David Bowie was a brilliant artist and musician who left behind an amazing body of work so, naturally, we’re curious as to what Bowie put into his body and mind. Here’s a look at some of the psychoactive compounds Bowie ingested over the years, his views on drugs, and how he eventually quit everything.
Bowie was never a big pot smoker, preferring “fast drugs” instead. But he does recall his introduction to weed, which came through Led Zeppelin’s bassist John Paul Jones. Sometime in late 1960’s London, JPJ invited the pot neophyte to “come over and I’ll turn you onto grass.”
Bowie and Jones smoked three fat bombs together at Jonesy’s flat and, overcome with munchies, Bowie consumed two loaves of bread. Then the phone rang.
“Go and answer that for me, will you?” asked Jones.
Bowie went downstairs to answer the phone but kept on walking right out into the street.
“I never went back,” Bowie recalls. “I just got intensely fascinated with the cracks in the pavement.”
The Man Who Sold the World (1970) was written in a fog of hashish. “As soon as I stopped using that drug,” Bowie recalls, “I realized it dampened my imagination. End of slow drugs.”
Neither was Bowie a big fan of LSD, taking the psychedelic drug a total of only three times.
“Acid only gives people a link with their own imagery,” he told Playboy Magazine, “I already had it. It was nothing new to me. It just sort of made a lot of fancy colors.”
Though Bowie’s entourage included dope fiends Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, he himself didn’t fancy riding the white horse. His heroin experimentations date back to 1968.
“I had a silly flirtation with smack then,” Bowie said, “but it was only for the mystery and enigma of trying it. I never really enjoyed it at all. I like fast drugs. I’ve said that many times. I hate falling out, where I can’t stand up and stuff. It seems like such a waste of time.”
Tony Visconti, producer of 12 Bowie albums, describes cocaine in the mid 1970’s as “a social drug and socially acceptable. You went to any cocktail party and somebody put a line or spoon under your nose and you said ‘Oh, thank you.”
The nose candy was, of course, a prominent feature in the recording studio. “During the making of Young Americans ,” Visconti recalls, “He [Bowie] was taking so much cocaine it would have killed a horse. Cocaine certainly almost killed me . . . for us there was no limit.”
John Lennon, Bowie and Visconti hauled up in a studio all night in 1975 to record the hit single Fame. “We did mountains of cocaine,” recalls Visconti, “It looked like the Matterhorn, obscenely big, and four open bottles of cognac.”
1974 to 1977 proved to be Bowie’s “Golden Years” for cocaine excess. He did so much blow that, according to Bowie, “even Keith Richards was floored by it.”
But the cumulative effects of abuse were beginning to take its toll. “I paid with the worst manic depression of my life,” Bowie recalls. “My psyche went through the roof, it just fractured into pieces. I was hallucinating 24 hours a day.”
By 1976, Bowie was in the grips of cocaine psychosis, with its inherent paranoid delusions. He saw bodies fall past his hotel window, accused fellow musicians of being FBI agents, and lit black candles to fend off a coven of witches he thought were attempting to steal his sperm for a Rosemary’s Baby style ritual. People were beginning to worry.
“I wish Dave would get himself sorted fucking out,” Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson said in 1975. “He’s totally confused, that lad . . . I just wish he could be in this room, right now, sat here, so I could kick some sense into him.“
Bowie abruptly disbanded The Spiders from Mars and buried the Ziggy Stardust persona forever. He then dissolved the relationship with his management company Mainman. His cocaine metamorphosis culminated in the creation of the enigmatic “Thin White Duke” persona.
Dressed impeccably in white shirt, black trousers and waistcoat, The Thin White Duke exuded a menacing aura reflective of the cocaine fever dream from which it sprung. Bowie himself describes his creation as “a nasty character indeed” and “an ogre for me.”
This erratic period of Bowie’s life, from April 1, 1975 – February 2, 1976, is graphically rendered in the comic “The Side Effects of the Cocaine”by Sean Collins (writer) and Isaac Moylan (artist). The comic includes the time when Bowie flirted with fascism, proclaiming “Rock stars are fascists too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars. Think about it. Look at some of his films and see how he moved. I think he was quite as good as Jagger.”
Bowie realized he needed to escape the negative influences of Los Angeles if he were to ever become free of drugs. He moved to West Berlin where he composed the “Berlin Trilogy,” but wasn’t completely drug free until well into the eighties.
It would kill me,”Bowie told the BBC in 1999. “I’m an alcoholic so it would be the kiss of death for me to start drinking again . . . it’s very hard to have relationships when you’re doing drugs and drinking. I was very lucky that I found my way out of that and it’s been good for me.
Bowie, like many artists, was a man of extremes, and seemed to fully embrace William Blake’s admonition, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” After the 1980s, Bowie abstained from all drugs, and even the drinking of a single glass of wine was off the table.
This story by Andrew Arnett was originally published February 17, 2016 @ Viralcosm.