While speaking from guitarist Reeves Gabrels' hotel room in London recently, David Bowie ribbed his latest songwriting collaborator at every turn. Of course, all the while, Gabrels, an American, cursed him feverishly in the background.
"We can't stand each other," said Bowie of his new band mate. "That's why I make all of my long distance phone calls from his room. After the end of the tour we're never, ever going to work together again because, quite frankly, his playing leaves a lot to be desired.
"The only reason we got Reeves in this band was because Carlos Alomar [a former guitarist] wasn't available," said Bowie, who could barely finish the sentence without laughing uproariously at Gabrels' stunned, scatological response.
Sound like these guys are having just a little bit of fun on the road?
"This tour has been sublime," said Bowie, who, with Tin Machine, wrapped up a four-week stint in Europe last weekend and begins a six-week run in the United States tomorrow in Philadelphia.
"That's one of the amazing things about David," said Gabrels, who was fronting a struggling Boston alterative rock act before meeting Bowie in 1986.
"He was somebody who, if he wanted to be a jerk, you'd cut him some slack because of what he's accomplished. He has the right to behave like an artiste, but he's the furthest thing from that. He's so normal it's disquieting."
For many longtime Bowie fans, the show that stops at the Citadel Center in Washington, D.C., Saturday night should offer some new insights. In addition to Bowie's voice being featured, he will also be playing alto and tenor saxophone as well as some rhythm guitar.
What began four years ago as a friendship between Bowie and Gabrels (Gabrels' wife was Bowie's tour publicist on the "Glass Spider" tour in 1987) has resulted in a pair of Tin Machine albums (the latest is "Tin Machine II") and the band's insistence on not riding Bowie's success or name to the top.
"The band is a four-way democratic split," said Gabrels.
It has been Bowie's intention since 1989 to make Tin Machine, which also features the rhythm section of brothers Hunt and Tony Sales (sons of entertainer Soupy Sales), a full-time effort. He officially "wrapped up" the solo portion of his career in a tour last year -- the "Sound + Vision" tour -- stating that it would be the last time he ever performed his classics.
"I was tidying up that part of my life," Bowie said. "I have no intentions of parroting my own songs, which is what it ends up being after you've been doing it for 20 years. You can't do it with any more enthusiasm. I don't care who you are, you get to the point where you don't like singing the song anymore.
"I don't think you can kid people for very long that you're enjoying yourself. The shows just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger because all you are keen on doing is making as much revenue as possible instead of presenting the music in an interesting light. I wasn't going to get into that position."
For Bowie, Tin Machine has become the ultimate musical irony.
"The truth is, he's doing it backward," Gabrels said. "People usually start in bands and then go solo."
Gabrels said Bowie has been wonderful in championing fans during the European part of the tour, but not all of the fans have come to praise Tin Machine.
"Sometimes you get the vibe that the whole country is mad," Gabrels said. "It's like we stole David. They're like jilted lovers -- 'Now we have to share him with three other people.' We've had reviews in the press with that as its basic premise."
But the music itself is at the heart of the matter, and both Bowie and Gabrels make no bones about their style of aggressive, hard-driven rock 'n' roll.
"We knew we weren't making puff pastries," Bowie said. "This is not music to get up and have breakfast to by any means. And we're not the most comfortable band in the world to watch. If you're looking for a dance band, we ain't it."
"You can't put it on and read a book to it, or do your taxes to it," Gabrels said. "It's not background music for your life."
And as for commercial success?
"The only pressure we have is night to night," Bowie said. "We want to do the best shows we possibly can. The whole thing has been done in so simplistic a fashion that there is no mega-pressure usually found in touring or rock shows."
"It's music we all miss hearing on radio," Bowie said. Gabrels chimes in, "And still do," making a keen reference to Tin Machine's lack of radio airplay thus far.
"Our whole premise has been that we are already a success," Bowie said. "We got together and we got the albums done and we're playing our music. That's a success."