In the 1970s, David Bowie was filled with so much Bolivian marching powder that even when he got clean the lingering remnants of an onslaught rendered it impossible for him to wander past a sniffer dog without being accosted. His thin White Duke era saw him subsumed by the decadent excesses of Hollywood and his mind was bent to the point that it became as abstract as the concept of love.
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.
The gloss of nose-powder of Los Angeles was This was a notion that proved frankly dangerous as far as Bowie was concerned. In 1977, he riled, “It’s the most vile piss-pot in the world […] It’s a movie that is so corrupt with a script that is so devious and insidious. It’s the scariest movie ever written. You feel a total victim there, and you know someone’s got the strings on you.”
Three years later his thoughts had hardly mellowed. This time ‘The Starman’ opined: “The fucking place should be wiped off the face of the earth. To be anything to do with rock and roll and to go and live in Los Angeles is I think just heading for disaster. It really is. Even Brian Eno, who’s so adaptable and quite as versatile as I am now living in strange and foreign environments, he couldn’t last there more than six weeks. He had to get out. But he was very clever. He got out much earlier than I did.”
One of the most peculiar chapters in his absurd story came when he had his swimming pool exorcised by a witch after he witnessed the devil doing breaststroke. 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.
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.
Thus, Bowie contacted Cherry Vanilla at his management when the demonic beleaguering got too much. “He asked me to get him a white witch to take this curse off of him,” she recalled. He was serious, you know. And I actually knew somebody in New York who claimed she was a white witch. She was the only white witch I ever met. So I put him in touch with her. I don’t know what ever happened to her. And I don’t know if she removed the curse. I guess she did.”
In a roundabout way, she did. Bowie absconded to Berlin – the heroin capital of Europe – with Iggy Pop and slowly but surely they pieced their lives together and the cocaine pile diminished. As guitarist Carlos Alomar states: “David went to Berlin with Iggy for isolation. It was to humanise his condition, to say, ‘I’d like to forget my world, go to a café, have a coffee and read the newspaper.’ They couldn’t do that in America. Sometimes you just need to be by yourself with your problems. Sometimes you just wanna shut up.”