He was a fire-breathing, pan-sexual, dog-mutant alien warlock-cum-funky pantalooned soul android. he was crystallised in the rings of Saturn and beamed to Earth to launch the Fourth Reich, hoover up every grain of drugs on the planet and inspire wild naked rutting frenzies with each flick of his be-scaled fingers as he picks on yoo-hoo-hoo.
At least, David Bowie was all of these things if you believed everything you heard. By the mid-’70s his mask-swapping antics had wound so thick an aura of mystique around him that Bowie was the most exotic and talked-about enigma in rock. Here are just the most prominent ’70s myths.
1. He was an alien
The evidence: First and foremost, there were the eyes. Then there was Bowie’s creative obsession with all things ‘space’ – a fixation that would make Matt Bellamy look like some bloke looking up at night and saying ‘that’s pretty’. From Major Tom’s ill-fated spacewalk to ‘Starman’ and the Martian Spiders to the futuristic visions of ‘Aladdin Sane’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’ and virtually playing his Martian self in The Man Who Fell To Earth, Bowie’s entire early raft of work felt like one long attempt to phone home. Plus he kept telling everyone he was, but that was mostly the drugs talking (see myth six).
Likelihood of accuracy: 0% -with the revelation that Mars once held drinkable water, it had us reassessing this myth as a possible truth. But the tragic demise of the legendary singer to one of the most human conditions of them all dispels this once and for all.
2. He was a Nazi
The evidence: Around the ‘intense’ recording sessions of 1975’s ‘Station To Station’ (see ‘He Was A Rampant Coke-Head’), Bowie was delving into historical reading on Hitler and the Third Reich, collecting Nazi paraphernalia and describing his latest person The Thin White Duke as “a very Aryan, fascist type”. He also began making some rather dodgy press comments warning of imminent fascist uprising in the UK. His theoretical/theatrical concept of his words coming from his Thin White Duke character wasn’t helped by – d’oh! – being detained at an Eastern European border for transporting Nazi memorabilia. Finally he was snapped at Victoria Station on the eve of the UK leg of the Isolar Tour apparently raising a Nazi salute. He claimed to the press that he’d just been stitched up while waving at a cloud and then ran off to bunker down in, of all places, Berlin. These days, of course, all of this would make him a shoo-in for Pope.
Likelihood of accuracy: 37 per cent – Bowie later sang in ‘China Girl’ of “visions of swastikas in my head/Plans for everyone”, and it seems likely that his disorientated ‘Station to Station’ state may well have led him to consider some pretty unsavoury political philosophies. “My interest in [the Nazis],” he told NME in 1993, “was the fact they supposedly came to England before the war to find the Holy Grail at Glastonbury… the idea that it was about putting Jews in concentration camps and the complete oppression of different races completely evaded my extraordinary fucked-up nature at that particular time.”
3. He inspired gig-wide orgies
The evidence: Rather scant. Amidst the Harry Styles-level hysteria of the Ziggy Stardust tour couples were seen “making out” – a crude ‘70s precursor to sexting – on back rows, but following the Ziggy retirement show at the Hammersmith Odeon, one attendee called Julie, 25, wrote a letter which appeared in Fred and Julie Vermorel’s book Stardust claiming thus: “A lot of men were throwing off their underwear and showing their cocks all over the place. A lot of fluid was flying about. One girl was actually sucking someone off at the same time as trying to listen to what was going on. I thought it was so extraordinary because nobody had any ambitions… everyone just took their clothes off. And wanking was nothing. There was a guy sat next to me who was wanking in time to one track and I thought, ‘My God! What does he do when he’s alone?’ Then I suddenly realised that all the things I’d been doing were perfectly OK. Because here were people doing it with each other and sharing it. How wonderful, you know. So get off on that. I thought I’d never seen so many cocks in my life”.
Sign up for the newsletter
Likelihood of accuracy: 5 per cent – there’s only this one unverified account of the all-out smutfest to go on and, much like Derek Acorah in a room full of spirit guides, the camera crew filming the event picked up none of it, and neither did the numerous journalists reviewing the gig. No other punters have said any such thing and the band and road crew never mentioned turning Hammersmith into an hour-long Gomorrah. For all we know, this was the 1973 equivalent of a room full of Jonas Brothers fans and one fantasist nutter. Far more realistic is the rumour that The Sex Pistols, attending the gig, ran off with the PA at the end.
4. He was bisexual
The evidence: Well, despite being married to Angie, it wasn’t exactly a rumour when Bowie went out of his way to discourage. When he wasn’t wearing a man-dress on the sleeve of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ he was fellating Mick Ronson’s guitar onstage, getting ravished by he-demons in ‘The Width Of A Circle’ or simply telling Melody Maker, “I’m gay and always have been.”
Likelihood of accuracy: 100 per cent – Bowie got up to all sorts in the 70s and openly admitted to his bisexuality. Mick: The Wild Life And Mad Genius Of Mick Jagger by Christopher Anderson claimed in 2012 that the oft-rumoured torrid affair between Bowie and Mick Jagger was fact, and that Angie had actually caught them naked in bed together. “I never even considered the possibility they hadn’t been screwing,” Anderson quotes Angie as saying and also claims backing singer Ava Cherry told a friend, “Mick and David were really sexually obsessed with each other. Even though I was in bed with them many times, I ended up just watching them have sex.” Unconfirmed by either party, natch, but who needs fan porn, eh?
5. He was an occultist
The evidence: In a “search for some true spirit”, Bowie became obsessed with celebrity mystic Aleister Crowley, “warlocks” like Israel Regardie, Arthurian myths and the Kaballah in his post-Ziggy years. Hence Bowie has described ‘Station To Station’ as awash with religious subversion and the “the nearest album to a magick treatise that I’ve written”. In its aftermath he became a paranoid recluse in a mansion in LA, drawing pentagrams on walls and carpets to conjure demons, throwing associates’ wives out of recording sessions because he was convinced they were witches and believing that a couple of fans were plotting to steal his semen to create the Antichrist on the Witches’ Sabbath.
Likelihood of accuracy: 99 per cent – the line “Don’t look at the carpet/I drew something awful on it” from ‘Breaking Glass’ refers to this time (see also ‘He Was A Rampant Coke-Head’).
6. He was a rampant coke-head
The evidence: See all of the above
Likelihood of accuracy: 100 per cent