This piece in Salon, excerpted from the 2005 book David Bowie’s Low by Hugo Wilcken, reminds us that the legendary singer had a period there where he was apparently caught in a spiral of messianic delusion, massive insomnia, fascistic flirtation, extreme paranoia, and…lots of cocaine. LOTS OF COCAINE!!!!
The apex of Bowie’s “Cocaine Period”—which dovetailed with the groundbreaking album Station To Station—was 1975, during a specific era where a lot of celebrities and artists seemed to be losing their marbles due to drugs, extra-dimensional alien interference, drugs, possible manipulation by any number of shadowy governmental and non-governmental secret groups, and drugs.
Essentially, Bowie was suffering from severe bouts of cocaine psychosis, a condition very similar to schizophrenia, with its highly distorted perceptions of reality, hallucinations, affectlessness and a marked tendency towards magical thinking. His interviews of the time are classics of messianic delusion, as he raves on about Hitler being the first rock star, or his own political ambitions (“I’d love to enter politics. I will one day. I’d adore to be Prime Minister. And yes, I believe very strongly in fascism.”). The flipside of messianic fantasy is of course paranoid delusion, which Bowie also displayed in spades. He imagined one of his advisers was a CIA agent; a backing singer was apparently a vampire. During one interview, Bowie suddenly leapt up and pulled down the blind: “I’ve got to do this,” he jabbered. “I just saw a body fall.” He proceeded to light a black candle then blow it out. “It’s only a protection. I’ve been getting a little trouble from the neighbours.”
Coincidentally, one of the other artists going through a similar freakout around that time-period was sci-fi author Philip K. Dick—who would later reference those esoteric experiences in a book named VALIS…a book that by his own admission used Bowie as a template for one of its characters.
Specifically, Bowie’s character in VALIS, Eric Lampton, is the (technically, non-biological) father of the child messiah. Compare Lampton’s situation to that of Bowie’s—who, allegedly, after seeing Rosemary’s Baby, fell into a paranoiac panic that a warlock and two witches wanted to steal his semen to create a “devil baby.”
As far as I know, Bowie and Dick were not hanging out with each other during this time period…but it’s interesting how their “ideas” sort of interwove with each other, as if they and so many others were accessing the same collective “thing” in the air.
A significantly less drugged-up Bowie would later seemingly reference (if not consciously, then there’s that “collective thing” again) Dick’s own esoteric experiences in the music video “Loving The Alien,” in which he’s hit with a beam of pink light (Dick said he first “accessed” this extra-dimensional being called VALIS via exactly such a beam).
As for Bowie’s flirtation with fascism, calling Hitler a “rock star” and all that…it’s all part of that “darkness,” isn’t it? The black candles, the cocaine…it’s channeling something really really dark. Daaaaaarrrrrrrkkkkk.
As Bowie commented about that period in his life, in a 1993 interview with Arena magazine:
I was interested in the symbols of the Nazis. I think they are the most powerful set of symbols that have been invoked in terms of political history. The swastika. They took a Buddhist symbol, the Eastern symbol of the sun, and turned it around so it became a symbol of the dark. That intrigued me about the Nazis. Who was the magnus [sic]? Who was the black magician?
And Wilcken writes, quoting Bowie,
At this stage, Bowie could go five or six days without sleep, the point at which reality and imagination become irretrievably blurred: “By the end of the week my whole life would be transformed into this bizarre nihilistic fantasy world of oncoming doom, mythological characters and imminent totalitarianism.”
It’s amazing to me that he got out of that period at all. Another musician of the time, Alice Cooper, was going down a similar spiral largely through alcoholism that almost left him dead by the beginning of the 1980s (I believe he became some sort of born-again Christian after that and cleaned up his act).
And a number of their musical contemporaries were also flirting with those fascist ideas and iconographies, from the 1970s into the 80s. It was this dark pool.
It all seems like a spiral that ends in the graveyard of the music video for Bowie’s “Blackstar,” with the three “rock stars” crucified in a scarecrow Golgotha.
I don’t think Bowie ever denied his “dark period.” Perhaps it was a necessary phase in his own personal alchemy. Though certainly, when celebrities have these journeys, they take the public and especially their fans along for the ride.
And then there are the reports that Bowie allegedly took the virginity of 15-year-old groupie in the early 1970s—perhaps right before the “Cocaine Period.”
Here is Lori Mattix—who is described as “ranked among the most desired of these so-called baby groupies who were helping to satisfy the sexual appetites of Jimmy Page, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and others”—being interviewed by Thrillist about Bowie:
THRILLIST: Still, you were a 15-year-old kid and he was an adult man with a lot of experience, and power, and drugs. You don’t see any problem with that now?
MATTIX: I was an innocent girl, but the way it happened was so beautiful. I remember him looking like God and having me over a table. Who wouldn’t want to lose their virginity to David Bowie?
When the fact is, these young girls were the perfect sexual conquests for these rock stars because they were immature, willing to do anything, wouldn’t be as “complicated” as an adult woman, and so on and so on…plus that dark “glee” of deflowering a virgin, of breaking a taboo, and etc. I could dress it up with as much frosting and justifications and semantic knots as humanly possible…but that is sort of what it really boils down to.
…statutory rape laws existed even in the coke-fueled hedonism of the 1970s—because someone had to be protective of young girls who were susceptible to predators with big hair and loud guitars. But as it turns out, no one cared about protecting these girls; they were too busy mythologizing the rockers who were abusing them.
And that dovetails perfectly into Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 controversial comments about Roman Polanski. If I condemn Tarantino and give Bowie a pass because the latter is “uber-cool” with the music and the magick and the PKD connection and so forth…what does that say? If I give Bowie’s fascism fascination during the 1970s a pass, but condemn some other (in my mind, less “cool”) celebrity for the same thing…what does that say?
Or is it simply this? —>That the fact we idolized these celebrities at all—thinking we “knew” them—was stupid. It was stupid, naive, doomed to failure, doomed to disappoint, creating a patently false picture of reality.
In the end, Bowie was not a god. (the same way he was not Eric Lampton.) In the end, Bowie gave up the ghost like the rest of us will do. In the end, all we have is our subjective perceptions of Bowie…something we took in and combined with our own personal mythologies, memories, archetypes, and so on.
We think we idolized Bowie. But we could never do that precisely to the person he really was. It was impossible. He will always partially be a creation of our own.
And I think he was fully, intimately aware of that, too.