The politics of David Bowie has always been hard to understand. After all, it was an impossible task to work out what was a charade and deliberately outrageous to bolster the persona which had been created, or whether it was the real David Jones speaking.
When Bowie went through his Thin White Duke era, his aesthetic leaned into fascist imagery. Bowie was happy to blur the lines between fiction and reality which made it hard to decipher what was real, a factor that allowed him to thrive safe in the knowledge that he could throw verbal grenades at any moment. However, 1976 was the year that Bowie accelerated his fascist statements, decisions that would suggest his alignment with the far-right movement.
One contentious incident occurred when Bowie acknowledged a group of fans outside of London Victoria station and photographed appearing to make a Nazi salute. Bowie vehemently denied this, however, the comments he subsequently made didn’t allow him to have the benefit of the doubt.
Bowie biographer Simon Critchley remarked to Politico in 2016: “The murky side of Bowie is that he left England pretty much for good in 1974 and never really lived there after that. And then in the 1970s he was interested in fascism and national socialist memorabilia, and there were lots of stories connected with that—some of them were true, some not true.”
After that incident at Victoria Station, one would expect Bowie to step back from associating himself with fascism. Remarkably, instead, he decided to double down and unapologetically declare himself as aligning with far-right ideology during an interview with Playboy later that year. He even disgracefully declared that Adolf Hitler “was one of the first rock stars”.
“I’d love to enter politics,” The Thin White Duke told the publication. “I will one day. I’d adore to be Prime Minister. And, yes, I believe very strongly in fascism. The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that’s hanging foul in the air at the moment is to speed up the progress of a right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny and get it over as fast as possible. People have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership.
“A liberal wastes time saying, ‘Well, now, what ideas have you got?’ Show them what to do, for God’s sake. If you don’t, nothing will get done. I can’t stand people just hanging about. Television is the most successful fascist, needless to say. Rock stars are fascists, too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.”
When asked what he meant by his comment about Hitler, Bowie tried to explain but ended up talking himself further down into the rabbit hole he’d buried for himself. “Think about it. Look at some of his films and see how he moved. I think he was quite as good as Mick Jagger. It’s astounding. And, boy, when he hit that stage, he worked an audience. Good God! He was no politician.
“He was a media artist himself. He used politics and theatrics and created this thing that governed and controlled the show for those 12 years. The world will never see his like. He staged a country. Really, I would like to be Prime Minister, but I think I’d have to set up my own country first.”
Bowie would later provide the brightest glimpse behind his swastika covered curtain when he told The Daily Express: “I’m Pierrot. I’m Everyman. What I’m doing is theatre, and only theatre. What you see on stage isn’t sinister. It’s pure clown. I’m using myself as a canvas and trying to paint the truth of our time on it. The white face, the baggy pants – they’re Pierrot, the eternal clown putting over the great sadness.”
While Bowie did call Hitler “one of the first rock stars” and undeniably had a minor obsession with fascism, whether it was born out of adoration or intrigue, we’ll never know. In truth, there’s no defence for his comments about Hitler. These shameful remarks were made almost certainly in character, but that’s no excuse. There’s a line, and sympathising with Hitler is one that should never be flirted with like the way that Bowie did, even under the so-called guise of ‘theatre’.