GENEVA – Synthpop may have originated elsewhere, but one of its stars made the Swiss Riviera, home. At least for a while. Glam rock’s poster child, David Bowie, passed away today at age 69; and while life on the limelight was elsewhere, Lake Geneva was certainly important.
In its “Expat Rock Stars” article, The Telegraph stated:
David Bowie bought a chalet near Lake Geneva in 1976, having decided, like so many expats, to ditch the craziness of life in Britain for something a little calmer. Well, we assume that’s why he moved there. It’s not like Switzerland has tax breaks, or anything.”
Tongue in cheek maybe, but according to his former wife, the move was indeed made to avoid paying hefty taxes in California.
Angela Bowie, an American educated in Switzerland admittedly negotiated their move.
I got what we wanted, and better: legal residency in Blonay, a charming village above Lake Geneva, near Montreux in the French-speaking part of the country … and an almost ludicrously low tax rate of about 10 percent.”
The Telegraph described the property as a chalet, but it was much grander. Bowie had acquired the Chateau de Signal, a 20-room mansion built in 1900 by a rich Russian emigré.
There are confusing statements on when he officially stopped living in Switzerland, although he married his second wife, Iman, in a civil ceremony in Lausanne on 24 April 1992.
In February 2015, Bowie responded to claims of secret bank accounts in Switzerland saying these were not illegal as he had been a Swiss resident since 1976.
His Swiss fling may not have been just merely financial, but according to his own biography, Switzerland was “abandoned frequently due to his ever developing love affair with the exotic Indonesia, Africa and the Far East.”
His son, filmmaker Duncan Jones, has said to the Daily Mail that some of his “fondest memories are of watching movies with his dad when they were living high above Lake Geneva.”
It was while living in Switzerland, that Bowie began spending more time in West Berlin where he created his acclaimed “Berlin Trilogy”.
The inspiration for Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust might have also come from his time in Switzerland. Vince Taylor, another British expat musician living in the Lake Geneva area, was an even more bizarre character, said Bowie.
It was also in Switzerland, in 1978, where Bowie recorded Under Pressure.
Unlike other artists, Bowie wasn’t a regular at Switzerland’s premier music event, the Montreux Jazz Festival; performing there only once in 2002, as part of his new album promotion tour.
Bowie said to GQ Magazine:
“I’m aware it’s good work,” he said, staring out at Lake Geneva from the Le Montreux Palace hotel in Switzerland. “I felt it was a success from the mixing stage. This is a really good album.”
David Bowie might not have spent much time performing at MJF, but he was a friend of the festival and of Claude Nobbs which led to his creating a festival poster:
He became friends with Claude Nobs. In 1995 he used a computer to create the poster for the Festival. He came up with several versions before insisting on the green and complex one commemorating Hiroshima. It even managed to freak out Claude a bit.
In 2013, soon after the release of The Next Day, his first album in 10 years, the Rocking Chair in Vevey held an all out David Bowie tribute. We can only imagine that more tributes will soon follow not only in Switzerland… but around the world.
Bowie’s latest album was released last week, just days before his death.