David Bowie quite famously endured a brutal battle with substance throughout his life. Still, once he had conquered his demons, he made sure to stop anyone else falling into an all-too-easy rabbit hole of addiction which is symptomatic of working in the music industry. When he saw people falling into an all-too-familiar position to his former self, Bowie made it his prerogative to reach out.
The musician had wholly sobered up by the time he released Black Tie White Noise in 1993, and he spoke openly about why he had to clean up his act around this period. The Thin White Duke knew that by being honest about his battle, that this would both deglamorised drug abuse and also take some stigma out of the topic surrounding addiction. One person who has Bowie to thank for turning his life around is Guns N’ Roses member Slash. The Starman told him what he didn’t want to hear, but precisely what he needed to hear.
Speaking to NME in 1993 about his experience with drugs, they asked Bowie if he had managed to glean any positives from his usage and his response was a staggering warning. “I would have to feel so irresponsible in saying that I did,” Bowie responded. “Possibly, but the chances of being able to dip in it just enough to get the positive stuff and then step out are so stacked against you that I would never in my right mind advise anybody to try it.
“Y’know, that’s the trouble it’s like having this huge great oyster with this pearl in the middle and you could get the pearl but you do risk having your arms snapped off. Well, do we do it or not? I would suggest that possibly the best thing is just to not bother.”
Bowie then spoke about his disdain towards the media’s way of portraying addiction and how they never show the dark side of excess—using Jim Morrison as an example. The Starman added: “We don’t see enough photographs of the stupid fat berk lying in his bath tub, we only see him moody and handsome. It’s the same with [James] Dean. The youthful expression goes that he lived too fast and died young. Well, maybe if more photographs were published of him after the car wreck.”
Slash fell into the trap of becoming a rock ‘n’ roll cliché and believed that excess was just part and parcel of the job’s remit. During an encounter with Bowie, the Guns’ N’ Roses guitarist opened up to him about how all of his psychedelic trips were now resulting in bad experiences and what Bowie told him would alter his mindset forever.
“He’d said, ‘No, you’re probably in a bad place right now and you have become vulnerable to a lot of outside interaction with things that people don’t normally see, and you’ve exposed yourself to this,'” Slash recalled to Kerrang. The guitarist then added: “And I was like, ‘Whoa! That’s heavy…’ But that was a sound piece of advice. Or maybe an eye-opening clarification of the state of mind I was in.”
In his autobiography, Slash, he also recalled: “David was engaging and wise in the ways of chemical abuse. He asked me about what I was doing drug-wise and what I was going through emotionally, psychically, and with the band. “I rambled on for a while, but once I started talking about my little translucent friends, David interrupted me… He’d heard enough.”
Bowie was a man that looked out for Slash, and the axe-man knew that what he was saying came straight from the heart. In the 1970s, Slash’s mother, Ola Hudson even worked as a costume designer for Bowie and was the visionary behind his Thin White Duke persona, which started as a professional relationship before turning into something more intimate.
“He was always over – they were always together,” Slash recalled in 2012. I caught them naked once. They had a lot of stuff going on, but my perspective was limited. Looking back on it, I know exactly what was going on. When I look back on that whole combination of people, I can only imagine how freaky it was.”
Bowie’s advice didn’t immediately make Slash turn around his life. However, in 2005, Slash gave finally attempted sobriety and has been clean ever since with Bowie’s words permanently ringing in his ears. This advice is a testament to the character of the late, great Bowie. He always tried his best to try to guide people who he recognised a glimmer of his former tortured self in and forced Slash to take a firm look in the mirror which changed his life for the better.