Beaming Bowie Excited About Current Direction Of His Life, Music

Need a little holiday cheer? Just talk to David Bowie.

Rock's chameleon legend, playing here tonight at the Paramount with Tin Machine, the latest in his long line of musical incarnations, is deliriously happy. You could feel the glow through the phone line from San Francisco.

"It's a fantastic period in my life," he said in a light British accent. "And it's because my real soul life is excessively good. I'm feeling incredibly blessed and fortunate at the moment. My life is just really happening."

The main source for his happiness, he said, is his engagement to Iman, the African beauty who's been a top international model since the mid-1970s. Their marriage is planned for early next year.

He said he is closer to his son, Zowie, 20, than ever before. And he's won a 10-year battle with drugs and alcohol. "I just don't do any of that anymore," he said. "So I'm a happy guy."

The Tin Machine project is also a factor, because it lets him rock out every night in concert. The show is totally spontaneous, he said, which makes it daring and exciting.

"We have no set list whatsoever," he explained. "We have a complete list of all our songs on the floor of the stage and we yell it out as we feel it. If you catch us on a bad night, it can be one of the most disastrous shows you've ever seen. But on a good night - and fortunately with this band most nights have been good nights - it really happens."

The Tin Machine show consists only of material taken from the band's two albums, plus a few cover tunes. Bowie laid to rest all his songs from other phases in his career after his world tour last year. He vows to never do them again. From now on, he's only looking forward.

He's undaunted by the fact that Tin Machine - also including flashy guitarist Reeves Gabrels and a rhythm section of Hunt and Tony Sales, sons of Soupy Sales - has been the least successful venture of his long, colorful career, which stretches back to the early '70s. The 1989 debut "Tin Machine" album was one of the worst sellers in EMI Records' history, and the recent follow-up, "Tin Machine II," on Polygram's Victory Music label, is off to a slow start.

The first album was interesting for the wild improvisation that still marks the live show. Quirky, unfocused and out of control, it had its moments, but few memorable songs.

"Tin Machine II" is much more together, with impressive work from Gabrels and better lyrics from Bowie. There's more variety in the songs, from the tongue-in-cheek humor of "You Belong In Rock 'n' Roll" to the anger of "A Big Hurt" to the tranquility of "Amlapura," about a place in Bali Bowie frequently visits.

He said some of the songs don't sound the same anymore, now that the band has been playing them on the road.

"I would say about one-third of the songs have gone through quite heavy transitions from their original forms," he said.

The cover of the new album has gone through some changes, too. It depicts four images of the same ancient Greek statue of a naked youth. Several American distributors refused to carry the album until Polydor covered the genitals on the statues.

"Even Canada has the original cover," Bowie said. "Only in America . . ."

He blames Puritan morality for the covering up of an ancient work of art, which is on public display at the British Museum.

"I think the ambivalence in America has come from that source, right from the beginning," he said. "I think that's why the pendulum swings so radically from left to right on morality issues."

Bowie spent some time in the Northwest earlier this year, when he was here to film a part in David Lynch's upcoming "Twin Peaks" movie.

"They crammed me," he said. "I did all my scenes in four or five days, because I was in rehearsals for the tour. I was there for only a few days." He offered no further information on his role, other than saying it was small.

Asked about Tin Machine's future, Bowie said he doesn't think about it. Just as he has turned his back on the past, so does he not look too far into the future.

"To dwell on the past or dwell on the future too obsessively is really quite ruinous to one's psyche," he said. "I think it's incredibly important to keep in front of you the day itself, and the hour, the minute, the second. If you're not enjoying yourself or really giving yourself to the right now, then you're really committing some kind of emotional, spiritual suicide.

"There's a famous Chinese saying - and here's my parting shot - `If we don't change direction, we may end up where we're heading.' "

Showtime tonight is 8 p.m. Opening is the Neighborhoods, a new rock trio on Atlantic Records.