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David Bowie’s terrible past

Britain’s thin White David Duke

Trigger warning: violence against women and rape

On January 10 the world lost a “hero”, David Bowie. Like the world over, I loved his music and his persona. When you search “Bowie” on the internet, it’s easy to find praise for him—but we need to acknowledge something less popular about him: David Bowie wasn’t that great of a human being. David Bowie did and said things that, had he been any other regular old schmo, he would have been scrutinized, at the least.

In 1975, Bowie described his persona as “the thin white Duke” in the midst of his almost decade-long flirtation with fascism. In several interviews, Bowie made comments like this, as reported in The Spectator:

“The country [Britain] needed a good dose of fascism……I believe very strongly in fascism… Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.” He added, “You’ve got to have an extreme right-wing front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up.”

What did he mean by “tidy?”He spoke of fascism as if it were a weather front. Bowie was arrested in Poland that same year for possession of Nazi paraphernalia; and in 1976 Bowie was photographed giving the Nazi salute—although he later denies that he did it. Later still Bowie will blame his praise of Hitler and fascism on cocaine.

He used the same excuse when he violently came at his then-wife, Angie. She was “having an argument with his personal assistant, Corinne Schwab, he hurtled across the room and grabbed [Angie] by the throat with both hands and started squeezing.” (Mail Online)

Gross. While addiction is a difficult and complicated issue, I feel that intoxication is a poor justification for someone’s behavior.

Digging deeper into Bowie’s fascism, I found that most major websites only briefly mention his fascism only to quickly move on to praise his interracial relationships and his jabs at MTV for not having enough black artists. But let’s not overpraise a white artist for acknowledging racism in the media when that same artist’s previous fascism goes unacknowledged. Where is his self-reflection on his words and actions? How am I to trust that he wasn’t a fascist anymore? The media’s focus on Bowie’s relationships with people of color should not outweigh his political history. It is great that he used his social status and white privilege to spotlight the racism of MTV, but that does not change the fact that he romanticized Nazis. How did Bowie feel about the Jews, the Roma and other victims of Nazis, I wonder?

Let me put this into context: Bowie’s flirtation with fascism happened while he was living in Berlin only 30 years after the Nazis attempted one of the largest genocidal schemes ever. When Germany lost the war the Nazis did not just disappear; nor did white supremacy, or the social structures that upheld their ideology. Nazis are still everywhere. They adapted their ideology to meet the post-WWII world, and attempted to move along as if nothing had happened. The current German political power, The Christian Democratic Union, is still unsettlingly reminiscent of yesterday’s national socialism.

Now that Bowie is dead I doubt that we will ever know his true feelings about fascism. But Bowie had money and social status that he used to do and get what he wanted whether it was drugs or Lori Mattix.

Lori Mattix, a notorious rock n’ roll groupie, was only 14 when she lost her virginity to David Bowie who was over 30 years old at the time. Lori wasn’t the only underage girl that Bowie had sex with, nor was Bowie the only star who had sexual relationships with underage girls: Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper and Marc Bolan did as well, to name a few. Iggy Pop wrote a song about having sex with another underage groupie, Sable Starr:

“I slept with Sable when she was 13,
Her parents were too rich to do anything,
She rocked her way around L.A.,
‘Til a New York Doll carried her away…”      (Iggy Pop, “Look Away”)

And people love Iggy Pop and they love Bowie! How can people not know about this or how can people know about this and still love David Bowie? How can famous people walk around and violate people and espouse fascism? This isn’t just about Bowie, or just about fascism—this is also about patriarchy.

Patriarchy allows men to act with impunity. Patriarchy allows Chris Brown to beat Rihanna, his then-girlfriend, without making it feel wrong for us to consume his music. Some people claim to delineate between the art and the artist, yet we still bow down to the artist! We align ourselves with abusers, sexual aggressors, and fascists. When we support famous people with bad boundaries, we are upholding oppression. I find it naive for us to think that their politics and actions cannot affect their music or us.

I have caught myself talking about famous people as if I knew who they were based on what I had heard about them through their art, music, or film. The reality is we don’t know who famous people are. Their images, distorted and fabricated, are sold to us to consume by the media and music industry. You can hear the problematic views and behaviors reflected and refracted in their music:

  • “she was only 16” (Sam Cooke, “Only Sixteen”)
  • “I’d rather see you dead, little girl than to be with another man” (The Beatles, “Run For Your Life”)
  • “I know you want it. You’re a good girl” (Robin Thicke, “Blurred Lines”)

Underage sex, non-consensual sex/rape and drugs, classism and racism are all glorified and disseminated through music. Arguably, popular music is a pillar of oppression within our society, perpetuating violent ideology as the norm. But what can we do? If the artist will not take responsibility for their actions then it is up to us to take responsibility for our own actions. Understanding and acknowledging the deep connection between society and oppression, and how popular music is enforcing it, is a step in understanding our place within the greater issue. We are not divorced from it and we play a significant role within it. Not purchasing their music will not do much, but talking about it is a start.

EJD lives, works, and attends school in Olympia.

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