In the mid ‘70s, a burnt-out and sick Iggy Pop lay on a hospital bed. He was exhausted by drugs, had just had a bout of homelessness in Hollywood, and every project he tried turned to dust. He had checked himself into a psychiatric institute when David Bowie came to see him.
Bowie was also suffering from his own rock-n-roll nightmare. Cocaine, booze and fame were wearing him down. Bowie paid all of Iggy’s hospital bills and they moved to Berlin in late 1976 to clean up together. Bowie produced two albums for the newly sober Iggy. They spent a lot of time nightclubbing in Berlin (supposedly Lou Reed also came along on these sober nightclub outings). Bowie was so tired of his fame that he toured anonymously with Iggy as the piano player.
Bowie was interested in Berlin not only because he would be less famous, but also because he wanted to work with German electronic bands like Neu and Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk said they were “too busy” and “didn’t really leave their studio in Dusseldorf” — so they wouldn’t work with him. So Bowie teamed up with Brian Eno, a fellow Brit who’d been working with electronic sounds for quite some time.
Low shocked Bowie’s fans. It was far from pop, but Bowie’s fame withstood the change, and Sound and Vision hit the charts.
Previously, Bowie had built an image that was founded on different masks, different stage personas for each album. He was tired of that. So on Low, Bowie stripped away his characters, his identity was now up for interpretation. He was simply Low. Much of the record is deep and classical-sounding, almost abrasive at times, but not quite. Can you imagine what fans of Ziggy Stardust thought when they heard this?
Recently when I made a documentary on Bowie and Eno for our current KEXP Documentary series “Pop Goes Electronic,” I listened to all 3 albums where Bowie and Eno collaborated. They are called The Berlin Trilogy, and Low is stunning. It’s almost too much at times. It shakes you, but still there is this foundation to it, this underlying warmth. Low is the first of the three. Heroes and Lodger follow. And I highly recommend listening to the three in succession.
Join Michele Myers for Nite Life — every Friday Night at 9pm. Fridays at midnight she does an album spotlight, playing 3 songs from an album and telling a story about it. She also produces KEXP Documentaries — the current series features Kraftwerk, Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder, and Tangerine Dream, among others