'Do you just mean David Bowie when you refer to the Thin White Duke?'
The Thin White Duke has gradually become a 'nickname' used to refer to David Bowie, although it was, and is, rightfully meant to refer to one of his personas in its own right. David intended for the 'Station to Station' album to initially be called 'The Return of the Thin White Duke' to signal the arrival of a 'new' Bowie, which incorporated the old one (which had reached this station-point in time many times before), but which was dramatically different from any previous one.
'Who is the Thin White Duke?'
A David Bowie stage character which was the face of the 1976 'Station to Station' album and supporting world tour. Bowie describes him as 'a very Aryan fascist type - a would-be romantic with no emotions at all'. The Duke was Bowie's last and cruellest character, fuelled by Bowie's obsession with occultism and Germanic culture which had evolved into an unhealthy fascination with The Third Reich, Arthurian Grail Mythology, UFOlogy and Hitler, combined with long standing flirtations with issues of superiority, domination and power.
The Duke sung about love and fire, while he exuded ice and encouraged his own hatred. He was a strange inner being who looked coldly and disdainfully upon the warmth of natural human relationships and yet begged for "one more caress…satisfy this hungriness.” A contradictor who dabbled in alternative religions and yet sung hymns about Christian rebirth and wore a gold cross around his neck. He gave notorious interviews expressing his Fascism, dreamt fiercely about escape back to Europe and staged the Euro-fixated White Light tour.
'Where did the Duke come from?'
The Thin White Duke, dictator from rock 'n' roll hell, is a gradual progression from David's 'Soul boy' persona from the 'Young Americans' Album, speeded along by the character of Thomas Jerome Newton he played in Nicholas Roeg's movie 'The Man Who Fell to Earth'. The Blue Eyed Soul boy was an Americanised Bowie who played soul and funk. Thomas Jerome was an alien unhappily stranded on Earth by the Americans. The Duke incorporated the former's style of music and the latter’s personality, which exploded into a new nemesis, the Duke, disenchanted by the American way and after payment for it.
'What does the Duke's look like?'
David's the Thin White Duke is easily recognisable by his curtained-style flame-coloured hair (bright red with a blond fringe) and deathly pale complexion (curtesy of cocaine, sleep-deprivation and starvation) belonging to the overtly European character that favoured casual black (shirt sleeves and tight functional jeans), business neutrals (business and lounge suits) and various English accessories (hats) and revolutionary ones (boots).
Performing the character professionally, Bowie was apt to varying his stage costume during the tour for variation and experimentation, but unlike characters such as Ziggy who had a huge wardrobe, the Duke favoured the minimimalistic approach (as with virtually everything else) in only having one stage outfit. Described by Bowie as his "Berlinesque Performer" clothing, this consists of the white shirt, black fitted waistcoat, and black pleated pants, accompanied by neatly slicked back hair. The white shirt was buttoned up to the neck and the waistcoat had a permanent fixture of Gitanes in the right pocket.
The outfit was sometimes accessorised by Bowie's gold crucifix, regular silver bracelet and wrist-length white gloves. During the course of a normal performance, due to the heat, the hair would fall out into a centre parting, the waistcoat would come off and some buttons undone, which left the Duke in just black pants and white shirt. For one London concert, Bowie took off everything except for his pants (which he rolled up), even his shoes! Do I know why? No. Did I wish I were there? Yes….
'Is he really a Fascist and a racist?'
David by nature is neither. You have to firstly understand that what he was portraying in 1976 was ultimately another character, no more himself than was Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane. The difference is that the aforementioned were obvious, over-the-top creations, which anyone with half a brain could differentiate as being characters. They also shared (albeit not as severe) views of domination and superiority with the Duke, except the Duke appeared so sober and serious that people assumed that David was being himself.
Secondly, David continued working with people of various nationalities during that period. His White Light band was made chiefly of blacks and Puerto Ricans who never complained about David. Says Bowie photographer Andrew Kent (who is actually Jewish), "I never felt David was a Nazi Sympathasiser.... I just think it was an adolescent attraction."
You also have to understand a little about the political nature of society in the mid-seventies as to give the Duke a proper up-down social explanation. The environment was one of economic stagnation. Social disorder seemed eminent. David was most of the time, when taking Fascist, was expressing what he knew was bound to happen with leadership issues and he was actually very prophetic. He just dared to address them.
David himself was under a lot of pressure at that time. Physically and mentally ill from drugs, under business pressures, marriage collapse and feeling lost in his LA lifestyle, he was beginning to fantasise about finding his roots back in Europe, the power of this translating along with his delirium, a strong urge to become 'completely' European, romantically translated into the vision of the White Superman. It was something that promised salvation, inner strength and the possibility of revenge on the hordes of enemies he now felt sure were plotting against him.
Apart from his completely inappropriate remarks to the press (which he has spent the rest of his life repenting for), Bowie never showed any signs of 'Fascism'. He did not join any organizations, intentionally hurt anyone or make anyone do so. Only the FBI were stupid enough to waste their time tracking him as a Nazi sympathiser, and various other anti-racist organizations (who couldn't actually differentiate between fascism and racism) were stupid enough to publish literature (even to this day) labelling him as a racist.
'Did he really do a Nazi Salute at Victoria Station?'
This is generally the biggest controversy point in regards to this character. It has been generally taken for granted and regarded as something factual, when like most good myths, it probably never happened. As Gary Numan who was in the audience reports, "I didn't see anyone walking around saying 'what a wanker, he did a Nazi salute'. People just thought he was waving at them, and I'm sure he was." Says David, "I didn't give a Nazi salute. I don't think I'd have done anything as daft as that. They were waiting for me to do something like a Nazi salute and a wave did it for them."
It is actually quite common for photographers, who fire off a whole series of continuous shots, to capture one in mid wave that could pass for such a salute. The press by then were familiar with his faux pas comments regarding fascism and were primed for creating the right controversy. Regardless for bad or worse, it did contribute significantly, in time, to the cult of his character and does provides a powerful and (though hard to swallow) impressive centrepiece.
'What's the difference between 1975 and 1976 Bowie? Most publications I see lump them together.'
I've seen this as well! The Duke actually originated sometime near the end of 1975, so it’s hard to pinpoint dates when things don’t start and end at the precise beginning of each year. You have to differentiate according to what Bowie was working on at that time, what music he was basing himself on and what album was out, not necessarily by appearances or by the year. Some pictures of the ‘Duke’ I’ve seen are actually Soul Bowie with the beginnings of the Duke’s hair.
Unfortunately album wise, both 'Young Americans' and 'Station to Station' are sometimes lumped together as Bowie's soul albums, with the three subsequent albums ladled as the 'Berlin triptych’. When Station to Station is actually more in kin with the later rather than the former. While Young American Bowie based himself on straightforward black music, sang about 'getting down', and dressed in American style club wear, Station to Station Bowie was plainly European in many respects and his song lyrics dealt with a more intellectual types of love, especially in the title track and Word on a Wing.
I would view 'Station to Station' (like what the title points to exactly) more as a transitional album. It was a deliberate break-away from the popularity he had achieved with Young Americans, but is still too mainstream to be counted with what came after. And like what Darwin says about his transitional species theory - they are extremely rare and on their own - they are neither what came before nor what came after.
'Does Bowie ever intend to resurrect him like he might do with Ziggy?'
No! Bowie made it (rightfully) clear that he was never going to touch the Duke ever again. The Duke was a terrible persona and David was never going to relive him again. The same goes with trying to live one hundred percent as any other character. After the Duke, David said in 1977 - "I've given up adding to myself. I've stopped trying to adapt. No more characters. The Thin White Duke was a very nasty character indeed". Which has proven true. The Duke was the last great character he lived as. Even the 'personas' we identify with him after that date (such as 'Berlin Bowie', '80's Bowie' etc) aren't so much characters as more to do with the type and style of music. Although he has played more deliberate characters, like the more recent Detective Nathan Adler and Earthling in the City, he hasn't taken to adopting their lifestyle with it.
Light-heartedly though, a life-size puppet of the Duke (along with Pierrot, The Man Who Sold the World, Ziggy and others) was made for the video clip 'The Pretty Things are Going to Hell' (from 'hours...'). Bowie didn't like the final clip (he thought the puppets looked too fake), and scrapped it. So the Duke stays buried.
For a substitute to the real thing, I suggest you preoccupy yourself with J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga. The character of Draco Malfoy is a perfectly accurate son of Duke; even Tom Fenton looks like a 12-year-old version of him in the movie. Go read up on what Draco calls 'Mudbloods' and his 'Death Eater' tendencies, you’d love it.
'Do you know David Bowie?'
No! I am not affiliated with him in any way! Do I wish I was though, but I never had the guts to write him a letter (I don't know, in fear my English wouldn't be good enough? *laughs*) or even say anything during a net chat. I wish I knew him!