My meeting with David Bowie: unconventional, curious & gracious

 david-bowie-soundvision

 

 

A most unconventional meeting for some music guys.

To his credit Robert Goodale took my call. More important was his willingness to listen.

This wasn’t the typical hustle: we need your client make a charity appearance, or guest in a video, or licence a track for a K-Tel compilation. No, this was markedly different.

As David Bowie’s business partner, Robert Goodale was not surprisingly an “out-of-the-box” thinker.

For the viability of our project, and future innovation, it was crucial Bob grasped what I was trying to say.

After a couple of calls and a face-to-face meeting in New York, he certainly did.

It’s like trying to fly a plane while attempting to build it

The 80’s were reaching their nadir and we had a deadline to meet. The technology was brilliantly conceived but awfully difficult to implement.

In fact it was the first time I’d heard the expression, “It’s like trying to fly a plane while attempting to build it.”

As Vice President of Entertainment for American Interactive Media (a joint technology venture by PolyGram Records and consumer electronics giant, Philips N.V.) I was strapped into a metaphorical business class seat on this bucking, unstable aircraft.

We were all up to our elbows in the mechanics of this new technological frontier, the interactive optical disc—specifically CD-i. The Compact Disc Interactive format uniquely interleaved audio, video and computer code on what appeared to be a conventional audio CD.

More profound. The CD-i player was a Trojan horse, designed to place a computer in the living room disguised as a sexy consumer electronics appliance attached to a TV.

philips-cdi-205Philips Compact Disc Interactive Player

 

 

Not remarkable now, but back in 1986 it was mind-bending.

Truthfully, CD-i desperately needed a public face that represented all of humanity, a face that was creative, innovative and courageous. Not some soulless geek squad avatar conversant only in the techno-babble of bits and bites.

We needed our Leonardo (as in “Da Vinci”), we needed our very own myriad-minded man…

Maestro David Bowie was the ideal candidate.

A very surreptitious, yet quietly auspicious meeting.

Robert agreed to set up a meeting with Bowie.

I flew in from Los Angeles.

A colleague, Daniel “the marketing guru” Savage discretely set up a private room in PolyGram’s Manhattan HQ.

As Bowie was affiliated with another record label, it would not do having him seen “visiting” our building. So we sneaked him into the building with all the intrigue of “Game of Thrones.”

Fortunately, Daniel documented his thoughts about that meeting:

I only had one interaction with Bowie, when he came in for a meeting with me, Mark Fine and a couple of other people at PolyGram in 1990 or so. We were talking about developing a CD-Interactive title based on Ziggy Stardust. I was really struck by a number of things, especially comparing them to all the other artists I had dealt with before.

For one, he was EARLY. During the meeting, he showed a keen interest and intellect having to do with the subject matter. He was with a woman (it might well have been Iman) who we presumed to be a girlfriend and he spoke to her with genuine kindness and gallantry, explaining it all to her so she felt included in the conversation, not just arm candy to be patronized.

Presenting to Mr. Sound+Vision

It was my responsibility to do the pitch.

Peering into those inquisitive, curious eyes (heterochromia—one eye blue, the other brown) I was intimidated enough. Attempting to communicate the merits of CD-i to this legend added further complexity to the challenge.

Those days the notion of manipulating and controlling a “multimedia” consumer-friendly disc was difficult to comprehend. The lexicon was unfamiliar to most; interactivity, man-machine interface, disc image and such only elicited blank stares. 

Where words failed me, I resorted to illustrations.

Those days I carried with me a battered schoolroom composition book for note taking. As his excitement grew at the potential of CD-i, Bowie began to add doodles and diagrams of his own in my workbook—then, in apparent appreciation, he autographed it for me.

A treasured possession! 

Of course the musical architect of SOUND+VISION had immediately grasped the implications of multimedia: he found it creatively liberating. He understood that the linear paradigm of music playback was destined to be shattered.

As such David Bowie had granted me his full attention.

A privilege I shall never forget.

Regretfully, no project was forthcoming from that meeting. More a product of the lengthy technical gestation period of CD-i, and the confused agendas of the stakeholders, than lack of enthusiasm from David Bowie.

However, subsequent to our meeting Robert Goodale became the interactive entertainment pioneer for all David Bowie copyrights.

In 1994, Bowie released “Jump” as an interactive CD-ROM that enabled his fans to create their own custom video from his music track.

Does this mean my meeting with David Bowie was well worth his while?

I hope so.

 


 

 

 ABOUT MARK

Author Mark Fine was a record label chief for PolyGram. Variety magazine named him “Music Executive with 20/20 Vision”—good thing too as Fine is tone-deaf. His failed efforts to compose a song resulted in the critically acclaimed novel, “The Zebra Affaire”.  As research for his life story Fine immigrated to America from South Africa, in doing so he championed causes such as freedom of speech, wildlife conservation, breast cancer awareness, intolerance, and Indie Authors. He’d be delighted to hear from you at FineBooks.co or via Twitter @MarkFine_author.

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