The expats of the '70s lived in the ever-lengthening shadows of yesterday's world. How bewildering it must have been to come to a city so steeped in its own myth. And what fun it was: you call me Isherwood, I'll call you Spender. But in Berlin Bowie didn't just slip into Herr Issyvoo's costume. Ever since 1972, when his fantasy figure of Ziggy Stardust had sold countless thousands of records and unleashed mass hysteria, he had been obsessed with Nazism. In East Berlin he visits the remains of Hitler's bunker. "I think I might have been a bloody good Hitler," he tells the American music magazine Rolling Stone in February 1976. "I'd be an excellent dictator. Very eccentric and quite mad." He constantly talks in this vein, often voluntarily, during this period. Later, he genuinely regrets these interviews, claiming that he wasn't in his right mind at the time. Yet even though Bowie has always played games with the media, deliberately cultivating his unpredictable, quicksilver image, he simply talks about Hitler a little too often to dismiss it as ironical. Bowie, an avid reader of Nietzsche, is fascinated by the dramatisation of power as practised by the Nazis. In February 1976 he goes on tour as the "Thin White Duke", performing on a black-and-white stage beneath a cathedral of light worthy of Albert Speer. "It is the theatricality of Nazism rather than the ideology that attracts Bowie," according to the British scholar Nick Stevenson, who explains it by reference to the "Male Fantasies" of the German sociologist Klaus Theweleit. The narcissistic Führer figure of the "Thin White Duke" suppresses any feminine need for warmth and intimacy by iron self-discipline. That is one way to come to terms with all the problems that had beset
Bowie in Los Angeles and which he himself had caused by his unnatural cult of stardom and drugs.
And so the pop star goes on talking through his hat: "Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars," he says in a conversation with Playboy that appears in September 1976, by which time Bowie is already living in West Berlin. "I'd adore to be Prime Minister. And, yes, I believe very strongly in fascism. The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that's hanging foul in the air at the moment is to speed up the progress of a right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny and get it over as fast as possible. People have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership. A liberal wastes time saying, ‘Well, now, what ideas have you got?' Show them what to do, for God's sake. If you don't, nothing will get done."
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