David Bowie’s Station to Station is undoubtedly a masterpiece but it was an album that the late maestro had almost no recollection of creating because of his penchant for cocaine. The drug is usually the enemy of creativity but, somehow, Bowie made it work and the sprawling six-song record was a triumph with his fans and has been a key part of his iconography ever since.
The 1976 effort was created at arguably the zenith of his career as he manifested The Thin White Duke persona which is many people’s favourite Bowie era. But despite the riches he was achieving with his career, his personal life was the polar opposite.
David Bowie had developed a chronic cocaine addiction as a coping mechanism to deal with the clear decline of his marriage, a long-running lawsuit to end his management contract with MainMan, as well as his growing hatred of the music industry. It was a combination which threatened to swallow him up.
Station to Station was made in Los Angeles and the city of angels had burnt Bowie out. He didn’t enjoy living in La La Land with this time in his life being arguably his darkest period. So much so that he disassociated himself from this era — claiming it felt like it was another person when he looked back at it before his death.
“First, there’s the content, which nobody’s actually been terribly clear about,” Bowie once said of the record. “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 magick 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,” Bowie added.
The album feels mysterious, which enhances its charm, and the vast number of ways the songs can be interpreted helps assert the record among the upper echelons of Bowie’s discography. The record’s meaning even wasn’t even crystal clear to Bowie — which may have something to do with the mountains of cocaine he was getting through.
“I would say a lot of the time I spent in America in the ’70s is really hard to remember, in a way that I’ve not seen happen to too many other artists. I was flying out there – really in a bad way. So I listen to Station To Station as a piece of work by an entirely different person,” Bowie disclosed to Q back in 1997.
Bowie reflected on this dark period and the damage it was doing to his body as well as his appearance to Dylan Jones for his book David Bowie: A Life, “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,” Bowie honestly stated.
“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,” he advised.
It’s remarkable that out of all the turmoil that was going on at every junction of Bowie’s life, once he entered the studio all that was left behind and he could do what he did best — make magical music.
Of all the ‘cocaine records’ that have tarnished many artists’ reputation over the decades, Station to Station somehow did the opposite and is up there with Bowie’s best.