All the Young Dudes

This was the anthem of all us disaffected teens in the early 70s and we had no idea why, it just was, somehow. We hadn’t a clue what it was actually about, we just figured it was about all us shambling young and clueless dudes and dudettes, and it meant, well, who knows. Whatever. Metaphors were still a little beyond us (it’s one of the last linguistic concepts the brain gets a handle on, metaphors, until just before we reach adulthood and there they are, metaphors, and suddenly Bob Dylan makes sense.) No, we were still at that precious age where everything is literal and things are things and dudes were, well, dudes. Its lyrical structure is pretty complicated for an anthem—they’re usually simple, We Shall Overcome, like that—and it’s got a lot of cool rhymes, and that all night/suicide/twenty five/speed jive/stay alive/twenty five it opens with could’ve come right out of Cole Porter. Bowie had never done better word wise, and never did again, not that we could have known that then, we were 15 and didn’t know anything, though we didn’t know that either. All we really knew was that chorus with all the young dudes singing all the young dudes, and we’d join in, all the young dudes joining all the young dudes singing all the young dudes. It was probably the only feeling of being part of a youth movement that wasn’t some old hippie thing we had in the early 1970’s, though what sort of movement that was we hadn’t a clue. Just us dudes singing about us dudes. It was our anthem. And ya know, it still gets me when I hear it, every single time, and it probably always will. I’m a dude, yeah.

Thin White Duke

Remember when Bowie was a nazi? He went from unconvincing blue eyed soulster on Young Americans to The Thin White Duke. That was a weird time. The nazi salute, the swastika paraphernalia, the statements about Britain needing fascism.  I believe very strongly in fascism, he declared, and called Adolf Hitler the first rock stars. Visionary as always, Bowie was National Front before National Front was hip. “You’ve got to have an extreme right-wing front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up.” It was all pretty unnerving at the time. He made my favorite Bowie album then, though–Station To Station. It glistens with cocaine, hard as glass, sharp corners, unforgiving. His was an intellectual fascism, very European, we’ve never had that here in the States, the androgynous appeal of Heydrich’s shiny uniform and cold steel stare. Nazi high fashion. Gotta admit those SS boys were sharp, right up until Götterdämmerung they looked good. Bowie drank his milk and ate his red peppers and held seances and snorted mountains of cocaine. Utterly mad music filled his brain. In Berlin, surrounded by the ghosts of dead Nazis, he saw his name spraypainted on a wall, the letters interweaved with swastikas. Talk about a mindfuck moment. Skinny little David Bowie high out of his mind and his luggage full of Nazi paraphernalia (they took it from him in Poland, you can imagine the custom inspectors’ shock at this weird looking rock star with a suitcase full of Third Reich collectibles), suddenly realizing people took him seriously at this. About then he kicked the coke and began talking about love and equality like the whole Nazi thing had never happened. We still all pretend it never happened. Artists, you know, they have their little whims.

Thin White Duke

Apparently David Bowie’s Thin White Duke phase, at its most warped and weird and disturbing, and amid mountains of the best quality cocaine, happened just down the street from here. I had always figured it was up in the Hollywood Hills. That’s what the story was, David Bowie going out of his mind up in the Hollywood Hills. Nope, it was here in my quiet neighborhood, on my quiet street, Waverly Drive, where Los Feliz and Silver Lake come together. He was staying at Glenn Hughes’ house. He of Deep Purple’s decline. Bowie decked out in Aryan pure white and Glenn in one of his heavy metal leisure suits, and neither sleeping ever. There was David, all his sensory inputs amplified, seeing spirits and demons and the ghosts of dead Nazis. He snorts another line and listens to the trains chug past down the Valley. Thoughts turn to twisted rock star madness, of Aleister Crowley, cocaine, witches, and cult murder. The return of the thin white duke. All is a swirl, every sense magnified, never sleeping, wide awake dreams. Women come, women go. The prettiest boys. Cocaine piled high as the mountains that loom inky black out of nothing when the night winds blow. Somehow he managed to find time to record Station to Station. Everyone has their own creative process.

John, I’m Only Dancing

Back in high school–this must have been ’73 or ’74–a bunch of rotten kids turned school sponsored Elvis Day, with all the kids dressed up in fifties get ups, into David Bowie Day, dressed to the nines like Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, it was beautiful. I remember sitting in English class in my regular togs, surrounded on three sides by kids dressed exactly like this video and John, I’m Only Dancing going through my head over and over.