Ian Penman in the LRB:
In 1975 David Bowie was in Los Angeles pretending to star in a film that wasn’t being made, adapted from a memoir he would never complete, to be called ‘The Return of the Thin White Duke’. This dubious pseudonymous character was first aired in an interview with Rolling Stone’s bumptious but canny young reporter Cameron Crowe; it soon became notorious. Crowe’s scene-setting picture of Bowie at home featured black candles and doodled ballpoint stars meant to ward off evil influences. Bowie revealed an enthusiasm for Aleister Crowley’s system of ceremonial magick that seemed to go beyond the standard, kitschy rock star flirtation with the ‘dark side’ into a genuine research project. He talked about drugs: ‘short flirtations with smack and things’, but given the choice he preferred a Grand Prix of the fastest, whitest drugs available. He brushed aside compatriots/competitors like Elton John and called Mick Jagger the ‘sort of harmless bourgeois kind of evil one can accept with a shrug’. If pushed, this apprentice warlock could also recite Derek and Clive’s ‘The Worst Job I Ever Had’ by heart and generally came on like a twisted forcefield of ego, will and fantastic put-on.
It’s impossible to imagine someone like Bowie giving the media anything like this kind of insane access today – but then, of course, there is no one like Bowie today. In 2016 it might take five months of negotiation to get an interview with the superstar of your choice and then you’d probably have to present your questions in advance and be babysat by three or four PR flaks and a spooky zombie-faced entourage for the whole blessed 15 minutes. In 1975, Bowie just turned up grinning, already babbling, at Crowe’s door. When Crowe got him to sit still long enough he couldn’t stop talking, which may or may not have had something to do with the industrial amounts of pharmaceutical cocaine he was daily ingesting. He had become almost an abstraction in the dry California air: surrounded by stubbly country-rock cowboys and wailing witchy women he was a sheet of virgin foolscap. Where did he fall from, this Englishman with his barking seal laugh and outrageous quotes about Himmler and semen storage and articulate ghosts?