BOWIE: How long did his Thin White Duke phase last?

NA writes:

Strangely, one of Bowie’s most (in)famous alter-egos, had a very short shelf-life.

He moved from the blue eyed soul of Young Americans - what he called “plastic soul” - in the tail end of 1974 through 1975, into the Duke in 1976 for Station to Station and his Isolar tour of the same year, before slipping out of the character in early 1977 for the Low album. Although it’s reasonable to associate the latter part of 1975 with the TWD.

There is a general acceptance that the TWD is only really seen on 1976’s Station to Station album, where’s he’s named as such. However, the persona can be traced back to the final parts of the Diamond Dogs tour in 1974, which transformed into the Philly Dogs and Soul tour. At this point Bowie was snorting coke like a snow plough, looked thin, and started to grow paranoid.

The Young Americans album was recorded late 74/early 75. At its release in 75 Bowie was emaciated, and isolated. Station to Station was recorded over September to November 1975 and released in January 1976. By now the Thin White Duke was more than a name on a song, and actually part of Bowie’s being.

Living mainly on red peppers and milk, Bowie was becoming increasingly fascinated to the point of obsession with the kabbalah, the tree of life, the movement from its top to bottom (Kether to Malkhuth) of spirituality to temporal life. He was reading Crowley and Burroughs, from which he took the phrase “white stains” (Crowley) and Thin White Rope (Burroughs), and became convinced witches would curse him if they had parts of his body, so kept his nail clippings and bottled his urine. He convinced himself his swimming pool was haunted.

This was his state when he started making comments about Hitler being pop star. Additionally, when he came back to the U.K. in May 76, he waved to the crowds. A photo caught his arm raised mid-wave and the story that he gave a Nazi salute was born.

The Duke was pale, aloof, clad mainly in black and white and owed much to the character Thomas Jerome Newton, in the Man Who Fell to Earth, and pseudo-intellectual Arianism. He was an unpleasant character.

Bowie’s cocaine-fuelled paranoia lost him most of his friends but led to a great art-rock album. By the end of 76 he was already trying to kick both cocaine and the Duke, which resulted in his move to Berlin and the recording of the introspective Low, which commenced recording in September 1976.

So although we can trace the origins of the Duke to late 1974, his “life” can be truly seen from September 1975 to the end of May 1976 when the tour finished.

The short life of the character belies his influence. Second to Ziggy it’s the most well known of Bowie’s characters, and one that he referred to, rather unflatteringly, on several occasions, even featuring a life size doll of the TWD in his 2013 video Love is Lost.

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