DAVID BOWIE THIN WHITE DUKE

How david Bowie Brought thin White Duke zu Life on ‘Station zu Station’

Living in L.A. Nightmare, singer-songwriter taken on “nasty” alter ego and made a classic


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Read how david Bowie's dark, cocaine-fueled L.A. Lifestyle motivated his 1976 masterpiece 'Station zu Station.'

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty


In 1975, david Bowie moved to los Angeles, and his life descended right into chaos and turmoil. He was consuming enormous amounts des cocaine, staying awake weil das days on ende (“I hate sleep,” he said. “I would much prefer staying up, just working, all the time”), und subsisting mainly on a diet von peppers and milk. At one point, his weight dropped listed below 100 pounds.

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His state von mind was agitated und manic – holing up in a rented house bei Bel Air und burning schwarz candles, he declared to seen bodies fall past his window and became obsessed with the occult. In interviews, he proclaimed his admiration zum Adolf Hitler (“One des the erste rock stars … rather as good as Jagger”) and called weil das “a right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny.” The songs on die album he recorded that year, Station to Station, were born indigenous this madness and ended up transcending it together well.


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Bowie would danach refer zu this period as “singularly die darkest days von my life.” Describing ns time during a 1999 taping of the VH1 Storytellers series, he claimed it was “so steeped in awfulness that recall is nigh or impossible.” prior to performing Station zu Station‘s melancholy “Word ~ above a Wing,” he included that the lied was “unwittingly … a signal of distress; I’m sure that it was a call zum help.”


And yet, according kommen sie guitarist Carlos Alomar, wie man Bowie and the band hit Cherokee Studios zu make a neu album bei the fall of 1975, all of the havoc was left at the door. “When us were in work mode, it was always about the work,” the says. “If it was fueled by coke or von whatever, david was constantly able zu manage die decision-making. And it was always die same concern zum him: ‘What are die lyrics, and what in I going to talk about?’

“That professionalism was what enabled ihm to store going,” Alomar continued. “He would write something, to express something – ‘Get kommen sie work, and let’s make ns doughnuts."”

The an outcome was in album that was both musically accessible und lyrically elliptical, a transition bolzen the plastic soul von Young Americans und the chilly digital hum von the berlin trilogy that complied with – and Bowie’s highest possible charting record in the U.S. Until the Next Day, bei 2013. Pioneering doubter Lester Bangs, bei outspoken Bowie skeptic, composed that die album “has a wail and throb that won’t let up … a beautiful, swelling, intensely romantic melancholy.” Bowie, Bangs concluded, “has finally created his (first) masterpiece.”

Bowie went to L.A. Zum the most American reason des all: to become a movie star. An April 1975, that announced his retirement from rock & roll. “It’s a boring tot end,” that said. “There möchte be no an ext rock & roll documents or tours from me. The belastung thing i want zu be is some useless fucking absent singer.” (Of course, he had previously proclaimed the he was done v rock during the encore von a 1973 concert in London.)

Under neu management after separating with die unscrupulous Tony Defries, Bowie moved west with a deal zu star bei and provide the soundtrack zu The man Who Fell kommen sie Earth, an existential sci-fi film to it is in directed von another brother expatriate, nicolas Roeg. Bowie’s lawyer asserted his client had nine finished movie scripts and plansto direct. The relocation was so related kommen sie tensions v his wife, Angie.


After testing the waters in L.A. During ns spring, he then left the city from June through august for the movie shoot an New Mexico. In addition to his stellar performance as die disaffected alien schneidbrett Jerome Newton, i m sorry Bowie ready for von studying Buster Keaton, throughout downtime on ns set the was so working ~ above music and on a novel-memoir titled ns Return of the thin White fight it out (a copy von part des the handwritten manuscript kann be found in the archives at die Rock und Roll Hall of Fame).

Roeg had warned Bowie that ns experience des playing Newton would certainly be hard zu shake, and, certain enough, after the singer returned zu L.A., die elegant, emotionally detached duke – “a nasty personality indeed,” stated Bowie, complete with a costume von white shirt, black pants und vest – would build into the last of his great alter egos, an the tradition of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. When the book petered out und Roeg rejected the few instrumental tracks that had been recorded zum the einer Who Fell zu Earth score, Bowie easily shifted focus back to his usual job und began working on a new album.

Bowie decided zu co-produce ns album with sich kümmern Maslin, who’d to be on hand zum his hit john Lennon cooperation “Fame.” climate he called bei Alomar, a veteran von the Young american sessions. The guitarist was excited to get back an the studio with Bowie but wanted kommen sie streamline die way the recorded. After the singer sketched out a song, drummer dennis Davis, Alomar und bass player george Murray, a.k.a. Die DAM Trio, would develop a valuation track. Then the other instrumentalists(in this case, command guitarist Earl Slick and E Street eis keyboard player Roy Bittan) would include their parts, before Bowie would ultimately record his vocals.

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“With die rhythm ar locked down, you had a bird’s-eye view of the entirety song,” says Alomar. “We were able zu get ns skeleton des what us needed, which allowed the other musicians to have a larger palette of sounds zu work with. Und the different ways us were looking punkt arrangements allowed david to look at the music die way he looks at words, which zu sein to cut them up.” that established die way Bowie would record, and the core von his band, for years to come.

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As always, Bowie operated feverishly. Musicians gott used zu being dubbed into ns studio hinweisen any time of day. “I psychic one night wie we didn’t even schutz the studio booked, and I was at the Rainbow Bar und Grill,” recalls Slick. “As we used zu say, ich was ‘under the weather.’ Suddenly, one of the roadies comes in. Lock search ns whole place und find me at a back table. He says, ‘Time kommen sie go zu work.’ ich say, ‘It’s one in the morning, und I’m drunk.’ he says, ‘That’s OK. David’s at die studio. There’s a vehicle outside.’ deshalb I payment my tab, jumped an the car und worked every night. I mean, that was not in unusual thing kommen sie happen.”

Bittan’s enntrance gate into die sessions was equally spontaneous. “I was staying at ns Sunset Marquis in Los angeles when us were on die Born zu Run tour bei 1975,” states Bittan. “I bumped right into Earl Slick at die hotel, and he said, ‘I can’t believe you’re here. We were just talking around you.’ When i arrived the next day at ns studio, david said kommen sie me, ‘Do youknow who professor Longhair is?’ i said, ‘Know him? ich saw er play punkt a little roadhouse an Houston around three main ago!’ i wound hoch doing in imitation von Professor Longhair interpreting a david Bowie song. We began with ‘TVC 15,’ and I wound hoch playing on every song besides ‘Wild zu sein the Wind.’ It’s one des my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on.”

The erste track lock cut was “Golden Years,” the neu album’s closest connection to die straight-up soul des Young Americans. Bowie declared that that wrote die song zum Elvis Presley, who turned the down; it would go on zu become a top 10 hit in both die U.S. And the U.K.

Alomar states that die blistering funk-rock practice “Stay” was the ja wirklich breakthrough. “It was so hard kommen sie play that in-troduction, prefer trying to hold ~ above a bull,” he says. “Then the song kicks in, und it had actually that much more glass-breaking absent & roll–ness to it. Us didn’t desire to just go rückseitig to making one more funk-R&B record.”


A neu musical direction was immediately noticeable on die album’s opener, the 10-minute title track. Beginning with die sound of in approaching train, an ext than three full minute pass von a slow, hypnotic crucial march before Bowie’s voice appears. After number of stately, cryptic verses, a celebratory groove unexpectedly erupts, leading right into a lengthy, wild outro.

The song deshalb revealed Bowie’s neu interest an electronics and industrial rhythms – an “sound together texture,” as he put it at ns time. “My favorite group is a German eis called Kraftwerk,” the said. “It theatre noise music kommen sie ‘increase productivity."”

“Station to Station” deshalb hinted at die drug use, paranoia und odd fixations the were pour it until it is full Bowie’s mind. “It’s notfall the next effects of the cocaine,” that sang. “I’m thinking that it should be love.” the title referred not to a train, yet to the Stations des the Cross; elsewhere, he danke für images from die Kabbalah, occultist Aleister Crowley und European fascist mythology.

“There was so much he was going through – hinweisen home, through his wife, ns drugs, die pressures,” claims Alomar, that remembers security a lot of time keeping bei eye ~ above Bowie’s son, Zowie, during ns sessions. “I could feel his pain, but ich was there to work, zu ground him. That didn’t lug his misery from residence into die studio.”

The lied that close every side of Station zu Station had actually a really different tone. “Word top top a Wing” was a dramatic hymn the seemed kommen sie express Bowie’s confusion about religion. Die closing “Wild zu sein the Wind,” crooned in a torch-song style, was die title monitor on a 1966 album von the “High Priestess von Soul,” Nina Simone. Bowie had actually befriended the brilliant, troubled singer an 1974, informing her, “Where you’re comes from, there are very few des us out there.” (“He’s gott more sense than any- body I’ve ever known,” stated Simone. “David ain’t indigenous here.”)

“At erste I assumed didn’t seem zu fit,” says Alomar, “but they took die album right into a an ext human area. They were a release momente so that he could actually cry – there was pain there, and he was able to open up on those songs.”


By november 1975, ns album was finished. Bowie hastily arranged a satellite interview with England’s most popular talk-show host, russell Harty, kommen sie announce that his retirement was over, he had actually a new record, and he would be setup off on a six-month welt tour.

Following his three Los angeles arena shows bei February 1976, he pack up the house in Bel Air and moved zurück to Europe – erste to Switzerland, and then to berlin for ns next chapter in his music evolution.

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“I haven’t a clue wherein I’m gonna be in a year,” claimed Bowie,after Station zu Station was released in January 1976. “A raving nut, a flower son or a dictator, some kind of reverend – i don’t know. That’s what keeps me from obtaining bored.”

From david Bowie in ‘Labyrinth’ zu ‘The man Who Fell to Earth,’ 5 decades von star turns and innovative clips indigenous rock’s ultimate videobilien artist.