1976: Isolar in Europe

It just took over my life, but completely, until late 1976, ’77, when I got myself over to Berlin – the smack capital of Europe, ironically – to clean up.
David Bowie
Rolling Stone, 10 June 1993

David Bowie took instantly to eastern Europe, initially choosing to explore Germany and Russia instead of joining Angie and their son Zowie at their new Switzerland home.

On 7 April 1976 the European leg of Bowie’s Isolar Tour kicked off in Munich, Germany, and continued in Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, England, Belgium, and the Netherlands, before finishing with two shows in Paris, France, on 17 May.

The tour wasn’t without its controversies. On 26 April, after the first of two concerts in Stockholm, Sweden, Bowie was interviewed by a Swedish reporter, to whom he made some notorious comments on fascism.

As I see it I am the only alternative for the premier in England. I believe Britain could benefit from a fascist leader. After all, fascism is really nationalism.
David Bowie

David Bowie holding a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, 26 April 1976

The remarks were renounced on many subsequent occasions by Bowie, who attributed them to his prodigious drug intake at the time.

Bowie returned to the United Kingdom on 2 May 1976, to continue his world tour. His arrival was well publicised and highly anticipated.

He was greeted at London’s Victoria Station by ecstatic crowds. Bowie arrived standing in an open-top Mercedes limousine, waving at fans. Unfortunately, however, he was photographed mid-wave, appearing to give a fascist salute.

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That didn’t happen. THAT DID NOT HAPPEN. I waved. I just WAVED. Believe me. On the life of my child, I waved. And the bastard caught me. In MID-WAVE, man. And, God, did that photo get some coverage… As if I’d be foolish enough to pull a stunt like that. I died when I saw the photo. And even the people who were with me said, ‘David! How could you?’ The bastards. I didn’t… GOD, I just don’t believe in all that.
David Bowie
Melody Maker, 29 October 1977

Photographer Chalkie Davies’s image was printed in the NME with the headline ‘Heil and farewell’. The image was doctored by the publication to give the impression of a fascist gesture. The accompanying article, meanwhile, made no mention of a salute.

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Unfortunately because of the gloomy late afternoon light at Victoria Station I used fill in flash on the four or five frames I managed to rattle off before he split.

When I showed the image to the NME the following day they decided to enhance his left arm by drawing a hand on the image, because of the flash it was partly missing. But when we saw the paper on Wednesday it looked very much like he was giving a Nazi salute.

The press picked up on this and put it together with some quotes on fascism he had made in Europe and lo and behold David was vilified as a Nazi. I feared it might harm our relationship but he shrugged it off saying it wasn’t my fault, that I’d just caught a wrong moment and that he was indeed waving at the crowd. Nobody believed him of course and the Victoria Station Incident became part of Bowie folklore.

If Bowie’s wave was more misfortune than intent, the timing was regrettable. Bowie had for some time been flirting with fascist imagery and references.

In April he had been detained at the Russia-Poland border, following a trip to Moscow, where customs officials confiscated some Nazi literature and memorabilia. Bowie insisted the books had been for research purposes – “I’m working on a film on Goebbels and they found all my reference material,” he later said.

This tenuous grip on reality – and morality – wasn’t helped by a Playboy interview with Cameron Crowe, published in the summer of 1976, in which a megalomaniac Bowie expressed support for fascism and sang the praises of Adolf Hitler.

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 only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that’s hanging foul in the air at the moment is to speed up the progress of a right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny and get it over as fast as possible. People have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership. A liberal wastes time saying, “Well, now, what ideas have you got?” Show them what to do, for God’s sake. If you don’t, nothing will get done. I can’t stand people just hanging about. Television is the most successful fascist, needless to say. Rock stars are fascists, too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.

Think about it. Look at some of his films and see how he moved. I think he was quite as good as Jagger. It’s astounding. And, boy, when he hit that stage, he worked an audience. Good God! He was no politician. He was a media artist himself. He used politics and theatrics and created this thing that governed and controlled the show for those 12 years. The world will never see his like. He staged a country.

Really, I would like to be Prime Minister, but I think I’d have to set up my own country first. I don’t want to be Prime Minister of the old country. I’d have to create the state that I wish to live in first. I dream of one day buying companies and television stations, owning and controlling them.

David Bowie
Playboy, September 1976

Bowie’s remarks were made at the height of his cocaine addiction. During the interview he also spoke extensively on his past use of LSD, heroin, and cannabis, and acknowledged his current preferences.

What year is it now? ’76? I suppose I’ve been knocking on heaven’s door for about 11 years now, with one sort of high or another. The only kinds of drugs I use, though, are ones that keep me working for longer periods of time…

I like fast drugs. I’ve said that many times. I hate falling out, where I can’t stand up and stuff. It seems like such a waste of time. I hate downs and slow drugs like grass. I hate sleep. I would much prefer staying up, just working, all the time. It makes me so mad that we can’t do anything about sleep or the common cold…

What have drugs done to me? They’ve fucked me up, I think. Fucked me up nicely and I’ve quite enjoyed seeing what it was like being fucked up.

David Bowie
Playboy, September 1976