1960s – part two

David Bowie used heroin several times in the late 1960s. Indeed, there has been much speculation – never confirmed nor denied by Bowie – that the sense of tranquility of Major Tom “floating in the most peculiar way” during ‘Space Oddity’ was an approximation of an opiate high.

I haven’t gotten involved in anything heavy since ’68. I had a silly flirtation with smack then, but it was only for the mystery and enigma of trying it. I never really enjoyed it at all.
David Bowie
Playboy, September 1976

The extent of Bowie’s heroin use remains unclear, and many of those closest to him at the time professed no knowledge – among them John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, his guitarist with the Buzz and Feathers.

I don’t think David and Hermione [Farthingale, Bowie’s girlfriend] were even into smoking dope. They were into white wine. There was a side of the scene with a lot of sitting in basements and getting wasted, but not those two.
John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson
Starman: The Definitive Biography, Paul Trynka
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While Bowie’s experimentation with heroin was brief, in New York City his future producer Tony Visconti was becoming more deeply involved. Visconti first tried the drug at the age of 19, after being introduced by local jazz musicians, and overdosed on two occasions.

I flirted with heroin for a while, and was addicted for about a three-month period. There was a doctor in New York who would prescribe methadone but only enough to use through withdrawal (a seven-day supply). It was expensive. I managed to keep it a secret from my parents for most of the time, although eventually my mother did find my hypodermic needle (you can’t hide anything from Mum); she discovered my ‘works’ in a hollowed out book and she was wise enough not to tell my father, who would’ve beaten me to a pulp – he was very old-school and behaved exactly as his father had done when it came to discipline. She saw me through one methadone programme and I managed to stay off the drug for a long time.
Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy

Visconti’s heroin use enabled him to dodge being drafted into the army to fight in Vietnam. He was instructed instead to attend weekly group therapy sessions in Brooklyn, leaving after six drug-free months.

Three per cent of addicts never go back on heroin. I was one of the lucky – and determined – ones.

That’s the happy ending to a very dark and horrible period. I had been spending all my money, my entire salary, on the drug. I had even borrowed money from my grandmother on occasions. I never stole, but I had some very, very desperate, dark moments when I was a millimetre away from the bottom of the barrel. Using heroin is not clever, it’s not creative and rock ‘n’ roll has mythologized its use. Those therapy sessions exposed the reality of ‘heroin chic’ for me.

Tony Visconti
Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy
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