Michael Page and Iggy Pop. I took Glen Matlock’s place in Iggy’s band.
Born in San Diego in 1950, Michael Page, in the mid-’70s, was living in La Jolla and playing bass in local bands when he met Eliza beth Ballard, an underground actress who lived in New York City. “You don’t belong here,” she told him. “You’re wearing black fingernail polish. You’ve got dyed hair.” New York was the center of art and culture. With $200 in his pocket, Page headed cross country and moved in with Elizabeth, her boyfriend, and her son. Through a chance encounter, he met Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls, a group that was just breaking up. Page joined Sylvain’s new band, the Criminals, and they played Max’s Kansas City until Sylvain was signed solo by RCA Records. Page’s story continues below.
David Bowie with Michael Page (left) on bass. David knew that art form of turning the conversation to finding out all about you.
At the time of our breakup, Sylvain and I were living together in a tiny little apartment that Serpico formerly had in Greenwich Village. My girlfriend Lisa, the one from San Diego who fell in love with Iggy Pop, came to visit one time, and I’m sure she thought that Syl and I were gay, because this little place was ten by ten, and there was only one bed. But, no. I had a foam thing underneath and I slept on it. Sylvain and I would fall asleep at nighttime laughing. We sometimes wouldn’t eat for two or three days in a row, and we were real bohemians living in New York City. But we would laugh ourselves to sleep. We were so broke it was funny.
...with Michael Page on bass. Iggy got concerned that we were getting away from doing the rock and roll thing.
A lot of groups came from out of town and passed through New York. I remember I saw Iggy play with David Bowie. David was playing keyboards with Iggy at the Palladium, and I went to see that. It was Iggy’s tour and Blondie opened for him.
Chubby took me all over the world. Three hundred forty shows a year.
I saw Devo the first night they played at Max’s Kansas City, and it was like, wow, who are these guys? It was a night when there was hardly anybody there. I went up to the dressing room to tell them that I was really entertained by the show, but there was no one there. And I’m not used to that. Usually there’s a big party in the dressing room and everybody’s drinking, and here are all these little college kids in boxer shorts and masks on. It was insane.
For drugs, we did cocaine. We did cocaine in the days when it wasn’t addictive. Now, I’d done cocaine in San Diego when there were tons of cocaine. I’d met Peruvian and Colombian drug dealers, and I’ve got friends that are probably still doing prison time for it. I was lucky to pull out of that drug crap, actually, because people started dying. Right around the time when I first arrived in New York, I heard about the Stilettos. They had a guy in that group named Eric Emerson, who was in the Warhol crowd, and he was really well known and liked. Eric died of a heroin overdose at a party, and they pulled him out of the place and left him on the street so that the heat wouldn’t come to their place. I remember hearing that and thinking that that was pretty cold, but that’s what happens when you do dope.
See, I didn’t know any heroin people here in San Diego. But coke was something you’d do for a little fun thing. You could drink more if you did a little coke. And there’s that weird time period where coke was acceptable to my people. It was just something that you did.
I really never understood the heroin thing. The first time I did heroin in New York, I thought it was coke, and then I threw up and got dizzy. Sylvain was really wary. Billy Murcia had died, and it was a big deal to him. It was called “doogie” in New York. And it was real easy to get a dime bag. You’d just go to the Lower East Side, get a dime bag of dope, and sniff it. Of course, everybody knows what happens with heroin. If you used heroin, you could become addicted. You could get addicted to it. You could overdose. You could die.
It’s a crazy thing, because eventually I ended up getting addicted to alcohol, which is legal. I didn’t get into alcohol because of a bad childhood or anything. It was just part of what we did on a daily basis. Alcohol was what we did. We drank. We drank a lot, and we drank all the time. But I never would really get stupid. I’d hear stories here and there that alcoholism was a progressive disease. And I don’t remember the day that it actually happened, but I finally ended up being an alcoholic. See, I did a lot of touring for a lot of years. We were touching a lot of different bases and going back and forth and all over everywhere. And alcohol was always there!
When Sylvain got signed to RCA and went solo, I was ready to come back to San Diego and call it quits because I figured that I had done really well in rock and roll. But the day before I was leaving, I talked with this girl. She was one of the girls who’d worked with the Dolls and then worked at the Beacon Theater in New York. Then she somehow had gotten hooked up with Chubby Checker. She asked if I’d be interested in auditioning for Chubby Checker’s road gig. And it was, like, “Yeah, of course.” So I auditioned with Chubby Checker. I didn’t get the gig originally because my playing style was pretty simple. But the next thing I know, they’ve reconsidered. So I got the gig with Chubby, and we did 340 shows a year.
Now, I’m switching from the underground bands to Chubby Checker, and Chubby has an interesting history. He’s the only guy in the entire history of rock and roll to have a number-one song that was number one twice. Chubby started in the late ’50s, and he was like Chuck Berry. He was always around from then on. Once he was established, he was just there. Chubby Checker owed a lot to Dick Clark, and Dick Clark’s wife named him. His original name was Ernest Evans, and he was a chicken plucker from Pennsylvania. And one time Dick Clark and his wife heard Chubby sing and asked him who his favorite singer was. Chubby said Fats Domino. So Dick Clark’s wife named him Chubby Checker after the Fats Domino name. And they made him. Chubby Checker may have started in the ’50s, but he never quit rock and roll. He just never went away and was always out there playing. Nonstop. That’s how he made his bread and butter. He just played. And if he’s not playing here, he’s in another country.
Chubby hired me to modernize his band, because when I showed up, I was wearing red patent leather. Chubby needed to teach his guys not to wear street clothes. They needed to be taught that they were doing a show, because they’d forgotten this. Chubby’s whole thing was falling apart, and he needed new, fresh energy. He needed to remember that it was Showtime. We might travel a long time in buses, sometimes for six days in a row. But the stage was still a stage, and the stage was Showtime. The band had forgotten that and wore the same clothes onstage that they woke up out of the bunks in. So I taught them how to dress. And that was it.
These guys were, like, who is this guy? And the first week I was paid, I told Chubby, “You don’t need to do that. You don’t have to pay me. I’m just having the time of my life. Meeting all these people and playing all those places.” I’m single, and I’m playing bass for Chubby Checker. The guys in the band thought I was nuts.
It would be easier to name the places that we didn’t play than the places that we did. We didn’t play Russia, and we didn’t play China. Other than that, I played everywhere with Chubby. It was my first time on the international scene and the first time I’d been to the jungles of Africa, and it just changed my life. Tasmania. Tanzania. I didn’t even know there was a Tasmania. I thought that Tasmania was the old Warner Brothers cartoon guy, the little Tasmanian devil. I didn’t know that there was a real place that was called that. It was exactly like San Diego, with blue skies and eucalyptus.
Chubby Checker didn’t write the song “The Twist.” Hank Ballard of the Midnighters wrote it but didn’t get a hit with it. Then Chubby — through a matter of timing and Dick Clark — came along and got a hit with it. Hank Ballard was in a swimming pool one time at a hotel and heard the song come over the radio. And it was just, like, wow, that’s great. I’m finally on the radio. And halfway through it, he thought, wait a minute — that’s not me! That’s not my voice! What’s up with this!
Chubby’s whole thing was just bizarre, because he didn’t write any of his hits. Was he a good singer? Chubby was just Chubby. He’s got one of those personalities. I saw him play last year at one of the casinos. And when he saw me, he jumped through the crowd and said, “I love this man!” Chubby took me all over the world. That’s when I learned what real rock and roll touring was all about. Three hundred forty shows a year. Nonstop. And many times, two to three shows a night. That’s real rock and roll. And I got to meet all the guys I’d heard about earlier on in my life. Chuck Berry. Little Richard. These were the first rock and rollers, and they were the real thing. Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, even the Beach Boys!
I’d always loved the history of rock and roll, but I never dreamed I would do this stuff. We’d do radio interviews, and I’d get to hang out with the Chiffons and the Shirelles, and for me, it was a dream come true. See, these other groups were all playing the same shows that Chubby was. I got the chance to shake James Brown’s hand!
Chuck Berry turned out to be an asshole to a lot of people, but I got along with him really well, for some reason. I’ve got a cool picture of him. He had a standard thing he would do just before he went on. He would tell the promoters that he needed more money. And it was something that he was known for doing. He’d have them sign a check or use a credit card, and he was notorious for doing this. I’ve got a cool picture of him signing a contract and using my back to do it. I had to hold his guitar while he was signing it. Some photographer was there, and it is one of the coolest pictures. I played the Chicago Fest with Chubby Checker, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley.
Tom Waits, the singer from National City, ended up being a good friend of mine. We did a TV show together in New York City, and then somehow we both ended up in Australia doing The Don Lane Show, the equivalent of the Johnny Carson show. And I was in the dressing room, of course, with jet lag and drunk. And I heard somebody playing the piano who had been drinking, and he was way in the back room. Sure enough, it was Tom. And he was, like,“Are you following me?” I have a cosmic thing with Tom. There’s a soul thing happening there.
After I retired from active touring, Char and Nina and I ended up in this little town in Northern California on the Russian River called Monte Rio. It’s a little town in the redwoods, and God’s kissed this area. The Russian River spills into the Pacific Ocean, and there’s the rugged coast and the redwoods. Tom sang about Monte Rio in one of his songs, and I didn’t even know it. All of a sudden I’m listening to a song that I’ve heard many times, and he’s talking about the browneyed girl from Monte Rio. Well, that’s got to be my wife. And Monte Rio is where Tom ended up. He lives there now with Kathleen and his three kids. I still don’t know how all this stuff happens.
Being with Chubby Checker was really safe, because people came to see Chubby Checker for a particular reason. They came for nostalgia and to have a good time doing the twist. There was nothing threatening in Chubby’s shows or in the audience, whereas everything else I had been involved in up to that time was threatening. And you didn’t need to have an opinion or be judgmental or whatever. The people were all there to have a good time and dance. It was all very relaxed and a real fun thing. And there was a lot of love. Chubby expressed a lot of love, and the audience gave it back to him. It was crazy and just wonderful. I went on American Bandstand with Chubby, and I met Dick Clark many times. The TV-show stuff. We did it all.
The downside of working with Chubby was just the endless, endless, endless traveling. Now, I’d wanted to travel and get from point A to point B. But it was planes, trains, boats, and buses, and it was just never ending.
When Chubby married Miss World from Amsterdam, in the ’60s, it was a big deal. It was black and white, and all that stuff. And I remember Chubby’s mom opened her mouth and said, “This should never be happening.”The interracial stuff. But Chubby’s just the coolest guy on the planet.
Chubby used to like to drive the tour bus to relieve some of his nervous energy. He’d be driving along in a silver jock strap and silver boots that went up to his knees. And he’d be drinking cold duck. My nickname was “Sid” in that band. Sid Vicious. That’s about all those guys knew about me. And Chubby would say, “Come on up, Sid, and talk to me.” And I’d keep him awake while we’d be traveling. I love that man dearly.
But I finally said to Chubby one time, “No más. I can’t handle it anymore. I have an apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York, and I’m only there three days out of the year.” It was getting to be too much, and I’d finally run my gamut of touring. And I started thinking right about then, I wonder if I’m ever going to be a dad. I’d been living in New York City for a long time, and I was ready for a change. So I made a real amicable change with Chubby and told him that I was tired. We went through personnel stuff, and then I told him, “You know what, let me work with you until you get somebody. I’ll go to auditions and make sure you get the right guy.” And he said,“It really hurts me bad to see you do this.”
After Chubby, I played a stint with Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was a big mistake, and it was a short deal. It was an odd time in Jerry Lee’s life, and I understand it hasn’t gotten any better. But I thought that maybe if I got some real pro rock and roll guys under my belt that I could be looked to as a guy who maybe knew what he was doing, and it would be good for my credits. But Jerry Lee — you know, the guns, drunk. I won’t even go into it.
Brenda Lee was a girl we’d do things with, and the Coasters. The Coasters were funny, because they had three or four different bands. I just saw them recently, and two of the guys from the Coasters remembered me. One of them said, “Mikey, what are you doing?” And I’m like, holy shit, man, these guys remember me. But the Coasters were funny. I remember seeing one of the Coasters playing at a show in New York City, and two days later, we were in Tasmania playing with the Coasters, and it wasn’t even the same guys. So, I don’t know. But Jerry Lee was a big mistake, first of all because I had told Chubby that I didn’t want to tour and that I wanted to slow down. But it was just like going from the frying pan into the fire. It was just nuts, and there was going to be trouble. It was a real bad vibe, and it was a big mistake.
So, I jumped out of that really quickly. I was getting ready to come back to San Diego and visit my best friend Pat Looby, and I had the plane ticket and everything. I was living with a girlfriend uptown named Patty Kohler, from the Kohler fixture company, who was a multimillionaire fashion model in New York. You know, you get some perks when you do rock and roll. And girls was one of them.
But Patty was serious about me. She really liked me a lot, and I really liked her a lot. But I was also used to floating around and going from one city to another. So I didn’t have time for a relationship, and she really got threatened by that.
But I got a phone call just as I was getting ready to come back to San Diego. It was Roberta Bailey, one of those people who pops up in my life all the time. She asked me if I would like to audition for Iggy Pop. So it was, like, “Yeah, right.” I thought it was a joke.
But I went to the audition. I think I was the 50th guy that auditioned, and I came with my Tom Waits hat, sharkskin suit, and cigar. And I don’t know why this happened, but I walked in and they said,“You’ve got the gig.” I think they were tired of auditioning guys. They didn’t know that I knew Iggy from the past. They knew about my deal with the New York Dolls, though. So I get hired to play with Iggy Pop. I’d said to the guys, “You should probably let me play a little anyway, so that you can see what I do.” But they were, like, “No, you’re that guy that played with Syl, and you’ve just come back from Africa. You’ve got a passport, and you can play. We know that already.”
So I took Glen Matlock’s place in Iggy’s band. Glen was from the Sex Pistols. I found out that Iggy had finished up the New Values tour, and he’d gotten tired of the foreign guys in his band. One day he woke up and he couldn’t handle the accents. He had a French keyboard player, an English bass player, and Ivan was a Czech. Another guy was from Germany. So Iggy said to his manager,“You know what, just give me American kids.” It was, like, one day it was everybody out of the pool. The drug and the drink thing got involved, and Iggy just wanted a fresh thing. So that’s what happened.
There were 50 guys who had auditioned before me, and I got it without playing, so that’s kind of weird. The guy just before me was from Johnny Winter’s band. He was an insane player, and he’s played all over the place. But that guy started talking salary and wanted to know how much he would be making here, and what would be happening there. So Iggy took him and another guy aside and said, “Who wants this gig the most?” And the guys said, “I do, I do.” And Iggy said, “Well, go out in the hallway and fight about it, and whoever wins the fight can have the gig.” So I don’t know. It was crazy. But I got the gig. And I had three days to learn an entire album’s worth of songs for Iggy’s European tour. But it was Iggy’s Soldier album, one of my favorites.
The problem with Iggy’s music was that it was different from anything I’d ever played before. There was no form or structure to it. I mean, I come from three-chord blues progressions that are predictable, and I know where they’re going. So my job is cut out plain and simple, and I know what I need to do. I need to hold down the fort. I need to work with the drummer and lay down a foundation for the other musicians to work with. That’s how I got my gigs, because I have an understanding of that. I don’t push the bass as a showman instrument. I know nothing about slapping. I’m not into bass technique. The only technique I do is work with the drummer, listen to his bass drum, and lay down that solid foundation.
Iggy’s music was different because he had no chord structure. He did a song called “I’m a Conservative,” and it had 32 different changes. And before the European tour, I had three days to learn his stuff. So I’m in there with a paper and pencil at my girlfriend’s place. She’s trying to help and also mad at me because I’m going out on the road again. I tried to do it without drugs and booze, and it was hard work. Three days in a row, with a pencil and paper and a record player. Going over the songs over and over again. Writing down the names of the changes. I had to get familiar with the songs, and it was nothing that I came from. It was not my school.
The Dolls didn’t compare with this because they basically had three-chord things. And with the Criminals, I was doing walking jazz bass. And I could play that stuff a whole lot easier than I could play Iggy’s stuff. Iggy’s meter structure would also change. I mean, it’s no big deal to a real technical musician. But to me, a simple blues guy, it made no sense. He writes things that are going to please him, and he never follows any structure at all. So the pressure was on.
I would much rather play music that I’m comfortable with and that I know I’m doing a good job with than to be up there wondering what key a song is in. And, oops, that change is coming up that I’m not really familiar with. So I did the best I could and worked as hard as I could. And either I did a good job of faking it, or I finally got to know the stuff well enough. Eventually, I ended up where I could do the songs in my sleep, and I didn’t have to think about it and could concentrate on dodging bottles. I was with Iggy Pop from 1980 to around 1983, or something like that.
At that time, I still didn’t know very much about Iggy. I just knew that he was Iggy Pop, and he moved in circles that I wasn’t really concerned about. Iggy came from Michigan. The MC5 were also from there. So there were a few things that were happening, and a movement was there. I think their sound had something to do with the fact that this was where they manufactured cars. It was something about the rhythm of the machinery, or whatever it was, that ended up having
an influence on some of the music that came from there. The first time I saw Iggy do his gymnastics was at one of the first shows we played on this European tour. I take that back. I’d seen him at the Palladium in New York City, when Blondie opened for him and David Bowie played the keyboards. Johnny Thunders, Sylvain, Dave Johansen, and I went to see that show, and it was, like, wow! Iggy came out in a gunnysack. Some roadie pulled him out of the gunnysack, and we didn’t even know he was in there. They just pulled him out of this bag. At that moment, all eyes were on David, because it’s like, wow, David Bowie. Iggy also had Hunt and Tony Sales, Soupy Sales’s kids, who were playing drum and bass. It was just a really great, great band. See, Iggy’s done that for a lot of people. Remember Joan Jett? Iggy had Joan Jett open for us, and then she got the hit with “I Love Rock and Roll.” Iggy was really insightful and tried to help bands out when he could. It’s true that David helped Iggy, but Iggy also helped David a whole lot. It was a 50-50 deal there. Whatever David has done for Iggy was kind of expected. But whatever Iggy’s done for David, David has gotten a lot out of it. Where do you think David’s Ziggy Stardust came from? Ziggy and Iggy. Iggy actually told me one time, “I know that a lot of people get a lot of stuff from me.”
In former days, way back in the era of the Stooges, Iggy rented a big chateau. It was a huge castle from Douglas Fairbanks’s place, with the entry, the swimming pool, and the whole deal. And the band would just play and do drugs. David would come on occasion, suck up whatever Iggy was doing, and then leave. He was learning. David would run with it and make a lot of money.
And that was the difference between the two of them, that David could do that. David was at a recognizable status place, where he could take a chance and the general public would give it a listen. But Iggy Pop is not going to do that. Iggy’s into making comfortable people uncomfortable, while David is there saying everything’s cool. Just be comfortable. And just make the check out right.
Well, we started rehearsing in New York for the Iggy Pop tour that was opening in London to a sold-out stadium. I’d heard that Iggy’d cleaned up, because the word was out in New York that he was clean and sober. But when he walked in, he had a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a bottle of champagne, a cigarette, a joint, and a bindle of something or a roach, and he wasn’t cleaned up at all.
But we started off on the European tour. Our first stop was London, and it was a big deal. Like I said, everything was sold out way in advance. We were doing the Soldier album, and it got a pretty good response, especially in Europe. I loved the music, and the whole thing was just insane, you know. I mean, the bus we had, and so on. We would take buses infrequently. You know, I hadn’t explored Europe that much on the other tours that I’d done. On those tours, we were just flying from city to city. But here we got to drive in a real luxurious tour bus and go through the Pyrenees and French Alps, whatever, and be in Switzerland. We went to David Bowie’s house in Geneva and Salvador Dalí’s house in Cadaqués. That was some of the most fun that I’d ever had. Everything was paced out, and it wasn’t like other tours that I’d been on.
This was the first tour that I’d done of that magnitude, and we’re playing these huge football and soccer stadiums.
Iggy was huge in Europe. And seeing the reaction of the kids there was something else, because Iggy’s like a God figure to a lot of these kids, and a role model — he wasn’t really a role model, but he just represented all this stuff about being an American and everything. So, it was crazy. Wherever we went, it was crazy. It was my first introduction to five-star hotels. There’s a picture of Iggy crowd-surfing. He invented it. It’s a good picture. He was walking on the people. Europe was like that wherever we went.
It was just insane girls. You could get anything you wanted, and it was my first time doing this. I just had fun with it, because I’m just a dude from San Diego.
Iggy’s lyrics were rough, and I’d never really heard lyrics like he was doing. He sings the song “I’m a Conservative,” for example. Listen to the lyrics in that song. They’re not like regular song lyrics. Then there were his obvious songs, like “I Need More.” I love that. I need more mustard. More relish. More champagne. Don’t forget adrenaline. I can’t forget my brain. Iggy can pick words out of the air, and it’s something that I admire about him. I can see him doing it, and I’ve seen it happen with other guys, like William Burroughs. He’d just pick thoughts out of the air and randomly communicate them in a way that I admired. I wish I could do that. I think a lot of people wish that they could communicate on the level that he does.
Iggy’s weaknesses were booze and drugs. Now, this was a physical thing that’s right there in front of you. Other than that, I don’t know what his weaknesses were. He’s a show-biz guy, so he doesn’t trust people very well. A lot of times after a show, I’d be blown away by some of the girls he would end up with. You’d figure that it would be the hightech fashion girl, but it would be that little dumpy thing in the corner with the new Mohawk. And he’d grab her and hang with her because he wanted to know what she was all about. What made her tick. I liked that.
David Bowie knew that art form of turning the conversation to finding out all about you. David’s heard it all. What are you going to tell David Bowie? “I’ve got all your albums, and I’ve been loving you for forever.”“What were you really saying in your songs?”“Were you the Diamond Dog?”
You know, what are you going to say to David? He’s heard these things a billion times before. He’s a sweetheart, but he’s been there, done that.
What did we do with groupies on tour? Loved them. That’s one of the perks. There were so many girls of quality.
You’d get the professionals. And Iggy, I think, at one point got a little concerned, and that was one of my concerns, that maybe we were getting away from really doing the rock and roll thing. Drugs and girls and the booze were supposed to be perks that come along afterwards. So we had strict rules in the dressing room before we went on. A good half hour before our performance, no one was allowed in the dressing room. It was just the guys. The girls and everybody had to split. I always remained focused, and I was extremely loyal. I think that was one of the things that Iggy could count on with me. That loyalty thing that was happening.
And I’d never get too self-indulgent before a show. I think once, out of all the shows I played with him, I drank a little bit too much sake and I wasn’t quite with it. And, you know, this is a job. It’s what I’m being paid to do. We’d only play for an hour a night, and it wasn’t too much to ask to try to keep it together. And after the show was over, you could do anything you wanted.
We did the European tour, came back, and did a North American tour of the Soldier album, and that was a real long tour. Then we recorded the Party album. We did that at the Record Plant, and John Lennon had just finished recording there. We came in, and the piano bench was still warm from him doing the song “Imagine.” It was too much — the white piano and the whole deal. Dire Straits were in there recording too. I hadn’t heard too much about them, but I knew a little bit about what they were about. And we ended up talking shop. But that was my first shot at a really hunky-dory studio. The real deal and stuff, and quite an experience.
I saw the amount of money that was spent for that album. I mean, they wanted strings, and so they brought in the New York Philharmonic. Strings! For an Iggy Pop album. That was really a very unlikely project. We were signed with Arista at the time, and Arista was going to try to do what they could to sort of pump him. They got some business guys together, and they came up with everything wrong. They hired Tommy Boyce to produce it, from Boyce and Hart, the songwriting team that wrote “Last Train to Clarksville” for the Monkees. And the next thing that happens is that we’ve got this guy producing us with strings. And it was, like, what’s wrong with this picture? Everything was wrong with it. They were trying to make Iggy be commercial.
Boyce is not a big-name producer in my eyes. The Monkees! Come on, give me a break. But Jimi Hendrix opened for the Monkees, so what can I say? But out of that album, the song “Bang Bang” happened. David and Tina Turner did aversionof“Tonight”and scored a hit. We also recorded a version of “Sea of Love,” which Robert Plant got a hit with later on. Iggy calls it his DOG album and I don’t blame him, but I had fun doing it anyway.
I met David Bowie in Berlin when I was on one of the first tours that I did with Iggy. Iggy told me that David might be there, and I asked him, “How do you know that?” And he said, “Well, you can see his little butterflies.” David had people that would come into an event and would clear it with security up front. They would make sure that they had a place to take David, because David was a big shit in those days. David had this girl, Coco, who was his personal secretary, and she took care of everything. You knew if you saw Coco that David was there. So we’re playing the song “China Girl,” and we’re in Berlin. It was one of those times when the crowd wasn’t superaggressive. They just admired Iggy. The whole show had been sold out for months, so they took it easy on the bottle throwing.
Well, anyway, we’re doing “China Girl,” and I’m looking in the front row at this guy who had his hand up in the air, and he was reaching out. And he was, like, signaling me to come and pull him out of the crowd. So I went and pulled him out of the crowd, and I realized, holy shit, it’s David Bowie!
He looked normal. At that time, he and Iggy were shopping at JCPenney and Montgomery Ward. They were making a point of doing things like that — to try to be as normal as they could possibly be. But even when they put those clothes on, they’re still not normal. So I kind of recognized him, but I didn’t think at first that this was who it really was.
Well, it was. So I pulled him up onstage. And it was a cool way to meet the dude, because other than that, how are you going to meet David Bowie? Stand in line and try to get an autograph and tell him that you’ve got all his albums?
So David jammed “China Girl” with us. I remember he asked me the key of the song while we were playing so that he could accompany us on the keyboard. But when you try to yell something like that in music, and you look at the visual thing with your mouth — you’re trying to say E or G or C. Well, they’re all the same, and you can’t do it. So I tried to write it in the air that the key was C.
David picked up on it, and we did the song. Then we played “Funtime” and “Sister Midnight,” and it was, like, how cool! We finished up, and David came back to the dressing room withus.AndIdidwhatIdo best. I just shut the fuck up, instead of getting all over him. David kept trying to open up a beer and was busting off the tops and stuff. So I opened one up for him. And Iggy was, like, don’t do anybody any kind of favors, or whatever. David and Iggy had a weird relationship. See, David had come unannounced, but he played with us, and it was cool.
So after we’d finished the show, I kept my distance. But it was a big, big deal. Here was one of my idols right there in the room. What a cool way to meet him, by getting to play with him, but now I’ve gotta chill out and be cool.
He and Iggy took me to an after-hours club in Berlin. It was the epitome of decadence. Berlin nightlife. It was like the movie Cabaret, with the transvestites and scary stuff and all that. Scary Berlin deviance. And here it was.
David introduced me to a drink called grappa. It’s the bottom of the barrel of brandy; there’s heavy alcohol in it, and it doesn’t taste that great. Well, I wasn’t really monitoring my intake that much. David also taught me how to play billiards that night because I’d never played. There were no pockets in the table. And I’m just having the time of my life and going, wow, if my friends from San Diego could see me now, because I’m playing billiards with David Bowie. Whoop-de-doo!
But one thing led to another, and the grappa attacked me from behind. I got pretty whacked, and I don’t remember very much. My roadies said to me the next morning, “What the hell happened to you, man? You were really having a great time. David took to you, and it was really cool. And then, all of a sudden, boom, you got whacked and we had to help you get home.” And it was like, holy moly, another blackout. So that was how I met David Bowie, and that was how we did our deal. Then over the years, I’d bump into him in different situations. We played in England, and he came and played with us. My little brother Guy came to our show, and he was in the Air Force at the time. Well, David saw how uncomfortable Guy was with the English crowd, with all the kids, the purple Mohawks. These are hard-core English punks, and my little brother had a U.S. military uniform on that was out of place up the wazoo.
While we were in the dressing room, I told David that Guy was my little brother. And David pulled him aside and did what David does best. He doesn’t give you any time to talk about him. Instead, he wants to know all about you. Your hobbies. Your interests. He’s just the nicest guy that you can ever meet. With all the attention and everything that is heaped on him, I figured he probably wouldn’t be a very normal guy. But he’s just a normal — well, not a normal guy at all — but he’s just really fun to hang with.
And I can guarantee you that David never has a nickel in his pocket. All the times I’ve been with him, I’ve picked up all the tabs, and gladly. I gladly did it. He’s just one of those guys that never thinks about money. We’d run up a big tab in a restaurant or bar, and he’d just assume that somebody would take care of it for him. Usually, I’d be the one to get stuck with it. Well, I had credit cards, so I just paid the bill.
But David saved my little brother’s butt that night, and Guy was incredibly grateful, because what a cool thing to do: he was uncomfortable, and David made him feel right at home. David turned around to get a cigarette or something, and my brother’s looking at me with these big, wide eyes, like, “Can you believe it? Not only do I get to talk with him, but he pulls me aside in a corner and makes me feel comfortable in a situation that’s highly uncomfortable.” So he was blown away with David’s deal.
It’s the same thing with my family. David’s always been gracious to my family members. My daughter, Nina, is finally beginning to realize a little bit more now. She was pretty young when she was introduced to a lot of this stuff. Some of it I have to remind her of, and some of it she remembers. But it’s like David was her Uncle David who gave her horsy-back rides in the dressing room. And Iggy was Uncle Iggy. This was a while back, and she’s low profile with it now.
When Iggy and I were touring, we stayed in San Diego for a while. My brother had a place on Eagle Street, and we stayed there between tours, to get our health together, to lay off the booze, drugs, and women, and slow everything down a bit. Get back to earth. Do some fishing.
We had good intentions, but it didn’t end up like that. My poor brother had a fully stocked bar, you know, and then his hardcore alcoholic brother and Iggy Pop move in. I figure he spent $500 to $800 in the first week, and we went right through that. But we did ease up on the drugs, and we tried to ease up on the girls. Iggy’s idea was maybe to do a little jogging, and I think he ran around the block once. But we went fishing in Mission Bay, and he caught the first fish he’d ever caught in his life. I’ve got a picture of him doing that, and he was just blown away. He’d had two front teeth knocked out at one of the shows, and that’s what happens. Alfred E. Newman. The idiot.
One time, Iggy wanted to spend the summer in New Orleans, and I talked him out of it because it was too hot down there. At that time, the group was pretty much inseparable. Wherever we went, we went as a group. One time between tours, David came to New York and got a little place in Greenwich Village. Iggy’s son Eric came to town the same time that David did, and I ended up taking care of Eric a little bit. Now I see Eric more than I see Iggy. The last time Eric visited San Diego, he came over to the house and we talked until about three o’clock in the morning. He was Iggy’s road manager. Actually, we talked about how cool it was to be sober these days.
Next week: Michael Page plays with the Rolling Stones