Rolling Back: David Bowie’s infamous 1976 interview with Cameron Crowe

In yesterday’s post I marked the 42nd anniversary of David Bowie’s 1976 erratic masterpiece, Station to Station. 

Recorded in Los Angeles during vampire hours on a diet of red peppers and milk, the wildly experimental album caught the stick-thin Bowie as he was evolving at a breakneck pace. Young Americans and Fame were still all over American radio when the sessions began, but this time around he was embracing German electronic acts like Kraftwerk — and indulging in truly insane amounts of cocaine. Though he eventually managed to control his usage, the white stuff would continue to play an occasional part in his life right through to the early days of his relationship with Iman in the early 1990s.

He later claimed this turbulent period holed up in LA with Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes was the single worst time in his life and that he couldn’t even remember most of it (since debunked, actually), but somehow or another, he created a record that sounds bold and innovative even four decades later. The music and lyrics were inspired by the artist’s search for something bigger and better. It’s that quest for adventure that drove Bowie to the point of OCD excess and madness, and Station To Station is that tipping point.

David wasn’t doing many interviews at the time, but a young Cameron Crowe, then Rolling Stone’s contributing editor, managed to shadow him for a few crazy days as he put the album together at Cherokee Studios in West Hollywood. Legend has it Frank Sinatra was next door laying down vocals for a Christmas single, but I think that much-debated story deserves a future post of its own.

He seemed always ‘on’ by now. “I hate sleep, Bowie told Crowe in Playboy. “I would much prefer staying up, just working, all the time. It makes me so mad that we can’t do anything about sleep or the common cold.”

He wrote it left hand: scribbling some lyrical ideas at Cherokee’s Studio One

To illustrate this, ’75 was also the year the Thin Wired Duke attempted to cut some demos with Iggy Pop, sessioned with Ron Wood from the Rolling Stones, and tried and failed to record a largely atonal, instrumental soundtrack with Space Oddity‘s Paul Buckmaster for The Man Who Fell To Earth, the Nicolas Roeg movie for which Bowie had just filmed his lead role. In various states of abandonment, the tapes of all three unfinished projects are hidden away in Isolar’s closely guarded vault on the East Coast.

In Crowe’s Rolling Stone piece, the Dame delivers bitchy, biting rants about any topic or person imaginable, from Mick Jagger and Mick Ronson to Elizabeth Taylor and Elton John (the “token queen” of the music scene), peppered throughout with pronouncements on a whole heap of proposed projects whirling round in his head, some of which (the quasi-fictional The Return Of The Thin White Duke autobiography, for instance) he was even serious about. 

Knees up with Ron Wood at Cherokee, 1975. Photo by Geoff MacCormack

Reading the RS article today almost gives you that speedy sensation of doing coke yourself. Here are six wild quotes from it, one for each track on the LP, which you can read in full right here.

Bowie liked “fast drugs”
“I never got into acid either. I did it three or four times and it was colourful, but my own imagination was already richer. I never got into grass at all. Hash for a time, but never grass. I guess drugs have been a part of my life for the past 10 years, but never anything very heavy … I’ve had short flirtations with smack and things, but it was only for the mystery and the enigma. I like fast drugs. I hate anything that slows me down.”

He would have been a “bloody good Hitler”
“I fell for Ziggy too. It was quite easy to become obsessed night and day with the character. I became Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie went totally out the window. Everybody was convincing me that I was a messiah, especially on that first American tour. I got hopelessly lost in the fantasy. I could have been Hitler in England. Wouldn’t have been hard. Concerts alone got so enormously frightening that even the papers were saying, ‘This ain’t rock music, this is bloody Hitler! Something must be done!’ And they were right. It was awesome. Actually, I wonder … I think I might have been a bloody good Hitler. I’d be an excellent dictator. Very eccentric and quite mad.”

Mad, not mad. Not.

The Spiders From Mars “bored” him
“I gave them more life than I intended. And I was also getting honestly bored. There’s only so much you can do with that kind of a band. I wanted no more to do with that loud thing. Hurt my ears. Wasn’t pleasing my mind too much either. Since then, poor Mick (Ronson) has completely missed his vocation. From his faulty solo career right on down. I’ve been disappointed. He could have been amazing. I just don’t know. Christ, I haven’t spoken properly with him in years. I wonder if he’s changed.”

He felt that rock & roll was “the devil’s music”
“Rock & roll has been really bringing me down lately. It’s in great danger of becoming an immobile, sterile fascist that constantly spews its propaganda on every arm of the media. It rules and dictates a level of thought and clarity of intelligence that you’ll never raise above. You don’t have a fucking chance to hear Beethoven on any radio station anymore. You’ve got to listen to the O’Jays. I mean, disco music is great. I used disco to get my first Number One single, but it’s an escapist’s way out. It’s musical soma. Rock & roll too — it will occupy and destroy you that way. It lets in lower elements and shadows that I don’t think are necessary. Rock has always been the devil’s music. You can’t convince me that it isn’t.”

Getting a lot of milk: arriving for another nocturnal session at Cherokee

Admitting he was bisexual was a career move
“I remember the first time it got out. Somebody asked me in an interview if I ever had a gay experience and I said, ‘Yes, of course, I am a bisexual.’ The guy didn’t know what I meant. He gave me this horrified look of ‘Oh, my God, that means he’s got a cock and a cunt.’ I had no idea my sexuality would get so widely publicised. It was just a very sort of off-the-cuff little remark. Best thing I ever said, I suppose.”

He thought he was “finished” with rock music
“It’s interesting how this all started. At the time I did Aladdin Sane, all I had was a small cult audience in England from Hunky Dory. I think it was out of curiosity that I began wondering what it would be like to be a rock & roll star. So basically, I wrote a script and played it out as Ziggy Stardust onstage and on record. I mean it when I say I didn’t like all those albums — Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Diamond Dogs, David Live. It wasn’t a matter of liking them, it was ‘Did they work or not?’ Yes, they worked. They kept the trip going. Now. I’m all through with rock & roll. Finished. I’ve rocked my roll. It was great fun while it lasted but I won’t do it again.”

Steve Pafford