At the age of eleven I began to spend most of my pocket money on records, buying a new hit single every week. Glam rock was all the rage and David Bowie became one of my idols.
Bowie would get himself into trouble in the seventies for his brief flirtation with fascism. In an interview for Playboy in 1974 he betrayed an admiration for Hitler, describing the Führer as “one of the first rock stars:” “Look at some of the films and see how he moved. I think he was quite as good as Jagger…[Hitler] used politics and theatrics and created this thing that governed and controlled the show for those twelve years. The world will never see his like again. He staged a country.” In the following year, rather bizarrely considering his own androgynous image, he ranted against decadence and called for an extreme right-wing solution to the problem: “I think that morals should be straightened up for a start. They’re disgusting. There will be a political figure in the not too distant future who’ll sweep through this part of the world like early rock ’n’ roll did. You probably hope I’m not right but I am…. You’ve got to have an extreme right front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up. Then you can get a new form of liberalism.” It is easy to imagine that the choice of the phrase “extreme right front” would have been seen as a veiled reference to the National Front, which was definitely in the ascendant in 1975 when these words were spoken.
In April 1976, Bowie was detained by customs officials on the Russian/Polish border after they discovered a cache of Nazi memorabilia in his luggage. In the same month, after a concert in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, Bowie was more forthright than ever in his candid expression of fascist sympathies: “I believe Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader. After all, Fascism is really nationalism.” Six days after the pro-fascist remarks in Sweden, Bowie returned to England and allegedly gave a Nazi salute from the back of an open-top limo to the crowd of fans assembled at Victoria station to greet him. It is also widely believed that Bowie visited Hitler’s bunker in Berlin and had photographer, Andy Kent, photograph him with his arm outstretched in a Nazi salute. Kent was made to swear that he would never release the photograph to the press; a promise that the photographer has dutifully kept.
Bearing in mind my admiration for Bowie’s music, it is hardly surprising that I rejoiced in the news that he had given a Nazi salute to his fans. I wrote in Bulldog a few years later that Bowie was “the Big Daddy of Futurism” who, on his early album Hunky Dory, “started the anti-Communist musical tradition which we now see flourishing amidst the new wave of Futurist bands.” It is customary for music journalists to dismiss Bowie’s dallying with fascism as a brief flirtation caused by drug-induced manic depression, in other words by a temporary madness, but it is curious, as I mentioned in the Bulldog article, that the much earlier Hunky Dory album, recorded in 1971, contains several tracks that are suggestive of Nietzschean philosophy and Nazi sympathy. In “Quicksand” Bowie places himself into the mind of Hitler in the bunker as the Third Reich crumbles around him, contemplating suicide and condemning Churchill’s lies, and remaining defiantly unrepentant to the last. “Song for Bob Dylan,” for all its ambiguity and ambivalence, seems to climax with apparent disdain for Robert Zimmerman as “every nation’s refugee,” blaming Dylan’s leftist radicalism and iconoclasm for breaking up the unity of the family. Such a reading of the lyrics dovetails with Bowie’s later pro-fascist comments. In addition, Bowie’s stripping away of Dylan’s adopted stage name, his mask, to address him by his real name of Zimmerman could be seen, arguably at least, as veiled anti-Semitism, removing the gentile mask to expose the Jew behind it. “Andy Warhol” seems to mock the pretentiousness of its subject, which would explain why Warhol disapproved of it. “Oh! You Pretty Things” is a Nietzschean anthem exhibiting contempt for homo sapiens who “have outgrown their use” and who need to “make way for the Homo Superior.” Homo sapiens are the untermenschen who are superseded by the emergence of homo superior, the übermensch or Superman from which the Nazis derived their notions of the Master Race. Since the quazi-Nazi Nietzscheanism of the Hunky Dory album came five years before Bowie’s fascist declarations in 1976 and the Nazi kitsch of Heroes came a year after, it is a trifle naïve and simplistic to dismiss Bowie’s fascist flirtation as a mere fling or one-night-stand. It would be more accurate to see it as a tempestuous and sordid love affair lasting several years.
Books by Joseph Pearce may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This is excerpted from Joseph Pearce’s book, Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love (Saint Benedict Press) and is reprinted with gracious permission.