Decadence and madness ruled the roust for David Bowie in the mid-1970s in a way that is only comparable to some crazed king of old. Behind an artistic purple patch was a cocaine addiction measurable by the tonne, a bizarre diet of bell-peppers and milk befitting of a cable TV documentary, and an unwavering obsession with the Third Reich. On top of this caustic confluence of cocaine side-effects, was what Bowie believed to be a harrowing attack by demonic hell beasts, most notably in the form of his friend, musical collaborator and apparent phantasm, Deep Purples’ Glenn Hughes.
All of these factors culminated in the consummation of the creative colossus that is the Thin White Duke, the skeletal, pallid character and agent of divine madness that Bowie used to devastating effect during the hedonistic decade. The albums he produced in the era may well represent a zenith, but they took a hefty toll on the Starman.
Glenn Hughes is a bassist and singer known most notably for his work in Deep Purple and the funk-punk band Trapeze. Speaking to Dylan Jones for his novel David Bowie: A Life, he documented his experiences with the rocker in ’74: “He was self-righteous, and he was driven at the time by an obsession with the Third Reich, and he was viewing that shit at my house.”
He goes on to explain, “He was so into the narcissism of Hitler. He didn’t want to be him, but he was fascinated by the Nazi movement.” These drug-fuelled demagogue binge-watching sessions spawned Bowie’s fascination with fascism, prompting him to infamously declare that “Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars,” in a 1976 interview with Playboy magazine.
The famous Nazi salute image from the era may well have been confirmed as a photo-editing effect caused by the singers moving hand while waving. Nevertheless, there was plenty of nettlesome controversy surrounding the star at the time.
Away from the provocative remarks was an undeniably wacky symptom of substance abuse that requires a far less judicious approach of analysis. “He felt the pool in his LA home was haunted. He felt the devil was in the pool,” Hughes explains. “The wind was howling, [and the pool started to] bubble like a Jacuzzi […] I swear to you I have a pool, and I have never seen it bubble before. That pool was fucking bubbling.”
Hughes continues, “You might think, oh my god, these two fucking nincompoops. But on coke, you could talk yourself into seeing anything. Do yourself a favour, stay up for 72 hours, and you will see shit move.” Quite how that is ‘doing yourself a favour’ is debatable, but the pool bubbling incident certainly had an indelible impact on Bowie as the songsmith later had the watery home of the devil exorcised by a mystic New York witch, Walli Elmlark.
The haunting, however, did not stop there.
The effects of the drugs, the occult literature he was reading at the time, and the maligned miasma that embalmed his LA neighbour stemming from the horrific scene of the Manson murders only a few doors down, all combined and whipped Bowie into a world plagued by malevolent spectres from both the sphere of hell and the music industry. As Bowie said himself, “My other fascination was with the Nazis and their search for the Holy Grail. […] I paid with the worst manic depression of my life. […] My psyche went through the roof, it just fractured into pieces. I was hallucinating twenty-four hours a day. […] I felt like I’d fallen into the bowels of the earth.” One such hallucination was that the aforementioned Aleister Crowley’s home had come into Jimmy Page’s possession, who dabbled in the occult himself.
Following a fall-out with the Led Zeppelin rocker, Bowie felt susceptible to demonic attacks conjured by the becloaked guitar God, Page. Bowie’s solution at the time was stockpile everything that could be used against him, including his own urine, nail-clippings, and hair.
Even though Bowie had become inseparable from Hughes at the time, he too was unsafe from the singer’s psychosis. Bowie would continually preach to the Deep Purple star about the need for constant creative evolution. He ranted endlessly to Hughes about changing his sound and look, “throwing out his leather trousers” and letting Bowie cut his hair. It has long been speculated that Bowie’s ulterior motive for these barbering requests were rooted in the occult realm where a lock of hair holds untold power.
Speaking to author Wim Hendrikse, Hughes said, “David never slept. He was in a coke storm. We would be up three or four days at a time. Bowie felt inclined to go on very bizarre tangents about Aleister Crowley or the Nazis or numerals a lot. He was completely wired. He was on the edge of paranoia all the time… Bowie travelled straight into the heart of psychic darkness, lost in his own world.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this period for Bowie was that his descent into an insular world of madness and chaos resulted in some shiny career highs. To the average schmuck who struggles to make it out of bed after a few too many shandies, the fact that such dissociation from reality and abandonment into debauched decadent oblivion produced such works as Young Americans and Station to Station is a mindboggling feat in itself.
A feat that surely only the interstellar rock star could manage.