Monday, 11 January 2016


David Bowie, who recently died after an 18-month battle against cancer, will be remembered for many things. But one of the most interesting points about the man was the degree to which his creativity, especially at its height, coexisted with what came to be considered extremely taboo views, and the degree to which his talent tapered off as he became more acceptable in the eyes of the establishment.

We live in an age of oppressive political correctness, where almost anybody of prominence is forced to toe the line, lest they offend, "trigger," or commit "micro-aggressions"; and, if they do, they are required to humbly beg for forgiveness even where none is offered. Such intolerance even includes rock stars, the wild, shamanistic figures we reared up in the spiritual vacuum of the 1960s and 70s, through our appreciation of the Dionysian aspects of a fast-mutating musical culture.

But what about David Bowie and his obvious interest in Nazism and Fascism? Going by comments made in interviews, song lyrics, and stage imagery, the singer clearly had a crush on the 20th century's real counter culture. Why wasn't more made of this? Why was he let off the hook?

First the evidence of Bowie's fascism. Back in his 1970s heyday, he gleefully told reporters that "Hitler was the first pop star" and declared that "the best thing that can happen is for an extreme right government to come."

In his 1971 song Quicksand, he wrote:
I’m living in a silent film

portraying Himmler’s sacred realm of dream reality.
 Then there is his 1977 composition China Girl, which became a hit in 1983:
I stumble into town, just like a sacred cow

Visions of Swastikas in my head, plans for everyone.
But Bowie had gone even further than that. There are famous pictures of him waving and sieg heiling from an open-top black Mercedes of the kind that Hitler used.

Here's Hitler in a similar car (and with a better crowd response):

Definitely not a coincidence. Then there is the lightning flash mark, a symbol of fascism, that was used for Aladdin Sane, as well as the SS symbols he used onstage for the Ziggy Stardust tour:

Of course, Bowie was an eclectic style stealer and far from being an "actual Nazi." His general sexual and narcotic degeneracy would have precluded that. However, he was at least open to elements and aspects of Nazism and Fascism in a way that made sense for someone in his creative, cerebral, and iconoclastic niche.

His Nazism quotient was certainly high enough to provide endless ammunition for "Social Justice Warriors" and "antifa" with nothing better to do. It is surprising therefore that more was not made of Bowie's flirtations with fascism and his frequent one-night stands with Nazism. Throughout his long career, no public statement or press conference was forced from him, in which he begged for forgiveness for his "hurtful" and "insensitive" comments, lyrics, or actions.

Communism killed 100 million
and all I got was this lousy
Manic Street Preachers T-shirt.
But then again, in the 1970s and 80s countless bands, including the likes of  The Sex Pistols, Joy Division/ New Order, The Skids, and Spear of Destiny played with Nazi imagery. Even the Jewish musician Mick Jones, who later found fame with the Clash, started off in an outfit called London SS!

Toying with Nazi imagery was certainly no worse than toying with Communist imagery, and in my opinion a lot less offensive, as Nazism only killed large numbers of people under wartime conditions, whereas Communism did the same and much worse under peacetime conditions.

But, given the hysteria that surrounds such symbols as the swastika and Confederate flag today, and the totalitarian "zero tolerance" attitude of political correctness, it is still surprising that the PC bigots left Bowie and his legacy alone.

Why is this? Probably it was due to a combination of factors – his age, his Somalian wife (perhaps that's one reason he married her), and his past bisexuality and androgyny. All these factors made him a slightly awkward target for SJWs to attack, as did his powerful lawyers.

But there was also some clever PR management. In rock histories and biographies of the man – like the one I read most recently, Christopher Sandford's Bowie: Loving The Alien (a solid, "meat and potatoes" effort) – Bowie's fascistic dalliance is more-or-less explained away as an aspect of his drug-addled years, rather than anything significant. This, of course, is the kind of excuse an average member of the public would not be allowed if he or she tweeted or shared similar words or imagery on social media after a few drinks too many.

But has PC exacted a cost on Bowie?

Some will say that his talent declined simply because of age; while others will ascribe his creative decline to the same cause as his "fascism" – a brain burnt out on massive amounts of drugs. Both explanations are quite feasible. But I would entertain a third possibility, that for an iconoclastic soul like Bowie his creative downturn was related to the growing intolerance of our age and the unrealistic expectation that rock stars be "respectable" and line up their ideological ducks with the establishment.

This trend really started to get going in the 1980s, and it is perhaps the reason why that decade was also the last truly creative decade in the history of popular music. Bowie's dip in creativity almost perfectly matches the growing imposition of political correctness in the 1980s, with his 1983 album Let's Dance being his last potent record (with the possible exception of his just released final album). Alongside the fascistic China Girl, that album also included gestures towards political correctness, like the narrative touting the "oppression" of the Aborigines on the video for the album's title track.

What is a rock star if he cannot exist beyond the taboos that circumscribe the rest of us? Answer: a mere musician with an stupid hair cut. During the lifetime of David Bowie (1947–2016), visions of swastikas were incapable of ever bringing back the Third Reich, but they might have helped the occasional taboo-busting rock star find a seam of true creativity.

A version of this article was originally published at The Revenge of Riff Raff

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