In 1983, David Bowie made his famous Let’s Dance video in a bar in the small town of Carinda in western NSW, but the Starman’s love affair with Australia actually began in the 1970s after he conquered his fear of flying.
David Bowie: The Golden Years, written by Australian music historian Roger Griffin, charts one of the Thin White Duke’s most creative decades, the 1970s, which includes this first trip to Australia.
One year on from the musician’s death, Griffin explains that the trip, which resulted in him buying a flat in Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay, wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Iggy Pop.
“He’d got the jitters after a flight from Cyprus and decided he didn’t want to risk it any more and didn’t want to fly, and he decided to travel by ocean liner, train and limousine. We didn’t see him until after he got over his fear of flying in 1977 when he offered to play keyboards for Iggy Pop’s tour to promote his album, The Idiot,” Griffin told AAP.
“The tour necessitated air travel because of logistics. He decided he wasn’t going to be able to make it unless he got over his fear of flying and he just decided to.”
In November 1978, Bowie made his first trip to Australia and New Zealand to promote his album Heroes. He returned in March 1983 promoting Let’s Dance and decided to shoot the video for the song in Australia.
“He liked what he saw in ’78 but it was confirmed for him when he came back in ’83. So he went looking around and found an apartment he liked in a building called Kincoppal at Elizabeth Bay overlooking Rushcutter’s Bay and bought it. He kept that until 1992 and it was another place that he went when he disappeared, which he often did,” Griffin said.
The apartment became a bit of a bolthole where Bowie spent many southern hemisphere summers until he married Iman in 1992 and sold it.
Watch Bowie’s video for Let’s Dance below:
It was a place where the musician could be anonymous. Griffin said he is only personally aware of two sightings of Bowie during that time, one in a King’s Cross club and another time when a journalist bumped into him in a city bar.
“He’d come down just to get away from things, so there’d be periods when he’d be here. He did have the ability to disappear in a room … to just walk amongst us and people didn’t go ‘oh there’s David Bowie’. He could move unrecognised if he chose to,” he said.
The music historian managed to build up a picture of the private musician over one of his most prolific decades during which he released 11 albums.
Using old music papers from the 1970s, and plundering the depths of library archives, Griffin gathered quotes and reports from Bowie and people who worked with him to build a complete picture.
“It was fascinating because you got to hear people’s attitudes while they were in the midst of these projects as well as some latter day reflections which came from some more recent publications,” he said.