The importance of David Bowie’s first visit to America

On this day in 1971, Mercury Records finances the then unknown artist on a promotional trip to the U.S

The importance of David Bowie’s first visit to America

On January 27th, 1971, despite his fear of flying, David Bowie gets on a plane for a flight across the Atlantic for the first time. Though already with three albums released, Bowie was still a largely unknown artist when his label Mercury Records financed a coast-to-coast publicity tour across America to promote his latest album “The Man Who Sold The World”, in which Bowie, between January and February 1971, was interviewed by radio stations and the media. Exploiting his androgynous appearance, the original cover of the UK version unveiled two months later depicted the singer wearing a dress: taking the garment with him, he wore it during interviews. Certain American music critics, such as the Rolling Stone magazine John Mendelsohn, wrote: “ravishing, almost disconcertingly reminiscent of Lauren Bacall”. David Bowie also found mixed reactions in the streets of the U.S, very different from what he was used to in Europe, that included laughter and, in the case of one male pedestrian, producing a gun and telling Bowie to “kiss my ass”. Due to work visa restrictions, Bowie was unable to perform in the U.S, but he did some free showcases with his acoustic guitar on some occasions for a small crowd of people. Traveling by bus from Washington, D.C., to California, Bowie fell in love with the country and penned tributes to some of its most iconic artists: “Andy Warhol,” “Song for Bob Dylan” and the Lou Reed-inspired “Queen Bitch.” He had the opportunity to meet one of his heroes, Andy Warhol, when he visited the famous Factory in New York, from that visit there are Polaroids and a short film showing Bowie at the Factory. This trip to the U.S was of extreme importance for Bowie’s next career movement. During the tour, his observation of two seminal American proto-punk artists led him to develop a concept that eventually found form in the Ziggy Stardust character: a melding of the persona of Iggy Pop with the music of Lou Reed, producing “the ultimate pop idol”. A girlfriend recalled his “scrawling notes on a cocktail napkin about a crazy rock star named Iggy or Ziggy”, and on his return to England he declared his intention to create a character “who looks like he’s landed from Mars”. Soon after he recorded his real breakthrough album, “Hunky Dory” and the next year, in 1972, Ziggy Stardust was finally born.

Watch the rare film made by Andy Warhol of David Bowie visiting the Factory in 1971

Listen to David Bowie talking enthusiastically about his visit to America in 1971

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