1975: Los Angeles – part one
I blew my nose one day in California, and half my brains came out. Something had to be done.
David Bowie’s cocaine addiction peaked in the mid-1970s. The most excessive months lasted approximately from the recording of Young Americans in the summer of 1974 to the end of the Isolar 1976 World Tour.
Before beginning shooting The Man Who Fell To Earth, Bowie chose to leave New York and relocate to Los Angeles. His ongoing litigation with MainMan, and the decline of his relationship with singer Ava Cherry, had left him feeling disenchanted with the Big Apple.
LA offered Bowie a chance for a fresh start, although his drug and mental health issues swiftly deepened.
He left New York by train, arriving at Los Angeles’ Union Station on Sunday 16 March. He was met at the station by bass guitarist Glenn Hughes’ driver.
Due to his ongoing litigation with MainMan, Bowie had little income. He had befriended Hughes the previous year, and the bassist invited him to stay at his LA home while he was touring with Deep Purple.
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. He was fucking smart, had incredible wit. But he was self-righteous and he was driven at the time by an obsession with the Third Reich, and he was viewing that shit at my house. He was so into the narcissism of Hitler. He didn’t want to be him, but he was fascinated by the Nazi movement. When you do cocaine it makes you very, very energetic. I would get out of the room when he would do this. You go into a trance on cocaine, and he would just watch reels and reels of film about the Nazis. He never did the arm-lifting thing, he was just fascinated.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Bowie intended to adopt an itinerant lifestyle for a few months before beginning shooting The Man Who Fell To Earth. Filming was delayed for several weeks, however, while the producers sought financial backing.
This left Bowie with much free time, some of which he spent by visiting the UCLA Department of Parapsychology, where Dr Thelma Moss was researching Kirlian photography.
Kirlian images were captured by placing objects onto sheet photographic film overlaid onto a metal plate. When a high voltage current is quickly applied, it created an exposure on the film, which some people believed captured the aura of an subject.
Bowie was given a Kirlian photographic machine by Dr Moss. In April 1975 he took two photographs of his fingertip and a crucifix, both before and thirty minutes after consuming cocaine.
Highly dangerous camera it was, too. It would regularly explode. Nic Roeg wanted to use some examples of it in The Man Who Fell To Earth, but it wouldn’t film well enough.
Q magazine, February 1997
In early 1975, Iggy Pop (Jimmy Osterberg) was a voluntary patient at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. He had been given a choice of jail or rehab by the LAPD, and opted to get treated. Bowie became a regular visitor.
By 1975, I was totally into drugs and my willpower had been vastly depleted. But I still had the brains to commit myself to a hospital, and I survived with willpower and a lot of help from David Bowie. I survived because I wanted to.
Los Angeles Times, 25 February 1979
In 2002 Bowie recalled bringing Pop drugs during the visits.
Did it work? Of course! Ah, that was so stupid. If I remember right, it was me and Dennis Hopper. We trooped into the hospital with a load of drugs for him. This was very much a leave-your-drugs-at-the-door hospital. We were out of our minds, all of us. He wasn’t well; that’s all we knew. We thought we should bring him some drugs, because he probably hadn’t had any for days!
Blender, August 2002
According to Pop, visitors should not have been allowed inside the institute, but its staff made an exception.
He [Bowie] came up one day, stoned out of his brain in his little space-suit. They were like, ‘We want to see Jimmy. Let us in.’ There was a strict rule – you never let outsiders in: it was an insane asylum. You don’t let people in the ward. But the doctors were star-struck, so they let them in. And the first thing they did say was, ‘Hey, want some blow?’ They tried to give me drugs. I think I took a little, which is really unpleasant in there. I basically was just staying in touch.
A Part Ca, Canal+, 1997
Pop checked himself out of the facility by mid-April, and shortly afterwards took part in some demo recordings at Hollywood’s Oz Studios with Bowie and Geoff MacCormack.
For several weeks Bowie stayed at the home of his manager Michael Lippman and his wife Nancy. There Bowie painted a series of abstract works, made sculptures, and immersed himself in books on the Manson Family murders. He had become infatuated with the subject while staying with Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes, who lived just four houses from the location of the LaBianca murders.
David went into the kitchen and got all the sharp steak knives, and he hid them. When I came down in the morning I said, ‘Where are all the knives?’ and he said it’s just in case the Manson family – who by now were all in jail – came to get him. He was ninety-five pounds, and he was doing mass quantities of cocaine. I would say we were probably both doing seven grams a day each. And that is a lot of cocaine to snort. And we had an endless supply of cocaine. Knowing now what I know about cocaine, one of us should have died…
He talked and talked and talked. I never ever saw David sleep. Ever. I never saw David eat much; he just drank a lot of milk. And after spending some time at my house, he found a home in LA two miles from my house. He moved there and I would go over there and hang out with Corinne Schwab. Without Corinne, David would have not been alive in the last ten or twenty years. She warded off all the wrong people. And you know, David and I were toxic. Cocaine is the devil’s drug. There was a moment when we were getting high, and David started to bleed from his eye, actually bleeding.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones