Lost & Found: Remember That Time David Bowie Was All Coked Up on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’?
Back in December 1974, three months before ‘Young Americans’ was released, David Bowie stopped by ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ for a half-hour chat and performance. And the Thin White Duke was looking mighty thin and apparently loaded to the gills with white powder.
Just two years earlier, Bowie broke into the U.S. (and the rest of the world, for that matter) in a big way. Inventing a persona that allowed him to exercise every single rock-star debauchery imaginable, Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust, was all glamour and excess. As Ziggy, he was portraying the pinnacle of bad behavior; Bowie, the artist, was almost completely lost in the transition.
So when he pulled the plug on Ziggy after a very successful, and career-making, tour, Bowie retreated to various other personas. But some of those bad habits remained. And when Bowie stopped by to talk with Cavett on his popular TV show in late 1974, something was clearly driving the artist’s bizarre behavior. (Check out the full video above.)
He performed three songs on the show: ‘1984’ (from 1974’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ album), ‘Young Americans’ (which wouldn’t be released as a single until February 1975) and a medley of two covers, ‘Foot Stompin’ and ‘I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate.’ They’re all kinda remarkable at times, especially the soulful version of ‘Young Americans,’ which features an endearingly ragged vocal by Bowie (and look for R&B legend Luther Vandross as one of the anonymous backing singers).
Then Bowie sat down to talk to Cavett. And even if it’s not a complete derail, it is, for the most part, an uncomfortable thing to watch. A very uncomfortable thing to watch. Bowie fidgets. He laughs uncontrollably. He rarely makes eye contact. And he generally acts like someone who’s riding a huge wave of coke. Which isn’t too surprising, since he was probably high 90 percent of the time between late 1974 through 1976.
After almost drowning in his coke problem during the making of 1976’s ‘Station to Station’ album, Bowie relocated to Berlin, where he got serious about getting straight. He went there to make music, which resulted in three of his greatest, and most challenging, works: ‘Low,’ ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger.’
(Give a listen to the terrific ‘Low':)
But he also went there for a personal reason. Bowie kicked his drug habit and his bad ways. He got clean. And he started making records people cared about again (although ‘Station to Station’ is a pretty awesome work, even if it was fueled by 13 tons of coke). And his appearances became more stable, less erratic.
And, in a way, they were also less awkwardly mesmerizing. Credit Cavett for holding it all together with unwavering professionalism. But like Bowie’s story here about running to the edge of a cliff, there’s an unhinged rush to his cocaine ramblings. And, we hate to say it, it’s kinda exhilarating.