Freak Out In A Moonage Daydream, Oh Yeah: Live Nation’s Arthur Fogel On Bowie Doc & Promoting His Tours

Keep Your Electric Eye On Me, Babe: Poster for the kaleidoscopic new David Bowie doc “Moonage Daydream,” which opened Sept. 16, 2022 and reached No. 10 in North America its first weekend grossing $1.225 mil.

After ingesting the new David Bowie doc, “Moonage Daydream” in its full IMAX glory, Pollstar looked for industry help in getting context for the tours in the rather abstract and uncontextualized film. Perhaps there’s no better person on the planet for that than esteemed concert promoter, Arthur Fogel, who in addition to working on tours by U2, Madonna and Lady Gaga and helping invent global touring, worked on Bowie’s runs from 1989 to 2004 (before going to Live Nation, which produced the film). Here, Fogel gives his take on the film, Bowie’s tours, angering regional promoters and the best way to treat a legendary artist.

Pollstar: What was your take on “Moonage Daydream”?
Arthur Fogel: I don’t want to give the impression that I’m an expert on the life and times of David Bowie. I was involved in a certain part of his career over a series of tours and years. But to your question, the fact that things unfolded the way they did with his health and that he hadn’t toured in a number of years before he passed away, it was great to see and experience the film. It was a reconnection I hadn’t had in a number of years since his passing. It was an important film to experience and represents very well who David was by touching on the multi-dimensional layers of his talent and approaches to fashion, music and art. It showed for that period of time who he was and what he achieved. Overall, it was a great experience and I’m glad it was made.

Was his first tour you worked on 1983’s “Serious Moonlight Tour?”
Yes. I was in Canada at CPI in Toronto. We did some Canadian shows on “Serious Moonlight” and “Glass Spider. ” “Serious Moonlight” was a huge success, Let’s Dance was a huge record.

I saw that demand for “Serious Moonlight” was so massive they had to move to larger venues.
Let’s Dance was huge, there were a number of singles, obviously “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl,” “Modern Love.” It was a big radio and sales album that propelled things to another level.

In Toronto, Mick Ronson, his amazing ’70s guitarist, came out and played Earl Slick’s guitar.
I don’t recall that but I do recall Stevie Ray Vaughan was on Let’s Dance, but he didn’t tour.

I saw that. So 1987’s “Glass Spider Tour” was more theatrical with spoken word introductions, vignettes, projected videos, theatrical lighting, dancers choreographed by Toni Basil.
In that sense, it was very different from “The Serious Moonlight Tour,” which was pretty straight ahead. I remember “Glass Spider” being much more theatrical in its staging and content.

The Man Who Sold (Bowie To) The World: Arthur Fogel, who began working with David Bowie on 1983’s “Serious Moonlight Tour” and promoted all his subsequent major tours.

And that’s his M.O., right, each tour was completely different?
That was a hallmark of who he was. The chameleon who over a number of years created music and toured while changing constantly. I remember he didn’t tour on the Black Tie White Noise album, which was more jazzy and a whole other vibe.

With Sound + Vision, he said it was the last time he would play his hits, did that make your heart sink?
Well, it didn’t actually hold, but yes, I remember that. I get it, it’s trying to find a balance between people wanting what they want and artists expressing themselves as they want.

Who did you interact with on his tours? His manager or Bowie?
Really, consistently through the years of my involvement on the tours, it was Bill Zysblat, his business manager and David’s confidant. He really fulfilled manager functions. David had a tremendous faith and trust and a very strong relationship with Bill.

Did you ever sit down and have a coffee with Bowie?
I always felt incredibly blessed to be involved on any level with David. I had the opportunity certainly to talk with him from time to time at shows or in different settings, but I wouldn’t say we got into serious in-depth conversations that weren’t related to a tour or business. It was a privilege to have involvement with arguably one of the greatest talents we’ve seen.

You work with some of the biggest artists in the world, Madonna, U2, Lady Gaga, how do you interact with them?
If you’re invited in, in a figurative way, you go, and if you’re not, you don’t. It’s not about forcing yourself into a situation, it’s simply if you’re invited in for something particular or just a hello or a social moment. You’re there to do a job and you do it, that’s what’s important.

Did you work on the Tin Machine tours?
I did some. I didn’t do them in the way I did David solo. There was different types of venues and venue sizes that were part of the Tin Machine runs. I saw a bunch of shows, it was an interesting sort of left turn coming off those big tours.

Some say those albums were ahead of their time. Bowie had a penchant for finding new music, I know he was into LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire and would go to their shows and maybe work with them.
That’s true. For some artists, a select few, they are so revered by other artists and musicians that it’s like, “Are you fucking kidding me? David Bowie is at my show?” Or “David Bowie wants to do this with me?” Some are looking for validation or credibility versus having the opportunity to work with them because they’re genuinely interested in their music. He was so influential to so many artists it was kind of the ultimate statement, he had that kind of influence.

Pin Ups: A framed photo David Bowie gave to Arthur Fogel featuring the 60-foot scrim that Bowie’s 1990 “Sound + Vision Tour” pioneered.

For “Sound+Vision” in ’90, did you have Canada or the whole tour?
“Sound+Vision” was the first global tour we did. We did it everywhere.

I thought [CPI] did The Rolling Stones in ’89 as your first national tour?
The same team got Bowie.

Which was your first global tour, “Sound+Vision” or “Steel Wheels”?
They overlapped. The Stones ended up being ’89 and ’90, and Bowie started in ’90.

And that was basically inventing the first global promoter role, right?
That’s true. At that time, The Stones and Bowie were the launching pad for the global touring model. And then U2 came along and we started promoting their tours globally in ’97 with “PopMart.”

Did regional promoters want to kill you?
Yeah, 100%. It was a period of time where you definitely wanted to sit with your back away from the doorway of a restaurant.

I read in the Bill Graham book he was pissed about The Stones.
He was very pissed. It was not pretty.

So didn’t the “Sound + Vision Tour” use a giant scrim for the first time that was lowered onto the stage?
It didn’t register with me at the time, but it was pretty groundbreaking. He used this creative team from Montreal who were stage designers. His name was Édouard Lock and they were a creative dance company and that’s who we worked with to create the scrim, the design, the content. There’s a photo on my office wall of the scrim from the “Sound + Vision Tour” (See photo above).

“The Outside Tour” in ’95 had Nine Inch Nails, how did that go?
It actually worked. You almost have to segment Bowie fans because there were a lot of fans that came in on during “Serious Moonlight,” but the Nine Inch Nails fans were attracted to early Bowie.

“The Hours Tour” was only 9 dates.
From 1990 “Sound+Vision” until he stopped touring in 2004 was 14-years and in that time he did five big tours, not including Tin Machine. There was a couple of small things in there.

He went into overdrive on the “Reality Tour“ doing 112 dates globally, grossing $46 million. And he had a heart attack. How scary was that?
I wasn’t there, it was in Europe. I’m not sure at the moment there was the realization of what was wrong. That came out later, something wasn’t right, and then it was discovered and that’s when it shut down.

It’s a shame he stopped touring. I’m sure he could play stadiums now. Do you think if he was still with us he’d be touring?
I don’t want to presume anything, but clearly there’s some artists who just want to keep touring and it’s important to them. It’s part of their DNA to keep doing it, which is great. And there’s a handful, and I think David falls into that category, where it wasn’t a driver.

Were you in touch with his team about the possibility of touring again?
I talk to Bill regularly. He’s David’s business manager and other folks, Lady Gaga. So we still do a lot of things together. During that period from 2004 until several years later, I would occasionally bring it up, “Any interest in doing this or that?” I just pretty much let it go because it’s the same sort of deal I described earlier. If you’re invited in, go, otherwise don’t be a pest.