David Bowie moved to Berlin in late 1976 and stayed—on and off—for about two years. He recorded 32 songs for the “Berlin triptych”—Low, Heroes, and Lodger—but none of this dovetails too neatly: Low was started at Château d’Hérouville (“Honky Château”), outside Paris, and Lodger was recorded in Montreux. Only Heroes was made at Hansa Studios in Berlin. For the first time since Hunky Dory, he was just “David Bowie,” sans overly-constructed persona or alter ego (unless you count Iggy Pop). During the very years that punk exploded out of lower Manhattan and London and in dives off Hollywood Blvd., Bowie went back to a deeper source—his fascination with the rough imagery of the artists of Die Brücke, as a gateway to Weimar Berlin.
Bowie’s new, temporary home was a life-saving move from the death trip of Los Angeles, where the singer was subsisting on little more than cocaine, Gitanes, and glasses of milk. In Berlin, Bowie rediscovered food (and alcohol). And he began a working life with Brian Eno.
This is the subject of Tobias Rüther’s HEROES: DAVID BOWIE AND BERLIN, a Reaktion Books translation of Rüther’s Helden (2008), and part of their Reverb series. Sifting through the myths and creating a few of his own, Rüther draws from a rich vein of source material: memoirs by Romy Haag, Christine F., and producer Tony Visconti; Paul Trynka’s Iggy Pop and Paul Stump’s Roxy Music biography Unknown Pleasures; histories by Rory MacLean and Ernst Bloch; and dozens of Bowie bios, which are legion.
Following the release of Lodger, Bowie moved to New York City and entered the mainstream. The”Berlin years” are remembered as his last great period of true experimentation, until the final burst of Blackstar just before his death.
HEROES: DAVID BOWIE AND BERLIN by Tobias Rüther
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Image credit: Reaktion Books. Original image © Steve Shapiro/Corbis