The relationship Placebo’s Brian Molko and the iconic Starman, David Bowie, shared is perfectly encapsulated in the rarely seen backstage footage of the pair rehearsing ‘Without You I’m Nothing’ before a show in 1999.
The clip was shared by the band shortly after the singer’s death in 2016 and remains as a candid view of the touching friendship and tutorship Placebo shared with The Thin White Duke.
Placebo and David Bowie, upon reflection, are a match made in heaven. The band’s subversion of Britpop and the laddish culture that swirled around Britain in the mid-nineties was exactly the kind of thing a young David Bowie would have done. A pursuit of artistic merit over everything else, Placebo and Bowie were aligned.
Bowie has never been one to keep his mouth shut about music he found important and he sought out the stylings of Placebo and had them open for his Outsider Tour in 1995. They would quickly begin working with each other in the studio too. The band welcoming Bowie on the 1998 single release of the title track of their second record Without You I’m Nothing.
A swirling and darkly tipped murder ballad, Molko’s vocals are an imposing force, only to be backed by Bowie’s iconic cadence on the second verse. The song remains to this day as a commendation on Placebo’s eclectic and eccentric contribution to rock music.
In the clip below we see the moments before Bowie is about to join Placebo on stage at Irving Plaza in New York. Molko and Bowie sit across from each other and jam out the song they had recorded a few months prior and the most notable thing of all is the complete and utter adoration in Molko’s eyes. The duo would share the stage again at the BRITs in 1999 for a performance of T-Rex’s ’20th Century Boy’.
Molko wrote a letter to Bowie after the singer’s death that was a beautiful tribute to their friendship: “Wherever you are now, I miss you. Not only do I miss you but my heart is broken. You were my idol, then you became my mentor and my friend.”
“I learnt so much from you, just by being in your presence, the conversations we had and, of course, watching you perform. You always had time for me. My band and I were tiny when we first met. Nonetheless , you took us under your wing. You believed in us and gifted us with so many fantastic opportunities.”
“Without you, your tutelage and your wisdom, I don’t think I would be where I am today, as an artist but also as a person. For that I will be eternally grateful.”
The video shows Bowie his usual affable self, keen to impose only his artistic will and putting his ego aside, he sings through the track alongside Molko. This is the beautiful thing about this clip, while Molko stares at Bowie with the starry eyes of a real fan, Bowie is unaffected as always and is as open and willing to learn as you’d expect a school boy on his first day at school.
Watch the moment Brian Molko and David Bowie jammed out ‘Without You I’m Nothing’.