The Thin White Duke – David Bowie and Fascism

David Bowie’s Characters and The Thin White Duke

David Bowie (born Davy Jones) has always been known as a rather unique persona. His distinctive and eccentric behavior combined with his enormous talent and hard work made him one of the most influential musicians in the last five decades. However, his uniqueness did come out with a toll (The Thin White Duke).

Before becoming a famous musician, David Bowie was part of an experimental theater where he began adopting different performing characters. Characters that definitively marked his rich and long-lasting career. You simply can’t think of David Bowie without his alter egos popping out in your head.

His most significant character at that time (in the experimental theater) was the flamboyant glam alien ‘Ziggy Stardust‘. The character that launched Bowie into the mainstream. Nonetheless, only two years later Bowie retired his breakthrough character just so a new persona could be born.

Enter – Aladdin Sane! The name of his new character and album concurrently is a pun by itself, meaning ‘A Lad Insane”. Many speculate that the name is related to his brother Terry who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, ‘Aladdin Sane’ technically is not a new alter ego/character but an evolution of Ziggy Stardust.

Although David Bowie had many more remarkable characters and alter egos, we’ll get to them later. Now let’s focus on the main topic.

David Bowie and Fascism

David Bowie and fascism, how is that possible? How can the face of the LGBT community in the 1970s be related to one of the world’s most gruesome regimes? Coquetry or something more? Well, let’s find out!

It all began in 1974 when he gave quite an extraordinary interview for Playboy. An interview where Bowie described Hitler as “one of the first rock stars”. Here’s what he had to say about Adolf Hitler:

“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”.

One year later he started ranting about decadence and morality, calling for a far right-wing solution to the problem. Which was quite bizarre considering his status and vibrant image in the world.

Later in April 1976, David Bowie was detained on the Polish – Russian border for carrying and possessing Nazi memorabilia in his luggage. Only a couple of months after the incident, Bowie gave an outrageous statement at one of his concerts:

“I believe Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader. After all, Fascism is really nationalism”.

Additionally, some sources say that he even gave the Nazi salute to a crowd waiting to greet him.

The Thin White Duke

Probably the darkest and most surreal of all David Bowie’s alter egos – The Thin White Duke.

The Thin White Duke character didn’t come out officially till the Isolar – 1976 concert tour in support of the album Station to Station. However, his new (at the time) alter ego began to appear as early as 1974. For the first time, the Thin White Duke was mentioned in the title track of Bowie’s tenth studio album ‘Station to Station‘.

His darkest alter ago was born on the foundation of heavy drug abuse, addiction, poor nutrition, and stress. As described by Bowie himself, the Duke character is “A very Aryan, fascist type. A would-be romantic with absolutely no emotion at all but who spouted a lot of neo-romance. An emotionless Aryan superman”.

The Thin White Duke costume included slicked-back blonde hair, grim face combined with a black and white outfit. Which was totally out of ‘character’ for David Bowie. His alter ego sure did live up to the given epithets of “psychopathic aristocrat”  and “an immortal zombie”

The character, however, had a short lifespan and Bowie began distancing himself from the controversial alter-ego shortly after its introduction. Apparently, it was Iggy Pop who advised David Bowie to get rid of The Thin White Duke and to sober up. Bowie listened to his friend so he left Los Angeles in 1976 and moved to Switzerland. Shortly afterward, he relocated to Berlin where he stayed for two years together with Iggy Pop.

When asked later in his life about The Thin White Duke, Bowie always described that period as the “darkest days of his life”. Mostly because of the abnormal usage of cocaine and other drugs. At one point he described the creation of his character as “a piece of work by an entirely different person”.

Thin White Duke in action

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Image by: Jean-Luc 

Other Remarkable David Bowie Characters

Every album, every movie character that David wrote and played in is a story for itself.
As we already know, Bowie started as an actor in an experimental theater before having his breakthrough in the music industry. Meaning, the music only delayed his acting career but didn’t stop it.

Jareth – the Goblin King was one of the most famous characters that Bowie’s acting career gave us. The same can be said about Thomas Jerome Newton, a character from the movie ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. Where Bowie played an alien who must pose as a human to save his dying planet.

Bowie even played the lead in a famous Broadway play called ‘The Elephant Man’. In the video below you can watch a 10-minute excerpt of David Bowie playing The Elephant Man. He nails it.

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When Bowie played The Elephant Man on Broadway, many celebrities could have been seen in the audience. Including John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono.

Read more: 20 Inspiring John Lennon Quotes

When talking about David Bowie’s characters you simply can’t avoid Major Tom and Halloween Jack.

Halloween Jack is the lead character of his eighth studio album ‘Diamond Dogs‘. Where Jack is “a real cool cat who lives in the declining ‘Hunger City’ “.

Major Tom, now that’s a name that even those who don’t listen to David Bowie know of! This is the character that established Bowie’s musical career in 1969. The protagonist of “Space Oddity” is a fictional astronaut that has cut all of his communication with planet Earth and levitates in space. Unlike Ziggy Stardust who suffered a theatrical death. Major Tom continued to appear multiple times throughout Bowie’s long-lasting career.

Final Thoughts

Even though it’s his most tragic character with controversial background. The aftermath of The Thin White Duke gave us the ‘Berlin Trilogy’, a trilogy that Bowie wrote in Germany during his two years stay. In conclusion, maybe the Thin White Duke wasn’t so bad after all. Since arguably the best song that Bowie wrote is a direct product of the controversial alter ego.

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Read next: 10 Interesting David Bowie Facts