Exploring David Bowie’s comical hatred of Los Angeles
by Tom Taylor for Far Out Mag
SUN 8TH JAN 2023 15.00 GMT
They call Los Angeles the City of Angels, David Bowie didn’t find it to be that exactly, quite the opposite, in fact. Strange things happened for ‘The Starman’ in Los Angeles, but then again, it is full of strange folks—not my words but Joni Mitchell’s. The folk star claims that it contains the kookiest crackpots in the world.
As Mitchell once claimed to have read in a dogeared book: “Ask anyone in America where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you California. Ask anyone in California where the craziest people live and they’ll say Los Angeles. Ask anyone in Los Angeles where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you Hollywood. Ask anyone in Hollywood where the craziest people live and they’ll say Laurel Canyon. And ask anyone in Laurel Canyon where the craziest people live and they’ll say Lookout Mountain. So I bought a house on Lookout Mountain.”
Bowie was crazy himself, but even he couldn’t fit in. Instead, he found himself just getting stranger. Hunter S. Thompson might have written, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,” but what happens when the weird are already pro, Hunter? What the hell happens then? Well, as Bowie found out to his own cost in the insidious cesspit of fame’s cesspit (again not my words), you end up hiring a witch to exorcise your possessed swimming pool while shovelling enough marching powder up your schnoz to supply the House of Commons for at least a month.
He found the place to be in keeping with the views of one of his first heroes, Jack Kerouac. As Jack Kerouac drove around the United States on his searching seven-year amble, he would stop in Los Angeles on many occasions. As the golden era of Hollywood cinema was slowly handing over to the boom of rock ‘n’ roll, Kerouac found himself in some lowly motel and mused: “I could hear everything, together with the hum of my hotel neon. I never felt sadder in my life. LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets godawful cold in the winter. But there’s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in the streets. LA is a jungle.”
Bowie was lost in this wilderness. He simultaneously fell into the clutches of gaudy LA’s debauched side and revelled in the way that icons could be crafted there in an instant. He would relish the notion of, “I’m an instant star, just add water,” and the sense of the American pop culture dream while also seeing through the whole thing as a plastic facsimile. This odd mix proved maddening to Bowie in both senses.
Away from the provocative remarks he was making at the time, there was an undeniably wacky symptom of the substance abuse that came with creative displacement that requires a far less judicious approach of analysis. “He felt the pool in his LA home was haunted. He felt the devil was in the pool,” Hughes explains. “The wind was howling, [and the pool started to] bubble like a Jacuzzi […] I swear to you I have a pool, and I have never seen it bubble before. That pool was fucking bubbling.”
The effects of the drugs, the occult literature he was reading at the time, and the maligned miasma that embalmed his LA neighbour stemming from the horrific scene of the Charles Manson murders only a few doors down, all combined and whipped Bowie into a world plagued by malevolent spectres from both the sphere of hell and the greedy music industry.
As Bowie said himself, “My other fascination was with the Nazis and their search for the Holy Grail. […] I paid with the worst manic depression of my life. […] My psyche went through the roof, it just fractured into pieces. I was hallucinating twenty-four hours a day. […] I felt like I’d fallen into the bowels of the earth.” Needless to say, Bowie, did not take well to Los Angeles. As David Buckley writes, Bowie had shunned the plastic world around him and regressed into a state of paranoia, “living a cocooned existence, disconnected from the real world.”
But what is the real world in LA? By rights, there shouldn’t even be a city there at all. It was built on the elusive lustre of unsustainable Gold and that fleeting dream seems to have forever persisted in various malignant forms. This was a notion that proved frankly dangerous as far as Bowie was concerned. In 1977, he riled, “It’s the most vile piss-pot in the world […] It’s a movie that is so corrupt with a script that is so devious and insidious. It’s the scariest movie ever written. You feel a total victim there, and you know someone’s got the strings on you.”
Three years later his thoughts had hardly mellowed. This time ‘The Starman’ opined: “The fucking place should be wiped off the face of the earth. To be anything to do with rock and roll and to go and live in Los Angeles is I think just heading for disaster. It really is. Even Brian Eno, who’s so adaptable and quite as versatile as I am now living in strange and foreign environments, he couldn’t last there more than six weeks. He had to get out. But he was very clever. He got out much earlier than I did.”
Maybe Bowie simply shunned the draw of the sun, didn’t take to the delicious taste of In ‘n’ Out Burger at a time when his diet was solely bell peppers and milk, and wasn’t one for the beach, because there are plenty of good folks who would disagree with him on this one. (<-- but who are they? - a.d.)