One magical movement
In early 1975 David Bowie met Kenneth Anger, author, actor and experimental film maker, whose work often focused on occult themes. Anger was fascinated by the life and work of Satanist and self-appointed prophet Aleister Crowley, who had inspired Anger’s 1972 film Lucifer Rising and other works.
A February 1975 encounter with Jimmy Page seems to have pushed Bowie’s interest in the occult beyond casual intrigue and into a total obsession. The Led Zeppelin guitarist had been fascinated with Crowley for a number of years, and in 1971 had bought and restored Crowley’s former home, Boleskine House.
Bowie believed that Page had psychic powers and was able to influence people, and even wished to cause him harm. He and the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood visited Bowie and Ava Cherry one night at their home on Manhattan’s West 20th Street.
David had heard that Jimmy Page was mentally very powerful and able to influence people and there was a battle of wits to prove who was the stronger. I watched their eye contact and it was very weird.
Alias David Bowie, Peter and Leni Gillman
When Page spilled a glass of red wine on the satin cushions, and let Cherry claim responsibility, Bowie lost his temper: “How could you let her take the blame for something you did?”
Keen to avoid a confrontation, Page made to leave. “Yeah, why don’t you take the window?” Bowie snarled. Page left without a word.
The incident appears to have escalated Bowie’s interest in the occult, and he began reading avidly on the subject. Bowie immersed himself in a variety of religious and mystic texts, including the works of Crowley and Russian occultist Helena Blavatsky, and works on the Tarot, Kabbalah, black magic, numerology, the Third Reich, and other treatises on religion and conspiracy.
The ‘Station To Station’ track itself is very much concerned with the stations of the cross, All the references within the piece are to do with the Kabbalah. It’s the nearest album to a magik treatise that I’ve written. I’ve never read a review that really sussed it. It’s an extremely dark album. Miserable time to live through, I must say.
Q magazine, February 1997
The stories of Bowie’s darkest times in LA are legion, and inevitably blur the lines between fiction and reality. One witness was the teenage Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe, who befriended Bowie in 1975 during the descent into madness.
Back then he was going through some strange stuff. He was saving his urine in a bottle, he was going through… a reinvention [laughs]. And eventually, he became very straight and moved to Berlin. But he was going through a wild phase, which he didn’t hide from me, nor did he ask me not to write about it, and I was the only journalist that had access to him for a couple of years and it’s my favourite profile that I’ve ever done.
I think he was studying a lot of mystical, metaphysical, lifestyle practices at the time and it was just swirling around me. I do remember his manager at the time taking me aside and saying, “See that glass with the yellow stuff in it? It’s pee!” But it was great too, because at the same time he was exploring the Burroughs cut-out method, so he would have pieces of paper all across the floor and be writing songs, just with the words. Talking about Patti Smith, seeing what punk was gonna be like, he saw it coming. It was an amazing time.
Juice magazine, October 2000
Prior to filming The Man Who Fell To Earth, Bowie spent several weeks living with Michael and Nancy Lippman in Hollywood, where he immersed himself in literature and painted. Eventually he wore out his welcome, and Angie found him a new home at 637 North Doheny Drive on the edge of Beverly Hills.
He felt the pool in his LA home was haunted. He felt the devil was in the pool. We had been up for a couple of days, and the wind must have been howling because the water started to bubble in the pool. It bubbled like it was a Jacuzzi, and it was just me and him and I swear to you, I have a pool, and I’ve never seen it bubble before. But that fucking pool was bubbling. You might think, oh my God, these two fucking nincompoops. But on coke you could talk yourself into seeing anything. Do yourself a favour. Stay up for seventy-two hours and you will see shit move. You’ll see a box fall off your table, you’ll hear things. We were just so damn high.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Bowie’s cocaine psychosis even left him paranoid that groupies were plotting to steal his semen, a belief which led to an exorcism of his house on North Doheny Drive.
He got it in his head that these girls were out to make a devil baby with him, to have him impregnate them. Nothing could convince him that this was fantasy on his part, ’cos he was coked to the gills. So he called me at my apartment and he asked me if I knew any white witches?
Starman: The Definitive Biography, Paul Trynka
Cherry Vanilla, who had worked for Bowie’s management company MainMan, did indeed know a white witch: the writer Wally Elmlark, who reportedly talked Angie Bowie through the ceremony over the phone.
I was one of those guys that you see on the streets who suddenly stops and says, “They’re coming! They’re coming!” Every day of my life back then I was capable of staying up indefinitely. My chemistry must have been superhuman. I’d stay up for seven or eight days on the trot!
Ohhh, the Stones would be absolutely floored by it. They’d see me a few days later and find out that I hadn’t been to bed! It was unreal, absolutely unreal. Of course, every day that you stay up longer – and there’s things that you have to do to stay up that long – the impending tiredness and fatigue produces that hallucinogenic state quite naturally. (chuckle, wink) Well half-naturally. 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. Quite the worst.
I was living in L.A. with Egyptian decor. It was one of those rent-a-house places but it appealed to me because I had this more-than-passing interest in Egyptology, mysticism, the cabala [sic], all this stuff that is inherently misleading in life, a hodge-podge whose crux I’ve forgotten. But at the time it seemed transparently obvious what the answer to life was. So the house occupied a ritualistic position in my life.
Musician, May 1983
During this time Bowie reportedly feared that he was heading the same way as his brother Terry Burns, who had struggled for many years with his mental health.
I was totally out of hand and spouting for hours at two people who were either terrified or bored with what I was saying. I never moved out of this big room and everything came in to me: food and milk and people. I’d say, ‘Tonight I want to make sculptures.’ I’d order all kinds of materials, have them brought in and I’d build vast, incredible things in the living room next to the television set. This was in Bel Air, good ol’ Bel Air.
Definitely a fractured person, by confounding myself with images and characters that I found I was living with – and actually seeing them in my apartment. A combination of that and a year and a half of fairly hard drugs. I was being threatened by my own characters, feeling them coming in on me and grinning at me, saying ‘We’re gonna take you over completely!’ I thought, ‘This is it. Terry, I’m just about to join you.’
Crawdaddy, February 1978
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.).