To be insulted by these fascists




‘From now on, I’m really going to speak my mind!’ declared Nigel Farage earlier today. In the long run this might be considered good news, given that it presumably means that from now on Mr Farage is going to be almost entirely silent apart from the occasional belch, but that’s for the future. This morning he certainly had plenty to say. I’m not here to talk about what he said – it was the same discourteous, self-aggrandising, weapons-grade arseblurting with which we are all wearily familiar – no, I’m here to talk about his choice of soundtrack. Because, for his farewell speech as Ukip leader, Nigel Farage elected to bow out on stage to the strains of David Bowie’s “Heroes”.

So now, like Mr Farage, I’m going to speak my mind.

For a xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, anti-immigration extremist politician to appropriate the music of David Bowie of all people is so acutely grotesque, so extravagantly warped, so olympically insulting and so colossally stupid that it fair takes the breath away. Do you know anything about David Bowie, Mr Farage? Anything at all?

Hey, hang on a minute, says a passing ignoramus. Wasn’t the Thin White Duke himself a bit of an old fascist back in the day?

Er, no, actually, he wasn’t. However, in order to head off what will otherwise be an inevitable torrent of ill-informed comments from Ukip supporters, we must now pause for a moment to address one of the facts that people who don’t know about David Bowie think that they do know about David Bowie. That thing about him being fan of Hitler and doing a Nazi salute and all that. That’s true, isn’t it? Must be true, I read it somewhere.

Now then. I freely admit that I don’t know much about football, or cars, or telebiogenesis, but trust me: one of the subjects about which I do know rather a lot is David Bowie. So, just for the avoidance of doubt, here is a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to everything you ever wanted to know about whether David Bowie was ever a fascist:

  1. Was David Bowie ever a fascist? No.
  1. Did David Bowie ever give a Nazi salute? No.
  1. Did David Bowie ever voice support for the National Front? No.
  1. Did David Bowie ever say that he was a fan of Hitler? No.
  1. Did David Bowie ingest a prodigious quantity of cocaine in the mid-1970s and go extremely peculiar for a little while, during which period he spouted all sorts of nonsense including a couple of naïve and irresponsible comments about fascism which were blown out of all proportion in a tabloid feeding frenzy one week in May 1976, comments which he immediately disowned, revoked and apologised for, before unequivocally describing far-right politics as ‘an answer to an idiot’s dream’? Yes.

There we go. If you’d like to read a full and thorough account of the whole episode, you can find one in my book The Complete David Bowie, of which a new expanded and updated edition just happens to be due for publication next month. But for now, I think we can move on.

David Bowie is famed for his ‘changes’, but beneath that celebrated and ever-evolving experimentation in musical genres, his subject matter remained remarkably consistent. One of his pet topics was our disturbing tendency as a species to succumb to powerful and dangerous people and their twisted ideologies. Lyrics about the perilously charismatic lure of demagogues and dictators, tyrants and false messiahs, run like a seam through Bowie’s fifty years of songwriting. Have a listen to 1967’s ‘We Are Hungry Men’ (‘Why do you look that way at me, your messiah?’), or 1974’s ‘Big Brother’ (‘Someone to claim us, someone to follow’), or the ranting despot in 2013’s ‘If You Can See Me’ (‘I am the spirit of greed, a lord of theft, I’ll burn all your books and the problems they make’). Take a look at the baby-kissing, media-savvy politician on the rise in 1975’s ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’, a song so entirely about Donald Trump that one wonders whether that telephone box on the back cover of the Ziggy Stardust album was some kind of Tardis. And talking of Ziggy – ‘like a leper messiah’ – there’s another one. There are plenty more.

Bowie was never a party man, not of any kind – one feels that he subscribed to the old Marxist apophthegm (Groucho, not Karl) that he wouldn’t have wanted to be a member of any club that would have him as a member. He declined civil honours on at least two occasions – yes, the Dame turned down a knighthood – and he never made a secret of where his sympathies lay. He despaired of George W Bush and the Iraq War (at a UK concert in November 2003, during Bush’s behind-closed-doors ‘state visit’ to Downing Street, Bowie tartly dedicated his song ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ to ‘our visitor this week’ and earned a thunderous response), and in 2008 he greeted the election of Barack Obama as ‘a great day’.

David Bowie shone a light into millions of lives, and not just with his sublimely brilliant music. In the dark ages of the early 1970s he made life a whole lot better for gay kids. He spoke out about racism at a time when doing so was by no means de rigueur. He championed civil rights and equalities of every kind. He worked for HIV charities, homelessness charities, women’s shelter charities, refugee charities. He wrote a famous song about the possibility of harmony between Christianity and Islam (the inattentive thought it was a song about spacemen, because he called it ‘Loving The Alien’). In short, David Bowie was everything that Nigel Farage and his squalid cabal are proud to despise.

If you have four minutes, have a click on the link at the end of this paragraph. It’s not perhaps the most nuanced song that David Bowie ever wrote, but that’s the very point. He meant it to be direct, because he was angry. It dates from 1989, and it’s about the rise of far-right politics. It’s about the kind of people who end up joining the English Defence League, or Britain First, or Ukip. ‘Washing their heads in the toilet bowl, they don’t see supremacist hate / Right-wing dicks in their boiler suits, picking out who to annihilate…’

So, Mr Farage, you go ahead and speak your mind all you like. Play “Heroes” again if you want to. It doesn’t matter. David Bowie had the measure of you.

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12 Responses to To be insulted by these fascists

  1. Les says:

    Beautiful. Needs a “Like” button the size of Jupiter (until a larger exoplanet comes to mind)..

  2. steelcityman says:

    What an excellent piece of writing…a most enjoyable read….That’s why I follow you.

  3. Lewis Buckingham says:

    David Bowie was a world citizen; Mr. Farage is a mosquito . LFB

  4. Pix says:

    Fantastic blog, thank you. I turned 18 in 1989 and I remember buying the Tin Machine album on cassette and playing it to death, I absolutely loved it, especially the ‘Under the God’ track!
    Reading about it now in this context I understand more about why I liked it so much.

  5. Thank you – a superbly written piece. I despair at the rise of far right political groups, who are hell bent on brainwashing very gullible people. David Bowie is a true hero of mine and it sickens me that the likes of Nigel Farage can use his music to make a political point.

  6. outonbluesix says:

    Exactly why I loved and still love Tin Machine; after years of making statements that were open to interpretation, he decided to wallop everyone in the face with blunt opinions. Nobody who’s actually heard those two albums (and Maggie’s Farm) could ever dispute Bowie’s political stance on anything.

    Fantastic piece and utterly waterproof. Well done.

  7. Gary Cook says:

    Well said. I only hope the deluded pervert gets to read what we all think of him and his “views”.

  8. Wow! A positive comment about Tin Machine! One of the greatest bands that ever lived. In the main BBC radio tribute, Paul Wassisface dismissed TM in one sentence in a 90 minute (?) show.

  9. Luc Alexander says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you for this. As an expat who lives in Canada, I dread some bends my home country is taking.
    Incidentally, I cannot watch the link to Under the Gods which you provided. YouTube blacked it out because “This video contains content from WMG, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.” Go Warner, they appropriate everything, from Tolkien to the Duke. Time to become pirates, uh?

  10. @_johnnywest says:

    Love the piece Nicholas, and your unsurpassable Bowie book (I’ll update my edition when the royalty cheque comes in!)

    I’d also recommend to readers the excellent Ian MacDonald piece “David Bowie: White Lines, Black Magic”. It’s a shrewd precis of the mad period you describe above and MacDonald also makes the point that any vague ambivalence Bowie may ever have had regarding the far-right was knocked out of him once and for all when he lived in Berlin and saw close up the behaviour of former SS thugs in the Turkish district he spent a lot of time in. It’s available in MacDonald’s fabulous essay collection “The People’s Music” – or, if you can stump up for it, here:

    Best of British with the new edition…”we can beat them…”

  11. Pingback: Got to Keep Searching and Searching: Station to Station – Infinity or Zero or Nonsense

  12. Opal Larkin says:

    I had a great time reading your article and I found it interesting. This is such a beautiful topic that me and my friends are talking about.

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