David Bowie & Greece: Cyprus Was His Island, But So Was Patmos

David Bowie, the so-called chameleon of pop, had an on-off relationship with Greece that was curiously karmic. It wasn’t only his well-known love for Cyprus, where his first wife Angela was born (daughter of a United States Army veteran, she describes herself as a “Cypriot by disposition”). Bowie also nurtured a well hidden weakness for the island of the Revelation, Patmos. At the height of his mid 1980s fame, he would spend many summers on the scenic Aegean island, with its picturesque piers and climactic cliffs, usually as a guest of Prince Aga Khan IV.

Prior to that, Bowie’s acquaintance with Cyprus is reflected in one of his earlier songs, Move on, from Lodger, the 1979 travelogue that made up the third and final part of the Bowie/Eno/Visconti triumvirate’s triptych of late ’70s albums.

“Cyprus is my island
When the going’s rough
I would love to find you
Somewhere in a place like that”

David was enchanted by the ragged beauty of Cyprus. In 1972, the couple, together with their son Duncan Jones, spent the Christmas holiday on the island. They spent Christmas Day with Angie’s parents at their home in Lefkara, and visited Xeros and Kyrenia.

Courtesy, angiebowie.net

According to Angela’s account. “David and I rented a villa and vacationed with the band in Kyrenia. David was very taken with the island. The first time I went back to Cyprus with him and our son, he drove me to Lefkara and bought beautiful hand-made lace for our dining room table and for the vanity in the bedroom. He was very sweet.”

It’s therefore somewhat of a surprise that David Bowie only performed in the Hellenic Republic of Greece on one occasion. He headlined the first night of the 2nd RockinAthens festival at the PAO Stadium in Athens on July 1, 1996.

My mother spent most of her formative years not in Athens, but the country’s second city, Thessaloniki. Her father was English so it’s not an exaggeration to say the Greek genes in both her, my sister Stella and myself are exceptionally dominant. In fact, even before we’d met, George Michael, basing his curiosity on nothing more than a couple of photos on t’internet once asked me on Gaydar if I had half Greek parentage like him because “you look mainland, not Cypriot like me.” Spot on, Yog!

So with this in mind I jumped, they say, at the chance to witness Bowie’s live debut in my maternal homeland. I guess I sort of did, though at that point in my life I was editing and self-publishing a Bowie magazine called Crankin’ Out that was already providing me with unbelievable access to Bowie and his band, in far-flung places from America to Slovenia and Russia, though I didn’t come across any of the famed horsemen in the latter, much to my chagrin.

Let’s go outside: June 1996 on the balcony Parola

Marking my third visit to Greece, I spent a lovely week in the beautiful suburb of Kifissia as the guest of local artist Elli Parola and caught the (slightly condensed) Bowie show, ably assisted by his Outside-lite touring band of Reeves Gabrels, Gail Ann Dorsey, Zachary Alford and Mike Garson that balmy Monday night, then flew out the next day. I bumped into Lou Reed at the airport (he along with Elvis Costello were also on the Bowie bill) and conducted an impromptu interview while he puffed on one of the most pungent cigars I’d ever had the displeasure to smell. Lou was perfectly prickly pleasant though, and when I find that exchange I’ll post it here.

The seven days in Athens was also productive in that, through Elli, I met with Laurie Keras and her partner Sakis, who asked me to write the foreword for their upcoming book on the Dame, simply titled David Bowie. My Greek was somewhat better than Yog’s, though far from fluent in written form, so Laurie translated it into Greek for the finished project and here, for the first time, is my original contribution.

DAVID BOWIE

David Robert Jones will reach the age of fifty on January 8, 1997. As David Bowie, for the last thirty of those years he has released a steady stream of precisely twenty official solo albums, not to mention countless other live sets, compilations and retrospective packages, both with and without his blessing.

Since that self-titled debut LP in 1967, he has excited, delighted, surprised and shocked audiences, critics and the general public the world over. Sometimes all at once. The list of artists he’s worked reads like a who’s who of contemporary music: Pet Shop Boys, Annie Lennox, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed, Tina Turner, Queen, Mick Jagger, Brian Eno, Cher, Iggy Pop, Mott The Hoople and Morrissey to name just a few.

His dazzling and sometimes bewildering changes in style, both musically and visually, have spawned legions of arch copyists. But while they merely try to imitate, Bowie continues to innovate. Of the scores of acts undeniably influenced by the man some of the more obvious ones would include: Madonna, Smashing Pumpkins, Duran Duran, Suede, Boy George, U2, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Blur, Nine Inch Nails and Simple Minds. 

And that’s not to mention the rapidly increasing band of fellow artists that have recorded David’s songs themselves, among them: Nirvana, The Cure, Seal, Def Leppard, Blondie, George Michael, Stone Temple Pilots, Barbra Streisand, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

I’m honoured to be asked to write this introduction to what I believe is the first proper book on David Bowie to be published in Greece, a country that I have strong family ties with. In July of this year I was present at his first-ever concert there. The sense of super-charged joyous relief from the crowd the moment David bounded on that Athens stage, something the 40,000 fans present had thought unlikely to ever happen, was a pleasure to witness.

At this point in time, Bowie’s creativity has probably never been stronger. As well as his last two albums The Buddha Of Suburbia and Outside both containing moments to rival the best of his classic back-catalogue, he’s also been holding regular exhibitions of his paintings and sculptures, and can now been seen in the film Basquiat giving an acclaimed and spookily authentic performance as Andy Warhol.

It’s this wonderful diversity and unpredictability in David’s work these days that makes a magazine like Crankin’ Out!, which I started in 1994, a real rollercoaster ride of a publication to put together. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Steve Pafford, London, November 1996.