4 Unexpected Connections David Bowie Had to Los Angeles

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After an 18-month battle with cancer, chameleonic British rock icon David Bowie died in New York on Sunday, January 10, 2016. He was 69.

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Born David Jones on January 8, 1947, in Brixton, England, he changed his last name to Bowie primarily to avoid confusion with the Monkees’ Davy Jones. It wouldn’t be the last time he took on a new identity: Bowie went on to create several larger-than-life, magnetic personas—Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke—each of whom secured their own place in Bowie’s sui generis discography over his roughly five-decade career.

After experiencing some early success with Space Oddity (1969), Bowie followed up with two platinum-selling records (1971’s Hunky Dory and 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars). His first number one single in the U.S. wouldn’t come until 1975’s “Fame;” even so, it was hard to turn on a radio without hearing “Changes,” “Suffragette City,” or “Rebel Rebel.” Between successful stints in film—most memorably The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Jim Henson’s cult classic Labyrinth (1986), and David Lynch’s Fire Walk With Me (1992)—and an onslaught of musical releases featuring collaborations with Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and others, Bowie cemented his place in the cultural canon. In 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; on January 8, 2016, he released his 25th and final studio album, Blackstar, to mostly positive critical reviews.

Bowie was no lover of Los Angeles (he once said, “That fucking place should be wiped off the face of the Earth”),  but the singer was—for better or worse—tied to L.A. in several ways. Here are four unexpected connections he had to the city:

The L.A. Riots
According to biographer David Buckley, author of Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive StoryBowie and his wife, Iman, took a post-honeymoon trip to L.A. in 1992. The couple were house hunting in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating, an event which “directly influenced a new song, ‘Black Tie White Noise.’”

Scientology
During one tour stop in Los Angeles, Bowie’s pianist, Mike Garson, admitted that he was a practicing Scientologist. Garson “talked to David first,” biographer Paul Trynka writes in David Bowie: Starman, “and was rebuffed (‘what a ludicrous idea, expecting David to sublimate his ego to L. Ron Hubbard,’ quips writer Mick Farren) before approaching the rest of the organization.” According to Trynka, upon arriving in L.A., Garson “persuaded most of the entourage to visit the Scientology center” where “each musician was assigned his own mentor.”

Station to Station
While Bowie was fond of recording all over the world—Canada, Berlin, New York—Station to Station, widely regarded as one of his most significant offerings, was recorded at Cherokee Studios in L.A. Per Buckley, Bowie recorded the album in the midst of an “astronomic” cocaine problem, during which he subsisted on a diet of peppers and milk. Buckley quotes Bowie as saying, “I would keep a fridge fully stocked with this stuff, and when I wasn’t hallucinating, I was sitting on the floor in the dark, lit by the little light inside the door, cutting up peppers with my knife and cramming them into my mouth…the curtains were always closed. Didn’t want the L.A. sun spoiling the vibe of the eternal now.” The album is ranked 324 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Rodney Bingenheimer
The famous KROQ DJ, who was partly responsible for Bowie’s popularity in Los Angeles, opened his famous club, Rodney’s English Disco, at the behest of Bowie himself. “I was at the recording of Bowie’s Hunky Dory LP at Trident Studios,” Bingenheimer told CityThink writer Alison Martino. “Usually after the recording sessions I would attend the discotheques. I went to new place called the Cellar, and they were playing music I had never heard before, like Slade, Roxy Music, and T. Rex. I told David Bowie what I’d heard, and he encouraged me to introduce this new sound to Hollywood.” Local gallery ltd los angeles is currently running a pop-up exhibition dedicated to the club, on view through July of this year.

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