Bowie doesn’t remember recording Station to Station
In retrospect, we may remember David Bowie’s mid-70s switch of characters as smooth and calculated. But things were rather messy back then – the retirement of Ziggy Stardust on the stage of Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973 got followed up by the release of Pin Ups later that year. And while the covers that compose the album gave the fans a little background of where Bowie came from (not outer space after all), it also inflicted the idea that maybe he was running out of original material. Next year’s Diamond Dogs was much better, although its what-could’ve-been character sort of stops it from becoming a classic. It can’t quite decide between saying goodbye to glam, the post-apocalyptic image and the Orwell transposition. And then there’s the infamous Young Americans which has a fair share of overlooked killer soul & funk tracks, but not nearly enough to compare to Bowie’s glam albums.
On the personal front, things were not brighter. David was in the midst of a life-threatening cocaine addiction by 1975, alternating between overdoses and full-blown psychosis. He reportedly started messing around with rituals and spells. He’d draw pentagrams on his walls and live in constant fear due to the witches he hallucinated. He even feared Jimmy Page because of his supposed practice of witchcraft. Physically, Bowie was on a diet of peppers and milk only which resulted in a drastic weight loss. He would wear fur coats in the middle of the summer (Californian summer no less) because of the chills the drug caused.
But as they say, all great art comes from suffering. In the midst of all that craziness, one of Bowie’s most bizarre masterpieces got released and instantly pointed the way towards a new, experimental phase of his career. Station to Station – as the album was named – takes the grooves of Young Americans and presents them in that cold, distant (nearly robotic) manner that would characterize his upcoming Berlin era. It sounds like the artist tries his best to have a good time, but the dark shadows lurking in the corner of his mind just won’t let him. It makes for one hell of a unique juxtaposition. And a juxtaposition that Bowie doesn’t even remember coming up with: “I know it [the album] was recorded in LA because I read it was” he is quoted as saying.
Since I’m supposed to be talking about songs and not albums here, the title track has always seemed to me like the most representative one for the whole story. At just over 10 minutes it is Bowie’s longest ever composition; with its multiple parts it is also one of his most experimental. The new character is announced as early as the first verse (“The return of the Thin White Duke / Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes”), while the following ones reference both the paranormal stuff (“Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth”) and the drugs (“It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine / I’m thinking that it must be love”). The flashy clothes and makeup of Ziggy Stardust were abandoned for the stage shows – instead, The Thin White Duke simply wore a white shirt, black trousers and a waistcoat. But given Bowie’s description, it was no less of a complex character: “A very Aryan, fascist type; a would-be romantic with absolutely no emotion at all but who spouted a lot of neo-romance.” Crazy times indeed.
Categories: Stories Behind Classic Songs