by Andrew Arnett
David Bowie may have left this world, but he leaves behind a vast corpus of spaced-out movies and songs. The extraterrestrial was, of course, an image he sought to cultivate. But his interest in the paranormal was sincere and consistent throughout his lifetime.
Bowie had been an avid fan of science fiction since childhood, and maintained a belief in the existence of extraterrestrials. His fascination with aliens was in full swing when, as a teenager, he helped publish a UFO newsletter with friends. At that time, around 1967, he claimed many sightings of alien craft in the skies.
“David was obsessed with UFO cover-ups”, wrote biographer (and author of Starman) Paul Trynka in 2011. “All those who had gone UFO-spotting with him around 1967 […] confirm, ‘We did see UFOs – absolutely.'”
Bruno Stein, a rock magazine writer at Creem, once recalled what he’d heard from Bowie himself in 1975: “I made sightings six, seven times a night for about a year when I was in the observatory. We had regular cruises that came over.”
Bowie was perhaps less reverent about the idea of alien life in an interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman. He joked in 1999 that the internet – still then in its early days – “is an alien life form. Is their life on Mars? Yes, it’s just landed here” (the comments come up just past the 11:00 mark).
But the UFO phenomena would inspire much of Bowie’s work, appearing on his breakthrough LP, 1969’s Space Oddity, with the inclusion of spaceships and aliens on its sleeve. The alien motif would be just as prominent on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, a concept album about a rock star emissary for extraterrestrials, containing the song ‘Starman’:
“There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’ll blow our minds”
The name of the band, “Spiders from Mars,” is in fact a reference to a mass UFO sighting that allegedly interrupted a soccer game at Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence, Italy on October 27, 1954. The game was stopped as 10,000 spectators witnessed a group of cigar or egg-shaped UFOs zoom overhead at high speed before stopping abruptly overhead, dropping a fine silver glitter over the crowd.
Some subsequently explained the object as a mass of floating silk from migrating spiders in the upper atmosphere, though many witnesses still insist on extra-terrestrial visitation.
Bowie is connected to yet another alleged UFO sighting, this one in 1974 Detroit.
His former wife Angela Bowie (they were married from 1970 to 1980) claims that while on tour in 1974, David Bowie and she saw a local television news station in Detroit report on a UFO landing. In her memoir Back Stage Passes: Life On the Wild Side With David Bowie, Angela writes:
“We tuned in at six . . . the news crew confirmed the landing, yet avoided being specific about its location and presented what little information they had with great caution, as if doing their best to downplay the sensational and possibly panic-causing information they were supplying, straight-faced and soberly, to their public.”
However, at the 11:00 pm broadcast, the station announced the news crew that had reported earlier on the UFO had “perpetrated an irresponsible and inexcusable hoax, and had therefore been dismissed from their jobs.”
Bowie dismissed the second report as an obvious cover-up. “David believed very strongly that aliens were active above our planet,” Angela writes. She adds that Bowie likely imagined a more than passive role for himself in the event of a close encounter:
“I suspect he wouldn’t have been surprised at all if the aliens had come right down to the limo and tractor-beamed him up for an exchange of ideas. He was feeling pretty much like the center of things here on Earth at the time, after all, and it probably seemed obvious to him that some right-thinking human should take on the job of Man’s ambassador.”
Coincidently, the CIA recently released a trove of formerly classified files on investigations into thousands of alleged UFO sightings. Perhaps then, the time has come for Starman to come and meet us after all.
Beaumont, Mark (April 22, 2011). “David Bowie, Muse and the Klaxons: Talents So Huge It’s Only Logical That Aliens Would Want Them For Research”. The Guardian.
Jackson, Amanda (January 30, 2016). “Take a peek into the CIA’s ‘X-Files'”. CNN.
Padula, Richard (October 24, 2014). “The day UFOs stopped play”. BBC.
Trynka, Paul (2011). David Bowie: Starman. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN: 0316032255.
Bowie, Angela (2000). Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side with David Bowie. Cooper Square Press. ISBN: 1461624185, 9781461624189
This story was originally published January 2, 2016 by Andrew Arnett @ Konbini.