[No Longer] Crashing in the Same Car

Crashing in the Same Car

All accounts I have read suggest that David Robert Jones [Bowie] was a cherished if not planned child. Both his parents, however, had histories of child abandonment, either accidental or deliberate.

His paternal grandfather died in WWI, and his grandmother soon afterwards. Bowie’s dad, Haywood Stenton Jones, was born in 1912 and raised by the State and an aunt. Haywood worked at Dr. Barnado’s, a well-known London shelter for orphaned and homeless children. He married Hilda Sullivan in the 1930s, then during WWII had an affair, and his first child, Annette was born to his mistress. Hilda and Haywood took custody of Annette. When Haywood left Hilda for Peggy Burns, David’s mother, Annette was left behind with Hilda.

David was Peggy’s third child. The first, his half-brother Terry, was born in 1937 and lived at times with his mother, aunt, and grandparents. Peggy’s second child, Myra Ann, was put up for adoption. David was born January 8, 1947, but Peggy and Haywood couldn’t marry until August that year because he first had to divorce Hilda.

So David had a half-brother ten years older than he whom he looked up to but who for many years did not live with his mother and step-father, a paternal half-sister he occasionally saw who lived not with her mother but with his father’s ex-wife (Hilda), and another Burns half-sister about whom nothing is known. 

Now flash-forward to May 1971. To David and wife Angie is born Duncan Zowie Haywood Bowie Jones, first known as Zowie Bowie, then as Joe or Joey, and now as Duncan Jones. Within days of his birth, peeved that she isn’t getting enough tea, sympathy, and attention, mother dearest jets off on a holiday.

Athough he sometimes accompanied his parents on tour, during Bowie’s Berlin years and separation from Angie, a permanent nanny, Marion Skene, takes on the role of Zowie/Duncan’s mother, likely aided by Bowie’s best friend, Coco Schwab.

No Longer

Then in 1975, on the condition that he stayed clean during filming, Nicholas Roeg offered Bowie the starring role playing Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Newton is an alien who has left behind his wife and two children to come to Earth in search of a way to alleviate his planet’s drought. He telepathically watches as his family weakens and dies. He never gets home.

I think his role in The Man Who Fell to Earth was critical to Bowie’s survival for two reasons: one, he proved to himself that he could stay off coke if he wanted to, and, two, his character’s sadness at being apart from his family reminded Bowie of what he was missing.

It took a while for Bowie to act. After shooting, he returned to LA and drugs.

Although the 1974 Dick Cavett interview is frequently cited as showing Bowie at his most out-of-it,  I think that the 1975 Russell Harty interview is the most disturbing.  Harty shows clips from The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Bowie focuses on the story’s sadness. Harty asks if Bowie wants to make more movies, he responds,

“No, funnily enough what it did do was increase my appetite for going back to a lot of the bits and pieces I used to do many years ago, like painting, writing, spending free time with myself and my family, getting out of cities.”

When Harty asks about Zowie, Bowie’s response sounds much like what Tommy said to Betty Lou [Candy Clark] in The Man Who Fell to Earth when she asks about his children, that is, they are just like children everywhere: “He’s a child… he’s as bright as any child should be at four-and-a-half. He’s not a prodigy of any kind. Thank god.”

Bowie seems to have internalized Thomas Newton’s loss of his family. Like the alien, he suffers in exile. I think by the time of the Isolar or Station to Station tour, he knew he needed Zowie and he realized his son deserved at least one parent who would take care of him or ensure he would be taken care of.

Bowie survived, but it wasn’t for or because of Coco or Iggy Pop. It was for his son. When he took charge of Zowie, David Bowie stopped crashing in that same car –unlike his own mother and father, he didn’t abandon his firstborn.

15 thoughts on “[No Longer] Crashing in the Same Car

  1. David fulfilled his responsibilities as a parent, and also as a godfather to Rolan Bolan.
    Glad he has found happiness with Iman, and has a nice family. God bless David!

  2. Angie Bowie couldn’t possibly abandon his son some days after his birth. The reason is simple: she broke her pelvis during childbirth ans she couldn’t even walk for two weeks.

    1. The main biographies say “about two weeks” or as soon as she recovered. Some of the time prior to leaving for Italy and Dana Gillepsie, Angie would have been in hospital. She had a rough delivery; that is undeniable. But she says herself in Backstage Passes (relevant pages regarding the trip — but not its date — are viewable in google books preview) that Duncan cried all the time, she couldn’t cope, and she left for vacation as soon as she could. Once with Dana, she was well enough to jump back into partying. I had an emergency c-section and my son spent his first 9 days in neo-natal ICU. I found those 9 days horrendous. Even 25 years later, I do — not because of the physical battering we both took — but because I wanted him with me. So I confess to a failure to understand willingly being separated from your infant.

      1. It should be kept in mind that Angie suffered from Postpartum Depression after Duncan’s birth. I think his traumatic birth plus the fact the she couldn’t couldn’t cope with the stresses of a new baby(one, by her own admission she wasn’t ready for) lead her to want escape. I hardly think you’re in a position to judge her.

  3. Duncan had a Nanny named Marion who travelled with David most of the time and was his mother figure even after he went to University. No neglect or abandonment by Bowie at any time.

  4. do you have the rest of the “early days” posts? very interesting to hear it from his own mouth. He said elsewhere that the house was tense – there’s a nice description of the “no man’s land” between his bedroom and the front door

    1. No, sorry. Because I phrased it as “all accounts” I think it is likely to be one of the book-length biographies. The 1974 Dick Cavett is the one where Bowie says essentially he is out of touch with his mother. She did attend his wedding ceremony to Iman, but that was some 18 years later.

    2. Found this tonight: BOWIE AND HIS PARENTS: I could never, ever talk to my father. I really loved him, but we couldn’t talk about anything together. There was this really British thing that being even remotely emotional was absolutely verboten.

      I spent so much time in my bedroom. It really was my entire world. I had books up there, my music up there, my record player. Going from my world upstairs out onto the street, I had to pass through this no-man’s-land of the living room, you know, and out the front hall. [David Bowie: Sex is Again the Unmentionable Word, May 1990]

      Is that possibly what you were thinking of?

    1. I don’t claim to be an authority on people I do know. I connected some dots. That’s all.

      Do you have an objection to the suggestion that David Bowie was a good parent?

      That according to multiple sources and Bowie’s own words, his family of origin was complex?

      Or that Angie did not contribute to Duncan’s choice after David sent Duncan and his nanny to visit Angie not to see her again? I’ve already heard from people who think I misjudged Angie for going on vacation as soon as she could after Duncan’s birth and by her own account in her own autobiographies seemed to have plenty of energy for partying. So fine. Get help for the post-partum. Visit or call your child when he is in boarding school. Spend time with your 12-yr-old when he comes to visit you.

      Now Angie is old and has a son and grandson she doesn’t see. That is sad. But to reap the rewards of parenting, you need to make a big emotional investment and sacrifice some of your own freedom when they are young. Perhaps I’m nasty.

      But it is Duncan’s choice, and if he feels he is better off not having her in his life, then so be it.

      You don’t have to agree. Just leave the site, stop reading; there are many other places to go and things to do.

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