David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Ivan Kral in Berlin, 1979
This is a guest post by Ivan Kral, a musician/songwriter, as well as the director of The Blank Generation, a documentary concerning the ‘70s New York punk scene. Catch up on Ivan’s long and interesting career via this previous Dangerous Minds post, which focused on his years working with Iggy Pop.
After David Bowie’s recent passing, Ivan shared a story of a night he spent hanging out with Iggy and Bowie.
Sometime in 1979, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and I walked to a Berlin apartment from a small, dingy studio—where we were just playing for fun and weren’t working on anything specific—a few blocks away. The entry key was in a “secret hiding place,” which was inside the torn pocket of a mustard-colored overcoat hanging on the hall wall, where anyone could’ve found it.
Once inside, we smoked marijuana, but were still lucid afterwards. David sat down on the sofa in front of the TV that was playing old silent movies, the kind where the actors appear to move quickly or in bizarre sequences because real film cameras hadn’t been invented yet. As there wasn’t any sound, text like, “They wouldn’t let the dog take dancing lessons anymore,” would appear on screen, and then cut to young ladies making exaggerated movements.
I watched the film because David watched the film, and I wanted to be like him. He alternated between thumbing through books on the coffee table and then looking up at the TV—back and forth, back and forth. So I did, too. Iggy announced he had taken some L.S.D. earlier, and offered some to us. David declined, so I did, too.
I copied David’s every move as he looked curiously at each page in a book. The book I was looking at was unique because it had photos of small tree branches that were trimmed upward with a slant skyward, as, apparently, doing so might create a little dent. When a raindrop lands on the angled tip it won’t be able to slide off, so it hugs the newly exposed angled end where it could rot and/or mold, then freeze and kill new flower buds next season. When I shared my discovery with David it blew his mind. He’d look at the book and then stare off into space, repeating several times, “One raindrop can bring down an entire forest,” which I found very profound. I still can’t relax when I see someone outside cutting down trees.
Still sitting on the sofa, David crossed his legs, so I did, too. Soon Iggy emerged from the bathroom wearing mismatched socks and girl’s underwear. He had too much energy for the small place, so he left to walk up and down the halls.
David smiled at the flapper girls on TV doing the Charleston, so I did, too. Before he disappeared again, Iggy draped a bed sheet over his body so it looked like a toga. David just stared past him at the starlets still dancing on TV, so Iggy left in a huff, marching back into the hall. David and I continued with our discussion, trying to figure out how many branches are on a tree. We obsessed over it for quite some time that night.
It was one of the most memorable times I ever spent with David because it gave me insight into how he processed new information. You could almost see him filing away discoveries in his mind for later retrieval to be directed at a future creation.
I remember David Bowie as someone who could adapt to any situation with ease and skill—whether writing, painting, acting, producing, dancing, designing or playing any instrument. Sometimes he’d just observe silently amidst the chaos. It’s as if he collected those observations and magically transformed them into great art. When I heard he had died, I felt sadness for all who will never see him again, including me. But what brilliance he had! He was so creative that he wrote a play, a video, and an album almost like he was orchestrating a production that ends in tragedy—his own death. That takes time, revision, rehearsal, and planning, which tells me he accepted his fate early, meeting it head on. Brave. Such a loss for his family, and a loss for the world.
Ivan Kral is currently writing his autobiography.
Ivan and Cindy Hudson provided the color photographs, which were snapped the same evening Ivan’s story transpired.
Check out this excellent interview with David Bowie that aired on the British program, Afternoon Plus, on February 16th, 1979: