David Bowie - Station to Station (1976)
Bowie’s 1976 album Station to Station was recorded at the height of Bowie’s cocaine addiction, and it is the album which Bowie, infamously, cannot remember recording. The presence of Bowie’s fragmented and paranoid psyche are apparent throughout the record, especially on the album’s titular ten-minute long opening track.
If Diamond Dogs marks Bowie’s transition out of his glam period, then Station to Station represents another transitional period of Bowie’s career: Bowie’s movement from the soul of Young Americans into the experimental art rock of his Berlin period. This sense of transition is made literal in the title track’s lurching and unsettling opening passage, which replicates via synthesizer the sound of a train speeding down the tracks with increasing intensity, as the instruments join the rhythm one by one.
Station to Station saw the introduction of David Bowie’s most enduring persona after Ziggy Stardust. Four years after Ziggy had announced his arrival with a radio message of hope and rock ‘n’ roll, The Thin White Duke introduced himself by “throwing darts in lovers’ eyes.” But, over the full ten minutes of the album’s title track, the song is a dense and fragmented journey from a violent attack on sentiment, to scattered occult references and imagery, to an intense longing to return to the European motherland. Though bewildering in its references and experimental approach to sound and song structure, the song and its eponymous album are widely regarded as one of Bowie’s most fascinating masterpieces.
By 1976, Bowie’s cocaine abuse had become so severe that he was at a point where he hardly slept, hardly ate (with his 5’10” frame purportedly weighing only 90 pounds), and started to become increasingly irrational and paranoid. According to rumor, Bowie started believing that he was being stalked by forces of evil, and he then began to foster a belief in occultism and the search for the Holy Grail, which in turn led him to a fascination with the Nazis’ own interest in the subject. In a notorious interview with Playboy during the height of his cocaine abuse, Bowie praised the theatrics of fascism and claimed to have his sights set on right-wing dictatorship for his own future career. The vast amounts of cocaine are an explanation for the ridiculous and insensitive comments, but not a justification. Essentially, the drug had unlocked within the man the true irrationality, fear, and darkness that lies within any human being. Where Ziggy had represented an outside bizarreness, The Thin White Duke is all of the internal bile of humanity given form and dressed up in a well-tailored suit. And it is important to note, too, that once Bowie weaned himself off of cocaine, moved to Berlin, and was confronted with the very real, lasting effects of Nazism, he was deeply humbled and regretful about his “infantile” comments and beliefs during this period of his life.