It is safe to say that David Bowie led a storied life. His adventures read something more akin to a work of fiction than that of one man’s experiences, positioning the human behind the music as a counterpart of the many kaleidoscopic characters he established in his music. Whether it be Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, or The Thin White Duke, each of the most famous personas he created accounted for the many different sides of David Jones, a playful south London native who had a vivid imagination unlike any other.
Duly, this multi-faceted nature gave Bowie the energy to enjoy a career that had many twists and turns, and one that always kept us guessing, leaving us with the 2016 masterpiece Blackstar, his departing gift before he left this realm for the ether. Chameleonic in every sense of the word, his creative vision understood that fluidity was the key to artistic endurance, helping to pave the way for many of our other favourite artists, ranging from Björk to Chris Cornell.
Fans of his will know that whilst Bowie had an ever-expanding creative palette, drugs often helped him along the way. The hazy, weed-influenced aspects of his earlier material and the cocaine-fuelled madness of Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs are just some highlights, that confirm that Bowie without drugs would have been a completely different beast. Experimentation came as second nature to him, and of course, as a young man, this led him to start his journey into the world of narcotics.
Bowie first started using drugs when he was a teenager in the early ’60s. A member of the mod scene, he had tried amphetamines and cocaine long before he tried marijuana, which defies tradition – but this was David Bowie, skewing established traditions was his forte.
Speaking to Playboy in 1976, Bowie recounted how his relationship with drugs commenced. “I’d done a lot of pills ever since I was a kid,” he said. “Thirteen or fourteen. But the first time I got stoned on grass was with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin many, many years ago, when he was still a bass player on Herman’s Hermits records. We’d been talking to Ramblin’ Jack Elliot somewhere and Jonesy said to me, ‘Come over and I’ll turn you on to grass.’ I thought about it and said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a whirl.’”
Whilst this experience with the future Led Zeppelin bassist would kick off a long and fruitful relationship with sweet Mary Jane, there was one drug that never really did it for him, although it was one of the most popular out there; LSD.
In the same Playboy interview, Bowie explained that he took LSD only a handful of times in the ’60s and that he wasn’t blown away by it like other people, as he was comfortable in the knowledge that his imagination was already colourful enough.
He expressed: “I did [it] three times. It was very colorful, but I thought my own imagination was already richer. Naturally. And more meaningful to me. Acid only gives people a link with their own imagery. I already had it. It was nothing new to me. It just sort of made a lot of fancy colors. Flashy lights and things. ‘Oh, look. I see God in the window.’ So what? I never needed acid to make music, either.”