Released: 14 January 1977
David Bowie: vocals, tape cellos
Brian Eno: guitar treatments, EMI synthesizer
Carlos Alomar, Ricky Gardiner: guitar
George Murray: bass guitar
Roy Young: piano, organ
Dennis Davis: drums, percussion
An autobiographical song about a road rage incident in Berlin, Always Crashing In The Same Car was written by David Bowie for his 11th studio album Low.
The first side of Low was all about me: ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’ and all that self-pitying crap.
NME, 12 November 1977
‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’ was written about an incident when Bowie took vengeance against a cocaine dealer he thought had wronged him. The song also serves as a metaphor for the depression that beset Bowie during the making of Low.
Bowie’s biographers have placed the incident in question variously in Berlin, Los Angeles, and Switzerland. It was in fact the former of those, on the Kurfürstendamm, one of the main thoroughfares in West Berlin. Bowie gave the fullest account of the incident during a BBC concert in June 2000.
I wrote that in Berlin, in the mid to late Seventies. It was about one of the few very stupidly, badly attempted thank God, suicide attempts that I tried. The full story is rather alarming. I’m not sure if I should tell it or not.
It involved a coke dealer whose car I saw on the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin one day, and I’d got it into my mind that he screwed me over a deal. My very good friends Iggy Pop and Coco Schwab had clubbed together and bought me a really cheap but lovely Mercedes, 1954 I think it was. You know the ones with rabbit skin around the steering wheel? So delightful. It didn’t have a floor! It was all very rusted. We were all very broke in those days. It was a bit like a pedal car, if your feet went through. It was quite dicey.
So I was driving that and I saw this guy, let’s call him Johan, in the car. And I was so crazed I started ramming him in the Kurfürstendamm, in daylight, in, like, 12 o’clock in the day. And I rammed him and I rammed him, and I was ramming him, He looked around and I could see he was mortally terrified for his life. I’m not surprised. I rammed him for a good, it must have been a good five to ten minutes, which is a very long time actually. Nobody stopped me. Nobody did anything. And I got out of it, ‘What am I doing?’
BBC Radio Theatre, 27 June 2000
Bowie eventually retreated from the scene, but that evening drunkenly wrote off the Mercedes while racing at high speed around an underground Berlin car park. The car ran out of fuel just as he decided to let go of the steering wheel, which may have saved his life.
That night everything came to a kind of a spiritual impasse, you know? And I really was down in a hotel garage, and I started going round and round, just like a movie I’d seen. I thought, ‘Oh, this is so Kirk Douglas in that film [Two Weeks In Another Town] where he lets go of the steering wheel.’ [laughs] You can tell what kind of condition I was in. Or what condition my condition was in. So I started going round and round, faster and faster. And then I let go. And as I let go I ran out of petrol. I just slowly came to a stop! I thought, ‘Oh God, this is the story of my life.’ As it happens, things picked up after that! [laughs]
BBC Radio Theatre, 27 June 2000