New East Digital Archive

Station to station: David Bowie on the Trans-Siberian railway

18 January 2016

In April 1973, after finishing the Japan leg of his Ziggy Stardust tour, David Bowie returned to Europe by land. Whether it was the Starman’s fear of flying that prompted the adventure, or his desire to see Russia, the always unconventional Bowie took the Trans-Siberian railway from Vladivostok to Moscow with his childhood friend and backup singer Geoff MacCormack.

They started by ship. En route from Yokohama to Nakhodka aboard the SS Felix Dzerzhinsky, Bowie performed an impromptu gig which reportedly included Jacques Brel’s Port of Amsterdam while MacCormack played the congas. Of the week-long rail trip Bowie later wrote like a natural philosopher in teen magazine Mirabelle: “I could never have imagined such expanses of unspoilt, natural country without actually seeing it myself, it was like a glimpse into another age, another world, and it made a very strong impression on me. It was strange to be sitting in a train, which is the product of technology — the invention of mankind, and travelling through land so untouched and unspoilt by man and his inventions.”

Bowie and MacCormack stayed for three days in Moscow, watching the May Day parade, checking out the GUM department store and visiting the Kremlin. MacCormack would go on to write in his book Station to Station: Travels with Bowie 1973-1976 that Bowie was the “wildest spectacle in the city. Ostensibly in order to slightly deflect attention from his fiery hair, he put on a dazzling yellow jacket with a zipper, a bright yellow scarf, orange pants and shoes with three-inch heels.” Bowie also wore a “feminine large soft cap” to GUM.

Bowie’s second trip to Russia was in April 1976 when he invited Iggy Pop, photographer Andrew Kent and acting manager Pat Gibbons on a trip to Moscow from Zurich during a tour hiatus. They stopped for an infamous seven hours, eating a caviar lunch and taking in some tourist highlights, including Lenin’s tomb, before heading to Helsinki.