Angie Bowie: “I wanted to go to the places where there were no rules”

For a few years, in the innovative 70s, a lot of young people decided to fix their eyes on Mary Angela Barnett, the woman who was married to the latest rock star, David Bowie. She was known since then as Angie Bowie and considered a role model by her husband’s most enthusiastic fans. It was no wonder, her transgressive androgynous look was a blow to conservative society of pre-punk England, and it soon set a trend in the glam scene. By that time, she already had her own fan club, was a frequent guest on the most popular television shows of its time, and even an urban myth claimed that the Rolling Stones had written a song about her. Still, for many, her greatest achievement was not creating her own style but having played a fundamental role in her husband’s image change. Before David Bowie adopted androgyny as one of his trademarks, his look resembled that of a traditional folk singer. His wife was part of one of the most remarkable aesthetic transformations of the last century. Her great inventiveness in the field of fashion forever left an imprint in suggesting and effecting the hairstyle change, choosing and purchasing the costumes, sewing the costumes, and dealing with the advertising matter. This happened at the same time that David Bowie gave life to his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust, with whom he broke all established rules and produced a revolution in rock, both visually and musically.
In 1980, after ten years of marriage, a son (film director Duncan Jones) and a few masterpieces in the form of music albums, in which Angie Bowie participated by contributing ideas or inspiring songs, they decide to divorce. Both would continue with their respective artistic careers but their paths would no longer cross. In her 1992 autobiographical book, Backstage Passes: Life On the Wild Side with David Bowie, she opens up: “I gave David the best years of my life.” However, forty years after that sentimental and professional breakup, this statement does not do justice to a successful career in which she was able develop multiple creative skills. To her experience as an actress, singer and performer, she added her work as a writer, an activity that in recent years has become the most prolific of her career. With books such as Lipstick Legends (2012), POP.SEX (2014), Cat-Astrophe (2014), and Fancy Footwork (2015) Angie Bowie has demonstrated her ability to address different topics such as 70s rock scene and the study of sexuality, and venturing into genres as diverse as poetry and children’s stories. Today, she continues to extend her legacy as an author as she is preparing new books with her collaborator, visual artist Rick Hunt. In addition, in recent decades she was able to combine her artistic work with activism. In 2009 she founded AidsBeGone, a multidisciplinary project with which she raised funds for charities that fight against AIDS, in order to find a vaccine that eradicates the virus.
Angie Bowie has shown that to be able to progress it is essential to reinvent herself, and without the need to reach high degree of massiveness, her restless spirit is typical of a true star. David Bowie was probably the first to realize this, since he used that term in the song he dedicated to her, “The Prettiest Star”, from his album Aladdin Sane (1973).
Immersing yourself in the life and work of this Cyprus-born American artist is the rectification that the chameleon personality with which her former husband has always been identified, its actually the most conclusive feature of the Bowies idiosyncrasy.

When did you start writing poetry and what are your influences?

I started at about twelve or thirteen years of age. My father read me poetry before bedtime. He read comedic poetry, “Archy and Mehitabel” by Don Marquis and serious and inspirational verse by Rudyard Kipling “If” and Oscar Wilde “The Ballad Of Reading Gaol”. For English Literature O’ and A’ level there some fascinating social message poets from early 20th century like Wilfred Owen. I enjoyed trying out standard poetry templates, sonnets, haiku, limericks, iambic pentameter, ballads, epics, lyrics and stanzas.
Soon I found that I wanted to go to the places where there were no rules. My imagination was stimulated by being born in Cyprus travelling through Europe every three years and then crossing America by car. That gives one perspective of a planet in motion and news happening on the ground.
Classical poetry and literature abounded at St. George’s in both English and French so one had the opportunity to become acquainted with many poets and their specialties. After spending Easters in London from 1959-1966 I enjoyed Kahlil Gibran. I was introduced to the New York poetry scene in 1966, and was a fan of The Fugs, seeing them live on a weekend in New York away from Connecticut College for Women. I was also a fan of Frank Zappa, The Doors, The Velvet Underground and E.E. Cummings and 1001 Nights. My father taught me that literature and poetry can lift the common man to verbalize complex emotions and desires allowing art to integrate man’s confusion and provide explanations to cultural change.

Do you think that keeping the Bowie surname has brought you many complications as an artist?

Yes and No! Can you tell I am a Libra?
Keeping the Bowie name was a fight for recognition of my contribution to David’s development as an artist. During that period we recorded eleven albums in eight years and promoted and supported them so we accomplished a great deal. With the dissolving of our partnership, David tried to use the shield of traditional marriages’ legal concepts to avoid paying me for my creative work in his most radiant ten year period. The marriage was one aspect but the business partnership was what we had agreed before marriage was a romantic component to the deal.
I had a hard time finding work because the entertainment industry was enthralled with David and the typical image of an embittered partner was easy for David to promote by refusing to give me credit either by paying me for my work or I had to find another way to be paid and so I did, I kept the name. Now, as you can see, I have brought together all my Personae as Mary Angela Bowie Barnett.

Can you recall any specific moment that you had in the glam rock period that has stayed with you?

There were a few moments:

  1. Monsummano Terme The Italian song festival 1969
  2. The Free Festival in Beckenham 1969
  3. Going to see Elvis Presley at Madison Square Garden when we signed with RCA.
  4. The first photo shoots with Terry O’Neill 1972: promoting David and then Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK, “Undine” I played Prince Huldebrand and the water Nymph Undine, Wonder Woman and Daredevil and Black Widow when Stan Lee gave me the film and TV rights for one year after I screen-tested for Wonder Woman to give the NBC people a reason to put me on Johnny Carson to Promote David’s NBC special, Wolfman Jacks Midnight Special, the show we did from London at the Marquee.
  5. I was presented as Angie Bowie to the 14 million folks who watched the Johnny Carson show. I was there to promote the Midnight Special which followed the Johnny Carson show NBC US.
  6. The Paris collections photo shoot
  7. Promotional tour with Dana Gillespie for her Bowie and Ronson co-production of her album “Weren’t Born a Man.”
  8. Hammersmith Odeon David announced that he and the Spiders from Mars would no longer play together.
  9. The moment when I had to fly from Los Angeles to Switzerland and sort out residency so David could keep some of the money he was making as the British government swooped in to take their enormous commission/taxes. Mission accomplished, Thank you Angie.

How did people react to your androgynous look in the ’70s?

I guess it was fairly appealing as I was always promoting/modeling our image and the latest risqué fashion internationally in newspapers and photo sessions. We both aimed to appeal to all humans.

How did you help creating Lou Reed’s look in “Transformer”?

I spent time with Lou and his house guests and special friends, the brother and sister new best friends, from Holland I think. I organized and supervised buying the clothes and arranged hair and make-up and acted as stylist during the album’s photo shoot. It was an easy Joy as I was excited about the mixes of Lou’s album. David and Ronno were smiling broadly. The album artwork was to enchant Lou’s huge following from the Velvet Underground and open a window to his amazing song-writing and poetry that Transformer embodied. It was a Job Well done.

David Bowie was a transgressive artist, both for his music and for his look. What do you think an artist should have today to create that same impact on society?

That question requires writing another book to answer it! Good idea by the way!

Which of your biographical books was the most difficult to write? What do you think is the greatest contribution your books have made to the rock literature?

Talking about yourself is like therapy and so to share your view of the world as it happened to you with a biographer is never easy. It is your experience. It belongs to you and the problem with telling the truth is that many people don’t want the real reasons for their actions to be revealed.  Backstage Passes was by far the most difficult.

How did Whamco Publishing come about? What books are you planning to release in the future?

Whamco publishing was the result of a difference of opinion with a publisher for a book they called, “When the Boys Became Girls.” I had a different idea: Lipstick Legends. I wanted to interview the folks who had contributed to the great gender awareness awakening which occurred in the 1970s. Make-up and androgynous clothing, bisexuality, homosexuality being recognized and thus on the way to achieving civic acceptance was a celebration.
This is where the idea of self-publishing became very appealing and a better option because you are the authority on your own work. It is not necessary to receive a publisher’s permission before you present a work to the public. The Internet contributed to the company’s formation.
Rick Hunt and I met on the Internet and became good friends. His art is featured in several books we publish.
Whamco Publishing distributes Lipstick Legends, POP.SEX, Backstage Passes, Fancy Footwork, Cat’Astrophe, GAUCHO VISIONS ART of Rick Hunt Part 1 and GAUCHO VISIONS ART of Rick Hunt Part 2. Whamco also produces audiobooks of Lipstick Legends and Backstage Passes.
Future publications include Back to Bowix, Rick Hunt Fires Bowie Lyrics with Art (2021).

Angie Bowie and Chico Rey “Crying In The Dark” (1985/2001)

Why do you think your music hasn’t had the impact it deserves?

I don’t think that. Folks hear the message of my music and when the time is right it will make a creative explosion of happiness and excitement that are the result of delivering poetry and music to enchant and intrigue the audience.

I want to know more about the photo shoot you did for Steven Arnold. What was it like working with him?

Robert Musselman was my trainer and partner in several shows around Los Angeles. Steven and friends of his came to the shows and invited us to parties at his studio and then we were invited for a shoot and so of course we went. We had a wonderful time as Robert and I danced together Salsa and Merengue and Steven loved for us to dance while he shot and we found all the props and costumes and brought our own. So we did lots of changes and had a wonderful session. Unfortunately it was near the end of Steven’s life and so we were unable to enjoy more of that creative combustion!

Steven Arnold: Angie Bowie and Robert Musselman (1984)

You have acted in a cult horror movie called Demented. What can you tell me about that experience?

Sergio Kardenas is a Tucson photographer and director of film, video and a musical producer, an all round artist. I photographed with him six or seven sessions and we enjoyed the experience and he told me that he and his partner had written a movie and would I be interested in acting in it. I said, “yes.” The experience was wonderful. Tucson is full of talent and Sergio was able to draw on the acting abilities from Los Angeles, New York and several other artistic hotspots. The filming took place at Sergio’s studio. I was delighted to participate.

A decade ago we talked about your AidsBeGone project. Have you had any other artistic projects involved in activism ever since? What are your biggest concerns today?

The AidsBeGone albums are wonderful collections of music donated generously by Artists who care. Jude Rawlins did a wonderful job in the studio and I am so proud of everyone who donated their time and tracks to the project. That was the last time I undertook such a venture.
32.7 million people have died from Aids since the start of the epidemic. As recently as 2019, in one year, 690,000 people died from AIDS and Aids related illnesses.  75.7 million people have become infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic. These figures are from the unaids.org.
The fact that there was progress made in the life span of AIDS patients is fantastic but the idea that not following through with a vaccine to stop the spread of AIDS baffles me.

*Photos by: Shawn Ferjerac, Chuck Daniel Valdez, Rick Gillette, Sergio Kardenas, Terry O’Neill y John Rodgers.

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