."

That show--an in-the-works satirical revue called Krisis Kabaret--is one of the reasons the reclusive Bowie has finally broken her silence since first moving to the Old Pueblo in 1997. Her dishy dialogue with New Times is the first interview she's granted to a reporter in almost two years.

"Tucson is small, but upscale small," explains Bowie. "I have a really low comfort zone. I don't like six lanes on the freeway. I just like to poodle along."

And poodle she has. If her ex-spouse was The Man Who Fell to Earth, the once high-profile Bowie has been, in recent years, the woman who's virtually disappeared off the face of it. Living a largely nomadic existence for the past 15 years (since the '80s, she's ping-ponged between Atlanta, Los Angeles and Paradise Valley, where she briefly raised Arabian horses), the self-described "international bag lady" has supported herself by doing everything from phone sex to construction work. Eager to get back to her artistic roots, she moved to Tucson to get away from big-city distractions and concentrate on music, acting and writing.

"In an American capitalist society, you get so embarrassed when you don't have something to pitch," she explains. To prove the point, Bowie mentions seeing Penny Marshall on Rosie O'Donnell's show while channel surfing one recent afternoon. "Rosie asked her what she'd been doing, and Penny did this wonderful take, then said, 'Hell, not a goddamn thing!' I thought that was great!" Another guffaw echoes across the patio.

Bowie's cabaret act was originally scheduled to debut early this year at a Tucson dog racing track. When that venue fell through, she lined up an equally unlikely setting: a string of Canadian dinner theaters, where the show is scheduled to open in June prior to a possible stateside tour.

"I don't believe in allowing America to have anything firsthand," she explains. Americans, she believes, "just don't have the attention span to allow you to be something apart from what they've already decided they want you to be."

Covering all her bases, Bowie's polishing up a screenplay titled The Adventures of Lily Bounty, based on an "erotic serial" she developed while writing and recording scripts working for a 900-number phone-sex service. She's also gearing up for the spring reissue of her 1993 diss 'n' tell Backstage Passes. (Flip to page 240 for the book's most notorious nugget, wherein Bowie discovers her husband in bed with Mick Jagger. Although both men were asleep at the time, the authoress prefers to believe the worst.)

Despite Bowie's best efforts, the publishers took a pass on Bowie's offer to pen an update chapter or even a new foreword.

That decision is the readers' loss. Although her book ends shortly after with the couple's divorce in 1980 (Angela received a $750,000 settlement spread over 10 years; David retained custody of the son she hasn't heard from in years), Bowie's story since then has been anything but dull.

Not that Bowie's lurch through life was ever boring to begin with.

The daughter of an American mining engineer stationed in Cyprus, the glimmering globetrotter developed a taste of worldwide wanderlust at an early age. A precocious student, Bowie attended school in Switzerland, then, at 15, enrolled in a college in Connecticut. In 1966, she'd made her way to London at the cusp of swingin' music, threads, sex and all things groovy. Two years later, fate intervened when she crossed paths with an emaciated folk singer named David Jones.

The rest is Glitter Rock 101. After David changed his surname to avoid confusion with Monkee Davy Jones, the duo, who married in 1970, launched a full-tilt campaign to establish themselves as avatars of a hedonistic "anything goes" tomorrow.

At Angela's behest, her husband dyed his hair Popsicle orange, slathered his face with makeup and wore dresses onstage while wailing his arty anthems of androgyny run amok. Offstage, the couple held court in London's music-world fast track, with Angela taking copious mental notes as she witnessed--and frequently participated in--the most star-studded daisy chain in rock history.

If Bowie's marriage wasn't exactly made in heaven (prior to the nuptials, David told her he didn't love her), the union was forged in Press Agent Nirvana. Declaring themselves to be bisexual and/or gay (claims from which David, now married to supermodel Iman, would distance himself in years to come), the couple's scandalous antics were just what the gossip columnist ordered.

In her autobiography, Bowie claims that the pair had originally hoped for tag-team stardom, using David's emerging fame as a launching pad for her own career. But outside of a well-publicized, though futile, campaign for the Wonder Woman TV role ultimately played by Lynda Carter, Bowie's personal rocket to stardom overshot the moon. Frustrated by her ever-shrinking role in the Ziggy Stardust scenario, she became a jet-setting shopaholic; by one account, in a single year during the early '70s, she racked up $100,000 in airline tickets and limousine rentals alone. In another David Bowie bio, one source remembers Angela's Rodeo Drive shopping spree in which "no $300 pair of underpants was left unpurchased."

Currently living with an unemployed airplane mechanic some 15 years her junior, Angela Bowie looks back at those days of triple-digit lingerie with mixed emotions. "We were high-end, the Cadillac of glam," she proudly proclaims. But only a moment later, she sloughs off a question about the past with a theatrical grimace. "Let's not talk about that old crap, shall we?" she says. "It's so booooring."

That's pretty much her assessment of Velvet Goldmine, director Todd Haynes' recent glam-era movie that featured characters generally believed to be modeled on David Bowie and herself.

"Don't waste your money," snarls Bowie. "A dreadful film, just dreadful. There's no story, no script--it's like 20 music videos slung together." Asked about her onscreen counterpart, Bowie's eyes roll up in their sockets. "I was insulted. [Toni Collette] is a lovely actress, but they've written the part [as] someone totally vacuous, a moron."

Outlandish, outrageous, opinionated--call her what you will, but Angela Bowie is anything but vacuous.

"She's probably the ballsiest broad I've ever met in my life," says Chick Cashman, the Tucson musician who performs with Bowie during local club dates. "She can walk into a room and completely take it over. Get her pointed in the right direction and she's a fuckin' bulldozer."

Get her pointed in the wrong direction, and, well . . . get outta the way. Hired to appear at last month's opening of the Vintage Modern Gallery retro furniture in Phoenix, Bowie raised eyebrows when she not only didn't perform but spent most of the evening holed up in a back room. (Bowie explains that all the guests seemed to be having such a good time, she didn't want to interrupt them.)

But Bowie's brief run-in with members of Bloodhut, a Tucson-based feminist theater troupe, was reportedly far more sanguine. According to buzz in Tucson's theater community, some of the highest drama never made it to the stage.

"It was going to take them six months just to write the piece," explains Bowie. "Where I come from, you write satires in a week and put them on ASAP." Pause. "I'm a Libra, so everything has to be across-the-board excellent."

Bowie's outspoken quest for perfection has come with a price tag. Several years ago, negotiations for a nude Playboy spread fell through, reportedly because of demands that were far out of line with her marginal celebrity.

While living in Phoenix 15 years ago, she applied for a job as a New Times restaurant critic, but claimed it was unnecessary to submit samples of her writings because she'd personally planned elaborate dinner parties for rock stars.

And whatever cachet she might have had with the gay community was severely put to the test when, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, she blithely characterized the HIV virus as "some stupid fly-by-night disease that a vaccine is going to be found for."

Oddly, while all of Bowie's long-term (and, in the case of the L.A. art director she married in 1987, not-so-long-term) relationships have been with men, she still somehow sees herself as a gay-rights suffragette.

"You cannot say the 'g' word unless you are extremely talented," she insists. "That's what makes it work. For years, [gays] have said to me, 'Oh, we just really want to be equal.' Uh-uh--I say, 'If you want to be equal, stay straight.' Equal, we don't do. Mediocre, we don't do. That is not part of the program."

Switching conversational tracks ("This tangential thinking is sooo tiring," she moans, "but if you can't keep up with me, fuck you!"), Bowie returns to her own plans to catapult herself into pop orbit from her Tucson launching pad.

And if the southern Arizona city doesn't immediately spring to mind as the best place from which to crash into show business? Well, no one's ever accused Angela Bowie of taking the conventional route.

"I hate L.A.," sneers Bowie, who's just returned from a trip to that city where she visited her 18-year-old daughter by musician Drew Blood. "I'm okay if I'm just visiting, but if I have to work there with all those other tired vaudeville circus performers . . ."

Seized by another thought, Bowie interrupts herself. "One of the greatest things I learned in boarding school is detention. If you did something really bad, Saturday afternoon when everyone got to go out, you sat in the [nurse's office] from 1:15 until 6 o'clock.

"That's what being in Tucson is like," continues Bowie. "You know you've done something wrong and you know you need to think about it."

So when is 6 o'clock? Smiling mysteriously, Angela Bowie prepares to take her leave. "I'll know."

Walking out of the restaurant courtyard, the Cadillac of Glam gets into her dusty Camry, then poodles down the road.

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