Meet the Genius Behind David Bowie’s Best Costumes
n January 1972, David Bowie and his band set out on the Ziggy Stardust Tour, an 18-month, three-continent sojourn to support the albums The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Aladdin Sane. As epoch-defining as the songs on those records were, it could be argued that Bowie’s persona, Ziggy Stardust, had a greater impact on sex, fashion, and the gender-bending pageantry of 70s glam rock that would eventually follow. Many of Ziggy’s most eye-popping outfits—avant-garde kimonos and billowing structural pantsuits—were made by Kansai Yamamoto, a Tokyo-based designer who had no idea that his creations would become such important visual markers in the history of rock ’n’ roll.
Japanese photographer and editor Kazumi Asamura Hayashi caught up with Kansai—who in the decades since Ziggy has continued to push fashion in new directions—to talk about the first time he crossed paths with Bowie and how his interest in Central Asian fabrics led to a coat that can cause car accidents.
VICE: I heard a rumor that David Bowie wanted you to design these costumes so badly that he flew out in his jet to ask you in person. What was it like meeting him for the first time?
Kansai Yamamoto: I actually had no idea who David Bowie was until I saw him wearing my clothes onstage at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Yasuko Hayashi, my stylist, was doing work for David Bowie and gave him some of my clothes. This was the first time I had ever met an artist who was wearing my designs. Before then, I didn’t know how immensely talented he was. (A similar thing happened to me with Lady Gaga. I only found out how talented she was when I looked her up on the internet ten minutes before I met her.) At the time, David Bowie was all about transcending gender. I didn’t know anything about concepts like that, so I remember thinking whoa when I saw him wearing clothes I had designed for women. The clothes were influenced by hikinuki, the method of changing costumes quickly in kabuki. The audience in New York saw the costumes transform a few times during the show. I realized I had done something really cool when everyone in the audience got on their feet and clapped.
I met a lot of famous people in the Western music world through David, and the one thing I can say for sure is that the best people in the world have distinctive personalities that are completely out of the ordinary.
You’ve said your work has a “Japanese beauty.” What do you mean by that? Why was Andy Warhol obsessed with canned food? It’s the same with me, but I’m going after Japanese themes. Every artist has his own thing going on. I often use Japanese motifs and sometimes wonder if I’m choosing them because I’m Japanese. Having been all over the world and to countries with various religious backgrounds as much as I have, I sometimes wonder where I’m really from. I’m Japanese, so of course I think of myself as Japanese, and I eat Japanese food most of the time. I hardly ever eat Western food. That said, my daughter Mirai’s homemade spaghetti is really tasty! But of course I eat it with chopsticks. It would be rude to try and act cool and eat it with a fork.
Andy had these silver balloons he was making. I guess it was art, something I didn’t know shit about. So when he first was doing the silver balloons, I came to the Factory on the weekend and he was just finishing them. There was maybe four or five of them floating around, I walked in and Andy says, “Oh Mo, look at my beautiful balloons…”
I said, “Who do you think’s going to buy this shit?”
Andy said, “Oh, oh, oh, oh no, people will like them…”
Then the next day, or a week later, he sold them for $3,000!
Boy Andy worked like a dog. He was always working, if not actually creating art—he was on the phone, planning something. He’d say to Lou and John, “You have to write a song every day.” I don’t think he said it every day, but I remember it as a joke, but not really a joke. Ya know, “How many songs did you write today Lou?”
I don’t know if you’ve ever met any of your untouchable, godlike, rock ’n’ roll heroes. But I have, many times, and it usually sucks. They’re never as impressive as when you first saw them in a magazine, and I should know—I’m a photographer, and it’s my job to make rock stars look cool in magazines. I’ve been disillusioned over and over, but in 2003, when I met Pantera’s guitarist, Dimebag Darrell, things went differently. I had done a few photo shoots with Dimebag for a guitar mag, and after the second one, he invited me to his home in Arlington, Texas, to attend a Christmas party.
On Christmas Eve, I arrived at his house—it was obvious which was his because it was the only one in the neighborhood with a huge Confederate flag on the roof. I was expecting a bacchanalian drug fest fit for a metal god, but when Dimebag’s wife, Rita, answered the door in an apron, I realized this was just a straight-up Christmas party. I drank countless “blacktooth grins,” his signature drink of Seagram’s Seven Crown, Crown Royal, and a tiny bit of Coke. There were dudes with ponytails and women in mom jeans, and Dimebag was beneath a black, upside-down Christmas tree passing out presents like spice racks and potpourri.
“Matt!” he yelped when he saw me. “Welcome to the party!” Not long after, the lights dimmed and a smoke machine spewed fog from the base of the tree. Someone threw Black Sabbath on the stereo and the party really started. A random buddy brought a crumpled stop sign he’d knocked down during a recent drunk joyride in Dimebag’s beat-up truck. Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains came late, strolling in holding a fist-size Ziploc of white powder in a decorative holiday bag with a rolled-up dollar bill taped to it. It was a white Christmas for all.
I’ve had these photos stuffed in a drawer since then, but I guess it’s time I shared them. A year after they were taken, Dimebag was shot and killed by a crazed fan, and I figure we should remember him in his true element: surrounded by a bunch of women in mom jeans, novelty drinks, and suburban raging.
Meet Bob Gruen: Bugle Player for the Clash and Photographer of Rock Royalty
The most important thing about Bob Gruen is that he played bugle for the Clash. The second is that he shot a bunch of the most iconic rock and roll photos of the 20th century. John Lennon hired him as his personal photographer in the 70s, which resulted in that picture of Lennon in the New York City shirt that your dad probably has framed somewhere. He also took the picture of Sid Vicious bleeding from a cut up chest that you probably have unframed somewhere, and on one special night in 1975 he took a picture of Mick Jagger’s giant penis.
Bob Dylan, 1975
Gruen got into music photography in the mid-60s while living in Greenwich Village. He befriended bands that were part of the burgeoning folk scene at that time like the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Magicians, and in 1965 shot his first concert—Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival. Soon after Ike Turner personally selected Gruen to photograph Tina Turner, and from there his career exploded. Bob photographed rock and roll gods like the Stones, Bowie, and Zeppelin in their prime, but it was through his gig as John and Yoko’s photographer that he became involved with a group of mascara’d gentlemen who called themselves the New York Dolls.
Bob was the first photojournalist to document the Dolls in any real way. He took some of the earliest pictures of the band, and in 1973 went along with them on a West Coast tour. Now, Gruen is getting ready to release a documentary about that tour from the video he shot while on the road with them called New York Dolls, All Dolled Out. I called up Bob because I am jealous of his life and wanted to hear all about it.
New York Dolls on the Real Don Steele Show, 1973
VICE: How did you first meet the New York Dolls? Bob: John Lennon was working with the Elephant’s Memory band, and they were managed by the same company as the New York Dolls. So I was bringing pictures to their office when one of the guys was like, “You have to see this other band we manage.”
I went down to the Mercer Arts Center and was totally blown away. Over the next few weeks I took pictures and made some videos of them. We worked together for the next couple of years—they’re like family.
FIVE ELVIS IMPERSONATORS SLIP ON THEIR BLUE SUEDE SHOES AND GET PERSONAL
Robert McArthur, 44
VICE: How did you first become interested in Elvis Presley? Robert: It all started with me being a fan when I was a kid. When Elvis died in August of 1977, I had just started listening to him and getting to know who he was. The very first concert I saw was his last TV special.
When did you decide you wanted to become a professional Elvis impersonator? About ten years ago, my mom asked me if I wanted to go see an Elvis impersonator in Buffalo, New York, which is where I’m from. Seeing it brought me back to my childhood and gave me a renewed interest in Elvis. I became friends with these Elvis impersonators and told them about my childhood dream of dressing as Elvis. They said, “You should give that a try. You never know.” Eventually they convinced me to do it, and it turned out to be a great success.
Did you have any musical experience at that time? Yeah, I had been in bands but never anything big. I didn’t do much singing. I mostly played guitar and used it as a way to get more confident with my voice. Throughout the years I’ve been in oldies bands, country bands, folk bands, heavy metal… In fact, I have an oldies band I jam with on the side right now.
How often do you perform as Elvis? About three to four times per week. On the weekdays I perform at nursing homes and senior centers, and I also do singing telegrams. Then on the weekends I do birthday parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and similar events. I’m also an ordained minister.
Do you get asked to marry a lot of couples? I do a couple per year. I marry people as Elvis and also do vow renewals. I do a package where I will marry them as Elvis, perform at the reception, and DJ the wedding.
Do you have other jobs, or is this it? This is my full-time gig. In addition to Elvis, I also do other celebrity impersonations: Neil Diamond, Engelbert Humperdinck, and the Blues Brothers, as well as that oldies band I mentioned. That one is a superhero band—every person is dressed as a different superhero, and we do oldies and 60s surf music.
Which superhero are you? Batman. We have Superman on drums, Green Lantern on keyboard, Aquaman on bass, Wonder Woman on trumpet, and Hawkgirl plays the sax.
Are people within the Elvis-impersonator community friendly with one another or is it more competitive? Yeah, most of the guys get along. I’m friends with the local guys, but there are also national people. I traveled around when I first started out and went to the Elvis contests where I met a lot of them. I would say that 90 percent were great to hang out with. In the local community, if I can’t do a job I’ll call someone else and ask them to do it, and they’ll do the same for me. There are a few guys who aren’t very nice or sociable, though. There is a little rivalry between Elvises.
What’s the best Elvis song? That’s a tough one. He has over 700 songs. I can’t put a favorite one out there, but I really enjoy a lot of his movie songs. He made 31 movies during his career and did the soundtracks to all of them, but none were very big hits. There are a lot of hidden gems in those films. One of my favorite movies is Live a Little, Love a Little, which he did later in his career.
Tunes aside, what’s your favorite thing about Elvis? He was larger than life. He was loved by so many people. He had a very lavish lifestyle but was still down-to-earth and very generous as well. People would admire his cars, and he would give them the keys and say, “Enjoy.”
Do you ever run across female fans who have an infatuation with Elvis, and does that extend to you? All the time. We were doing a party for this husband who hired Elvis for his wife’s birthday, and she was going crazy. She was acting like I was the real Elvis. She was practically fainting at my knees and hugging me as I performed. My girlfriend gets a big kick out of women trying to get close to me when I’m performing. It’s funny.
What makes your Elvis impersonation special? I connect with the audience. If I see they are not enjoying themselves, I make sure that they do. My performances involve a lot of audience interaction and I give away scarves or teddy bears, like Elvis did. I don’t have an attitude, and I very much become Elvis when I put the boots and shades on. I try to put on an authentic show Elvis would be proud of.
The old cliché of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” is dead. Ok, if not completely dead, it’s in the process of taking its last, sad breath. The mysticism that once surrounded the “rock star” has evaporated into pictures of them in their sweatpants at Starbucks and unwarranted crotch shots as they exit their limousine. Bottom line, it’s not cute. Despite the mainstream artists’ need to put their bling, bitches and Bentleys on blast in music videos, that’s not what’s really going on beneath the surface in the real world. It’s a lot darker and colder out there.
Addiction is running rampant among all types of people; young or old, married or single, famous or one of the Joneses, it’s affecting people in similar ways. So I wondered, do artists these days feel any sort of social responsibility when it comes to painting a picture that’s full of syringes, rolled up dollar bills, Lean and video hos? Surprisingly, what I found in the majority of my interviews is that most artists are sober, in the process of getting sober, straight edge or barely indulge. Why? Because being a musician is actually a job. It’s not just drinking and drugging all night as you move from prospect to prospect hoping to get laid.
In a 2010 interview with Bad Religion front man, Greg Graffin, he reveals something that is almost shocking, especially because his world is surround by punk rock debauchery and disastrous stories of drug overdoses (as in the cases of Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols and Billy Mercia of New York Dolls).
“I’m straight edge so I’ve never understood how people can function with drugs and alcohol,” Graffin admits. “But I also know that the drugs today are so potent that they are infinitely more dangerous.”
And he’s right. According to CNN.com, 40,000 kids died of drug overdoses in 2010. Ben Haggerty, more widely known as Macklemore these days, could have been one of them. The Seattle-based emcee’s struggle with substance abuse nearly ended him, but he made the brave decision to go to treatment before he was just another statistic.
If you’re in a band, it’s important to go out, buy some clean clothes, and take your show on the road—how else are “the people” supposed to know who’s on the other end of all those illegal downloads? Look to the Black Lips for inspiration. In the past year alone these four dapper young lads have trekked across Europe (Helsinki anyone?), the US, and Thailand, slamming their “any show, any time” ethic into dangerous Quixote territory. Now they’re adding a new zone to that resume—the fucking Middle East.
You heard right: this fall, our boys are gonna tear that storied juncture of Eurasia and Africa a brand new buttonhole. The shows kick off in Jordan, and will bring the band through Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and a bunch of other spots you’ve heard of on the news. The full tour schedule is below.
You can get a taste of their on-the-road persona in this clip of them eating ant eggs in Thailand:
Also, you can pick up a copy of their latest record, Arabia Mountain, right here. Go do that.
Black Lips’ Middle Eastern Tour
9/14/12 – Amman, Jordan – TBA * 9/19/12 – Larnaca, Cyprus – Savino Live * 9/21/12 – Cairo, Egypt – Culturewheel * 9/23/12 – Tunis, Tunisia – Le Squat * 9/26/12 – Dubai, UAE – Music Room * 9/28/12 – Hawler, Iraq – TBA 9/29/12 – Sulamaniah, Iraq – TBA 10/6/12 – Beirut, Lebanon – Metro Al Madina *
Music is one of the most powerful unifying forces. The reason we have rock n’ roll today is because black artists like Chuck Berry picked up on white country and bluegrass and mixed it with black blues music to create something awesome and new. And you better believe mixing music wasn’t the only thing those guys were swapping back then between the races—on the low (and illegally in some states) they were mixing bodily fluids too. This is why I’ve always believed good eclectic music is also a catalyst for more interracial sex. Interracial banging is the best thing in the world because maybe if more people of different races boned we might actually reach a better understanding and respect for each other. If not, at least we’d all be having great sex, which is good in its own right.
The power of musicians on interracial sex is probably why a lot of racist white parents aren’t crazy about their daughters listening to hip hop. They know one minute they’ll be singing the theme song to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and the next minute they’ll be getting porked by little Lamone from down the street. I’ve dated tons of girls outside my race, so to me this phenomenon is all good. The first white girl I was probably attracted to was Kim Gordon. I used to beat off to my dad’s VHS copy of Screaming Fields of Sonic Love when I was ten with the fury of a thousand swirling hurricanes. Although my theory is not scientifically documented, anecdotal qualitative evidence I’ve gathered from other black dudes across the country has led me to believe it is very real.
So, when I heard Twin Shadow was performing at Brooklyn’s Glasslands, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to do some field research on the subject. Twin Shadow is the stage name of George Lewis Jr., a black dude of Dominican descent who has that dangerous effeminate thing going on that only guys like Montgomery Cliff and Prince can pull off. He’s one of my favorite artists working today, and one of the strongest acts to see live. Last Thursday he played a bunch of synthy new tunes from his upcoming and still-untitled sophomore LP. And he probably made a lot of white girls wet. Here is how the night played out and what vital information I gathered on what I would like to officially dub, the Twin Shadow Effect: