Bowie's ex takes biting look 'Backstage'

March 17, 1993|By Lynn Van Matre | Lynn Van Matre,Chicago Tribune

Angela Bowie's bitter. Her youthful marriage to rock star David Bowie didn't work out as she had hoped, and neither did the Swiss divorce settlement.

Thanks to Switzerland's divorce laws, Angela was awarded a paltry $750,000, payable over 10 years, when the couple's split became final in 1980 after a decade spent building his career. For various reasons, she didn't fight for custody of the couple's only child, Zowie. To her sorrow, her son -- now 21 and answering to the name Joe -- hasn't spoken to her for two years.

A final sour note: A gag clause in the divorce agreement barred her from writing anything about her ex-spouse while she was receiving annual payments.

Now the 10 years are up, and the gag order is no longer in effect. Ms. Bowie -- living in Atlanta and "putting the finishing touches on a dance album" -- is free to tell her horror stories about David, whom she paints as a coldly manipulative, egomaniacal, self-loathing psychic vampire and drug addict with a compulsive need to bed virtually anything that moved (provided his chronic genital rash wasn't acting up). He was also, she contends, a lousy lover.

She's not -- she takes pains to point out -- "just another semi-relevant ex-spouse cashing in," as she puts it. "For a number of years David's career was my job," writes Angela Bowie, a Cyprus-born American citizen who met the British singer in London at the start of his career.

"I wasn't some dim, peroxided little gold digger with a headful of hash and a drawerful of last year's body stockings. . . . I had Swiss schooling and theatrical experience -- years of it."

The deal, as Ms. Bowie understood it, was that she and David would join forces to make him a rock star, then turn their collective attention to launching her hoped-for theatrical career. Instead, David increasingly withdrew from her as his career soared, eventually barricading himself behind sycophantic assistants and sinking deeper into a delusional paranoia fueled by cocaine, alcohol and other drugs.

Eventually, he found it expedient to abandon her. Still, writes Angela of her years with her ex, "even though it hurt sometimes, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was one hell of a party."

Maybe so, but it doesn't sound like much fun. David (who recently married fashion model Iman) clearly was no bargain, but it's hard to have much sympathy for Angela. She had her own problems with heroin and psychedelics, and seems to have matched her ex-husband body for body in the couple's bisexual bedding derby.

Curiously, despite the stereotypically "juicy" subject matter, these recollections read for the most part as ho-hum stuff, chronicled in a pedestrian, self-indulgent style marked by tiresomely irrelevant details about obscure people and dance clubs and marred by gratuitously venomous snipes at performers such as Paul McCartney.

"A puffed up, arrogant little snot. . . . I just hate to think of how John [Lennon] and [Brian Epstein] are dead and Paul lives," she writes, but gives no examples of the ex-Beatle's "snot"-like behavior.

The author, who made two suicide attempts in the 1970s, is now divorced for a second time and the mother of a young daughter. She hasn't spoken to David in a decade. "Looking back, I can see that my life with David was molded by forces beyond my control and even my understanding," she concludes. "Still, I don't regret trying."

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side With David Bowie."

Author: Angela Bowie with Patrick Carr.

Publisher: Putnam.

Length, price: 350 pages, $22.95.

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