1975 was David Bowie's lost year, mired in drugs, alcohol and the ongoing legal dispute with MainMan. For the first time in three years David had no touring schedule, and between January and June he drifted between hotels and rented houses, first in New York and then in Los Angeles. The only substantial creative endeavours of the year came in its second six months, with the filming of The Man Who Fell To Earth and the recording of Station To Station.
A few isolated public appearances punctuated the year. At New York's Uris Theatre on March 1st David presented Aretha Franklin with the "Best Female Soul Singer" gong at the Grammy Awards. Aretha ruffled a few feathers by exclaiming on national television that "this is so good I could kiss David Bowie", but the occasion is best remembered for an oft-printed celebrity line-up of David flanked by Simon and Garfunkel, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. "Lennon and I were off our tree that night," Bowie later confessed, "and spent far too much time in a corner giggling like schoolboys and making snide remarks about everybody." On September 8th, fresh from completing The Man Who Fell To Earth, David played a couple of impromptu numbers with Bill Wyman and Ronnie Wood at Peter Sellers's birthday party in Los Angeles.
On November 4th, midway through the Station To Station sessions, ABC's black music show Soul Train featured David miming studio performances of "Fame" and the brand new single "Golden Years", marking only the second major appearance by a white artist on the programme (Elton John had beaten him to it by six months). Bowie's jittery, spaced-out interview between numbers marked a new low in coherency, and as he shamefacedly recalled in 1999, his attempt to mime "Golden Years" was disastrous: "I hadn't bothered to learn it, and the MC of the show, who was a really charming guy, took me on one side after the third or fourth take, and he said, 'Do you know there were kids lined up to do this show, who have fought their whole lives to try and get a record and come on here?'"
An appearance on CBS's The Cher Show followed on November 23rd. Here Bowie performed "Fame" and joined Cher on a lavish duet of "Can You Hear Me", but the main attraction was a six-and-a-half-minute medley: beginning and ending with "Young Americans", David and Cher shimmied their way through a succession of hoary US hits to the accompaniment of the studio orchestra. "Cher I adored, from what I remember," said David many years later, although recollections of his sartorial priorities are rather clearer: "I'd got this thing in my mind that I was through with theatrical clothes and I would only wear Sears & Roebuck, which on me looked more outlandish than anything I had made by Japanese designers. They were just like this middle America dogged provincialism. They were loud check jackets and check trousers. I looked very bad. And very ill." On another occasion he recalled that Cher was initially frosty, but "warmed up when we sang together...I was probably this crazed anorexic figure walking in, and I'm sure she didn't know what to make of me."
Five days after The Cher Show, British television viewers were treated to a live satellite interview with an alert and reassuringly sharp-witted David on ITV's Russell Harty Plus. The Spanish government had requested emergency use of the satellite to announce the death of General Franco, but David declined to relinquish his spot, entertainingly running rings around Harty's inept lines of enquiry and confirming that he was looking forward to "coming home in May to play shows, look at you and be English again."
by Nicholas Pegg
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