1975: Los Angeles – part two

In May 1975 Angie Bowie arranged for David to move into a new home, at 637 North Doheny Drive in 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.
Glenn Hughes
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones

This period saw Bowie’s addiction deepen and his mental and physical states become increasingly precarious. His drug use by this time was so widely-known that the UK music weekly Record Mirror described him in print as “Old Vacuum-Cleaner Nose”.

I’ve never really thought about whether or not a person can be too thin. Well, I certainly was at one point, back in the ’70s, when I just ate peppers and drank milk. I have various photographs of me looking skeletal, which remind me how badly behaved I was back in the ’70s. They’re Polaroids as well, which makes it even worse because they’re badly lit. I occasionally look at them and think, How did I ever get to that state? How did I ever survive it? So yeah, you can be too thin! I know some of those outfits, and some of those characters were iconic, and I know the image was enhanced by my skeletal nature, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a process, I wouldn’t recommend it as a career template.
David Bowie
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
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Bowie began reading avidly on the occult. He 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, Egyptology, the Third Reich, and other treatises on religion and conspiracy.

It was pure straightforward, old-fashioned magic… There was a guy called Edward Waite who was terribly important to me at the time. And another called Dion Fortune who wrote a book called Psychic Self-Defence. You had to run around the room getting bits of string and old crayons and draw funny things on the wall, and I took it all most seriously, ha ha ha! I drew gateways into different dimensions, and I’m quite sure that, for myself, I really walked into other worlds. I drew things on walls and just walked through them, and saw what was on the other side.
David Bowie, 1997
Alias David Bowie, Peter and Leni Gillman

In this period Bowie took part in several photo shoots with Steve Schapiro. During one such engagement in an LA studio, Bowie drew Kabbalah symbols and diagrams on the walls and floor. This look was resurrected by Bowie in the ‘Lazarus’ video, released in January 2016.

When we did our shoot in ’74 [sic], he went into the dressing room and he painted these diagonal white stripes on his outfit and painted his toes white. And when we saw the ‘Lazarus’ video, he had repeated that outfit for the first time. He was in a very spiritual mood in ’74 and this sort of continued that whole spiritual sense that David had.
Steve Schapiro
Cool Hunting, April 2016

When Station To Station was reissued in 1991 the back cover featured one of Schapiro’s images, of Bowie sketching Kaballah’s 10 Sephirot, also known as the Tree of Life, on the studio floor. The incident was also immortalised in the lyrics of ‘Breaking Glass’ on the Low album.

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.
David Bowie
Q magazine, February 1997
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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.

Cameron Crowe
Juice, October 2000

Crowe’s interview was published in Rolling Stone in early 1976, under the headline Ground Control To Davy Jones.

Suddenly – always suddenly – David is on his feet and rushing to a nearby picture window. He thinks he’s seen a body fall from the sky. “I’ve got to do this,” he says, pulling a shade down on the window. A ballpoint-penned star has been crudely drawn on the inside. Below it is the word “Aum.” Bowie lights a black candle on his dresser and immediately blows it out to leave a thin trail of smoke floating upward. “Don’t let me scare the pants off you. It’s only protective. I’ve been getting a little trouble from … the neighbors.”
Cameron Crowe
Rolling Stone, 12 February 1976

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 North Doheny Drive home.

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?
Cherry Vanilla
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 LA 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.

David Bowie
Musician, May 1983

During this time Bowie reportedly feared that he was heading the same way as his brother Terry Burns, who for many years had struggled 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.’

David Bowie
Crawdaddy, February 1978
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