Interview with Angie Bowie: Inside the Creative Mind of a Pop Culture Icon

angie-bowie-circa-2008-photo-by-sergio-kardenas
Angie Bowie. Photo: Sergio Kardenas. Photo courtesy Angie Bowie & Sergio Kardenas

Angie Bowie is a pop culture icon. Née Mary-Angela Barnett, she met rock legend David Bowie in the seventies when she was only nineteen, yet her creative influence and marketing savvy helped contribute to the style, image and success of Ziggy Stardust in the emerging era of glam rock. Their ten-year marriage as an openly bisexual couple also pushed boundaries as their counter-culture lifestyle greatly influenced the attitudes of the time.

Over forty years later, Angie Bowie remains a legend in her own right and continues to be a creative force. The release of her recent book of poetry, Fancy Footwork, with illustrations by visual artist Rick Hunt, prompted this Artful Vagabond interview.

The poems in Fancy Footwork are inspired by her life, from the seventies to the present, and we began our conversation at the very beginning….

SerenaK:
Working in any creative field is a challenge and you were so young at the beginning of David’s career…. Where did all that strength and savvy come from?

Angie Bowie, Cyprus. Photo courtesy Angie Bowie.
Mary-Angela Barnett, aka Angie Bowie, age 5 (Cyprus). Photo courtesy Angie Bowie.

Angie Bowie:
My childhood made me what I am today. My mother was an artist, a great painter, and she believed that my father – unlike fathers at that time – needed to share the incredible experiences of his life so I could learn how to be strong from someone who demonstrated that it could work. She “socially engineered” me to  overcome the obstacles that she had endured to make sure that wasn’t going to happen to me.

My father was a colonel in the U.S. Army who took the GI bill and became a mining engineer in Cyprus, which is where we lived while I was growing up. He would say, “You can’t do what you’re told to do because it’s an order. What if the order comes from a maniac?”

Even as a child I understood everything about the political situation in Cyprus at the time. I knew “they” were the British and “they” were fighting over Cyprus. As he read the morning paper, my father would say, “Mary-Angela, here take a look at this, this is kind of an interesting article,” and he’d pass the paper.

I started traveling with my family at the age of nine months – we would return to America every three years. We’d travel through Europe to London or jump on a ship in the south of France or Italy and head for the United States. Then we would get on a train and get out in Detroit and my father would buy a car right from the factory. We’d drive across America to his sister’s house in Boise, Idaho, where his mother also lived. At the end of our stay, we’d give the car to his mother so his sister could drive her to church.

I was very conversational, very smart, and would talk to everyone we met enroute and since my father was a colonel, people loved to swap war stories with him. So I got to hear about what he believed in and things that had happened during the war. It had nothing to do with shooting the enemy – it was all about strategy, courage and honor.

SerenaK:
Sharing stories is a great way to inspire others.

Angie Bowie:
Yes, it’s like the online radio show we do on Blog Talk Radio (The Angie Bowie Barnett Show). We get the chance to interview singers, writers, actors, musicians….and hear all the great things they have experienced. And people are delighted to share! It’s like opening a studio.

Your brain needs a big room to work in. It’s going to work even better when it’s stimulated by other people around. And when you share, it gets magical. It gets, like, “sparkling.” I know that sounds ridiculous but I love to get to that point of excitement with an idea and it starts to sparkle around the bits of the house. You know that feeling – like everything starts to dance – the idea of a glass of wine, or a cup of tea where you say, “Yes, I’ll take TWO tablespoons (of sugar!)”

[Laughs]

SerenaK:
I know exactly what you mean! That is how creative things get done. If you can get that magic, that “sparkle” thing going, it’s how you get things to really work!

Angie Bowie:
…and sometimes I’ll squint my eyes to make it even better and then open my eyes real wide! It’s not about some magical manifestation, it’s a BRAINSTORM that lifts in your mind and suddenly everything is clear and sparkling.

I’ll do that when I’m writing. When I get to the third page or so, I’ll go back and read it and it’s free-form all the way! Then I’ll take a highlighter and grab the sentences that I need….they’re all there! But hidden behind each sentence is the second paragraph….

Fancy Footwork Cover. Photo by Sergio Kardenas. Book cover image courtesy Angie Bowie. Copyright © Angela Bowie Barnett
Photo: Sergio Kardenas. Book cover image courtesy Angie Bowie. Copyright © Angela Bowie Barnett

SerenaK:
You’ve written numerous books, but Fancy Footwork is your first publicly published collection of poetry. Do you write poetry regularly? What’s your creative process?

Angie Bowie:
When I write poetry, it’s very specific. It will curdle and boil and I’ll know that I’ve got either lyrics or a specific point that I want to make. And then I’ll feel sick for about three weeks and then, all of a sudden, it will come out on one big piece of paper. And then it sits there for about three or four days because I feel sick. On about the fourth or fifth day I can go back and start to work on it, to make it right.

I have to be moved to the point of sickness to write poetry. I usually write when I’m upset or when something has happened. Prose, on the other hand, is every day, all day, all the time: fiction, short stories, plans, reports. And it doesn’t make me sick.

SerenaK:
In your book, you include the dates at the end of your poems, but they’re not in chronological order. Are they arranged in any particular way?

Angie Bowie:
There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to it. I started out with a structured view: chronological, lyrical, “feeling good/feeling bad”…. I tried everything! It was getting ludicrous. Then I thought, “You’re overthinking this. Throw them in the damn book and see what happens!”

SerenaK:
The artwork illustrations that accompany each of your poems in the book are amazing! How did you and Rick Hunt begin to collaborate?

Angie Bowie:
I had been looking for someone to illustrate my poems for fifteen years, which is why I’ve never publicly published a poetry book until now.

Rick and I met on Facebook. (We’ve never met in person!) He’d post his drawings on his page and I’d say, “Wow, that’s good!” And he would make me laugh with his funny jokes.

One day I announced I was going to create “The Angie Bowie Show” page on Facebook to put all the reference material for stuff I was working on to separate it from my personal page and Rick said, “The Angie Bowie Show. I’m going to draw a picture of it!” So he did a drawing for the title page and sent it to me in the mail. It was two feet high by three feet long! It arrived at my house and I looked at it and I was like, “Good God!” I staggered into the house with it and my partner, Michael, looked at it and said, “I like Rick Hunt!” And that became my title page and the beginning of our collaboration, which started with the book “Cat-Astrophe” which was published last year. “Fancy Footwork” is our second collaboration.

SerenaK:
Did you discuss your poems and the stories behind them with Rick?

Angie Bowie:
No. It didn’t occur to me to explain them. If I had to do that, they wouldn’t be very effective. Rick understood them immediately. He has a psychology degree so very little gets by him. He knew exactly what they was about. I’m looking right now at the drawing he did for my poem “Touch and Tell” and it’s just so perfect. All of his drawings throughout the book really work.

Artwork illustration from
Artwork illustration from “Fancy Footwork” by Rick Hunt. Copyright © Rick Hunt. Photo courtesy Angie Bowie & Rick Hunt.

SerenaK:
It looks as though he somehow got inside your head.

Angie Bowie:
He did! I think we’re well-matched intellectually. He knows enough and he’s had enough adventures in his life. He understood what each of those poems meant and how to bring them to life.

SerenaK:
…without your telling him, which is brilliant.

Angie Bowie:
It wouldn’t be right. If I tried to explain it, it would be like I was trying to temper what he saw or felt or sensed when he read it.

SerenaK:
Now I understand why your poems are not in any order. People might be tempted to fit them into what they know of your life.

Angie Bowie:
Here’s what I noticed about a lot of them. I looked back over the poems from the seventies and realized nothing has changed. So why would I put them in order? In terms of thought and what I think and feel – they’re all equal. You’re right, if I had put them in some kind of chronological order, it would have been as if one matured, but there was no maturity!

Everybody wants to know the details. Excuse my French, but f*ck the details! You’re reading it, your mind is filtering it. You don’t need details. Enjoy! Sample it, change it around, make it work for you!

SerenaK:
That is exactly what people need to hear about appreciating art, music and those intangible things that sometimes intimidate people, like poetry. People say, “I don’t know anything about poetry.” “I don’t know anything about art.” They don’t realize that they don’t have to know anything. Just what it means to them.

Angie Bowie:
I have one last story on that note. I was driving to Atlanta and I noticed a guy in a red pickup driving in the next lane. He looked like he might have been on his way to a construction site. He was huge, but handsome in a full-jowled kind of way. He’s got the music up loud and he’s singing the lyrics. He knows every single word to that song. Although he’d probably never admit it, that is a person who appreciates poetry.

Anyone who appreciates the lyrics to music, these are our poetry aficionados. If they were only interested in the music, they’d just be humming the tune. They understand the assonance, the feeling of rhythmic security, the resonance that makes us feel good….

SerenaK:
I love how you give the power to your readers so they can truly experience your poems! I’d like to end this article with one of your quotes from the back cover of “Fancy Footwork.” It perfectly sums up our conversation:

Reality and magic dance together in the eyes of a child. When we become adults we squint out magic believing we are ready for reality, ready for the truth. But what is truth? Not reality. Truth is an interpretation of what we see. Magic is better.

Angie Bowie. Photo credit: TonyBuckingham.com - Photo courtesy Angie Bowie & Tony Buckingham
Angie Bowie. Photo credit: Tony Buckingham/tonybuckingham.com – Photo courtesy Angie Bowie & Tony Buckingham

Angie Bowie’s website:  www.angiebowie.net
Angie Bowie’s Radio ShowThe Angie Bowie Barnett Show


SerenaK image logo
Serena Kovalosky
Artist, Curator, Writer, Cultural Events/Film Producer


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