1974 – part one
By mid-March 1974, with the Diamond Dogs album complete and awaiting release, plans were made for David Bowie’s most ambitious tour yet.
The Diamond Dogs Tour was intended as a blend of dance, theatre and rock ‘n’ roll, featuring an elaborate Hunger City set influenced by German expressionist art and film. Three major touchstones were “power, Nuremberg and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
He was focused most of the time, but not all of the time. There were times when he was not just there. There’s no doubt about that. No way. I don’t polish shit over. I tell the truth. Trust me, I was no angel, and I had serious fucking drug and alcohol problems myself. But I do have enough memory to know that there were some nights when he was just not there. It didn’t make for a functioning relationship. I know that drug [cocaine] very well, and what will happen is the drug just makes you isolate yourself emotionally from everybody. He wasn’t as forthcoming as he could be, couldn’t engage in conversations. He was completely isolated from the rest of the band before the shows, after the shows. It was like him and then it was us. It was not a band by any stretch.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Bowie’s financial problems led him to take up residency in America, in an attempt to avoid paying tax in Britain. He arrived in New York on the SS France in April 1974, and stayed for nearly two years.
Fêted in America, Bowie socialised regularly in the lead up to the first tour dates.
I started on the drugs at the end of 1973 and then with force in 1974. As soon as I got to America, pow! It was so freely available in those days. Coke was everywhere. It was just impossible to get away from. Because I have a very addictive personality, I was a sucker for it.
Rolling Stone, 10 June 1993
Bowie’s descent into addiction left him looking pale, gaunt and skeletal. This period was captured in the BBC TV documentary Cracked Actor, in which his physical and mental fragility was clear to see. Much of the footage was shot in Los Angeles in September 1974.
I was so blocked … so stoned … It’s quite a casualty case, isn’t it. I’m amazed I came out of that period, honest. When I see that now I cannot believe I survived it. I was so close to really throwing myself away physically, completely.
Musician, August 1987
Drugs, however, did little to dim Bowie’s productivity. During a break in the tour in August 1974 he began recording the Young Americans album. The sessions were hugely productive, even by his prolific standards: in just twelve days at least ten songs were recorded, although not all were complete, and some were later reworked or re-recorded. The rest of the album was recorded from November 1974 to January 1975.
When we were recording Young Americans he couldn’t really get his creative thing going until two or three in the morning, until the cocaine arrived. So consequently I’d be the only one awake, as I never used any drugs in my life. At six in the morning he’d be very wide-eyed and on top of things. It didn’t matter what state he was in, we never argued; in fact in thirty years we didn’t argue once. He was always so focused, always professional, always smiling.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Much of Young Americans was written in the studio, with the musicians providing invaluable contributions. Fuelled by a rapidly escalating cocaine habit, the ever-obsessive Bowie worked long days and nights, with his collaborators often struggling to keep up.
That album was conceived and written in the studio. We’d be there at four in the morning, falling asleep virtually, and David would still be dashing off ideas for crazy vocal arrangements, ridiculous things for ‘Right’, you know? Crazy.
Melody Maker, 22 May 1976
After the first set of Young Americans sessions, Bowie went back on the road, this time on the stripped-down Soul Tour. In September 1974, during a break in the tour, Bowie stayed in Los Angeles and refined the stage show. He also formed a brief but intense friendship with actor Elizabeth Taylor.
Taylor asked Bowie to co-star with her in The Blue Bird, due to be filmed in Russia the following year. A photo session with Terry O’Neill was arranged for 28 September in Beverly Hills, to coincide with the public announcement of the collaboration, but Bowie’s conduct forced Taylor to reconsider.
David was two and a half hours late for his first meeting with Liz. He arrived dishevelled and out of it. Liz was pretty annoyed and on the verge of leaving, but we managed to persuade her to stay. She was thinking of asking him to appear in The Blue Bird, but she went off the idea after that.