The side effects of the cocaine
Although Station To Station remains one of Bowie’s most focused and successful musical statements, it was created during a period of personal and professional turmoil. Chief among this was Bowie’s chronic addiction to cocaine.
I’ve never really thought about whether or not a person can be too thin. Well, I certainly was at one point, back in the 70s, when I just ate peppers and drank milk. I have various photographs of me looking skeletal, which remind me how badly behaved I was back in the 70s. They’re Polaroids as well, which makes it even worse because they’re badly lit. I occasionally look at them and think, How did I ever get to that state? How did I ever survive it? So yeah, you can be too thin! I know some of those outfits, and some of those characters were iconic, and I know the image was enhanced by my skeletal nature, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a process, I wouldn’t recommend it as a career template.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Cocaine was the primary showbiz drug of the 1970s, and David Bowie was foremost among its celebrity devotees. His use took hold during the latter stages of the Ziggy Stardust Tour, and escalated rapidly in 1974, the year of the Diamond Dogs.
By early 1975 Bowie was suing his manager Tony Defries, in an attempt to extricate himself from management company MainMan. The ongoing litigation left him with little income, despite the success of his recent albums.
Bowie made an appearance at the 17th annual Grammy Awards on 1 March, at New York’s Uris Theater. He presented the best female R&B vocal performance award to Aretha Franklin, and was photographed alongside Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and Roberta Flack.
I was in a very serious state. You just have to look at some of the photographs of me, I cannot believe I actually survived it. You can see me at the Grammies, for instance, with Lennon, it terrifies me. It’s a skull. There’s not an ounce on me. I’m just a skeleton.
I have an addictive personality. I’m quite clear on that now. And it was easily obtainable and it kept me working, ’cos I didn’t use it for… I wasn’t really a recreational guy, I wasn’t really an out-on-the-town guy. I was much more ‘OK, let’s write ten different projects this week and make four or five sculptures.’ And I’d just stay up 24 hours a day until most of that was completed. I just liked doing stuff. I loved being involved in that creative moment. And I’d found a soul-mate in this drug, which helped perpetuate that creative moment… Yes, cocaine. Well, speed as well, actually. The combination. And apparently a lot of elephant tranquilliser went in there too!
Mojo, July 2002
In 1974 Bowie had befriended Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes, and the pair spoke of collaborating. Hughes invited Bowie to stay at his house in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles while he was away touring.
Bowie arrived at LA’s Union Station on 16 March, and was joined by friend Geoff MacCormack shortly afterwards. Bowie was lent a yellow convertible VW Beetle, which belonged to his new manager Michael Lippman’s wife Nancy.
One of Bowie’s associates in Los Angeles was cocaine dealer Freddy Sessler, popular among musicians for his supplies of ‘Merck’ – medicinal cocaine. Although the purity of Sessler’s coke was highly desirable, its potency and availability was a key cause of Bowie’s mental and physical decline in 1975.
Physically I was painfully emancipated – emaciated! Emancipated came later! Some points I almost reached like 80 pounds, it’s just really painful, and also my disposition left a lot to be desired – I was paranoid, manic depressive, all the usual emotional paraphernalia that came with abuse of amphetamines and coke.
Planet Rock Profiles, November 1998
Bowie’s move to LA coincided with a sharp rise in his coke addiction, in which he was joined by Hughes.
We never slept in the same bed, as we never slept. The love was what spurred us on, the love for music, and the love of drugs. Then when we were alone, we did become addicts. Cocaine is a demonic drug, although we did not need cocaine to have fun however. We argued like man and wife. About everything. He was very confrontational. He wasn’t physical but he was verbal.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Bowie’s drug problems were well known to those around him, an open secret within the media, and his weight loss and cadaverous demeanour were widely discussed. One commentator was his former guitarist Mick Ronson, who told reporter Allan Jones that Bowie would benefit from some straight talking.
I wish that Dave would get himself sorted out. He’s so very confused – I know he is. What he really needs is to have some good friends around him. I’ll tell you he hasn’t got one good friend now. He needs somebody around him to say, ‘David fuck off, you’re fucking stupid.’ He needs one person who won’t bow to him.
Melody Maker, 5 April 1975
In re: the album’s content, I think that the pleas to God and declarations of love are more those of desperation/insincerity. In ‘Word On A Wing’, he sounds uncertain about whether he is actually willing to commit to God or not — almost reluctantly trying hard to fit in the scheme of things. ‘Wild Is The Wind’, on the other hand, is almost obsessive in its desire to ‘satisfy this hungriness’, and the meaning becomes hollow when looked at from the perspective of the Thin White Duke character being ‘a would-be romantic with absolutely no emotion but who spouted a lot of neo-romance’.
At least, that’s my cynical take on the album. 🙂
“Word On a Wing”, to me, is the offer of a man who has a great deal of pride and self-respect to serve God, but on terms which are agreeable to him. He still cares for himself and doesn’t stand in his own light. It is the approach of a little god to the big God, accepting the latter’s supreme authority but at the same time asserting some degree of independence and control over the relationship that he wants to build between them.
This theme is revisited in Blackstar, with the conversation the dying or deceased Bowie has with God. “You’re a flash in the pan, I’m the big I am”. “I am” is, of course, how God referred to himself in Exodus. God is asserting his primacy over Bowie whilst paradoxically acknowledging that Bowie has a certain god-like status.
Bought this when it came out. Never opened it, and still sealed. Many, many times I’ve been tempted to! Curious to know how much it’s valued at now (unopened/mint obvs.).