The Day David Bowie and Iggy Pop Were Busted for Marijuana
In the early hours of March 22, 1976, David Bowie and Iggy Pop were arrested for drug possession in Rochester, N.Y. – an incident that could have come with dire circumstances, both legal and personal, and yet was soon virtually forgotten in the grand scheme of both artists’ long and eventful careers.
The tour in support of Bowie's newly released Station to Station LP found him reemerging from a convoluted period marked by drug abuse, creative transition (from the post-Ziggy hangover years to The Man Who Fell to Earth movie) and business headaches, including a break from his longtime management.
Pop -- who was born James Osterberg -- had a professional falling out with Bowie a few years earlier, and the former Stooges singer had hit rock bottom in his career. So the two old pals' reconciliation came not as a business arrangement this time, but as the budding of a true friendship.
In a nutshell, Bowie invited Pop to tag along during his upcoming tour, and, according to Bowie biographer Paul Trynka in his book Starman, “there was something cozy, almost domestic, about the daily routine.” which typically found the pair sitting in the back of Bowie’s car during the long drives between shows, exchanging personal insights into the music playing on the cassette deck.
As Trynka further described it, “Often they’d talk late into the night; at other times, they’d sit silently, sipping espressos and reading without feeling obliged to chat, like old men who’d been friends for decades.”
But this tranquil scene was punctured, if not broken, after Bowie’s show at Rochester’s Community War Memorial Arena on March 21, 1976. After the concert, according to an article in the Cannabist, Bowie, Pop and a couple of friends were busted at 2:25AM in their hotel suite by four vice squad detectives and a state police investigator who confiscated “about half a pound of marijuana.”
“Bowie paid all four bonds and then hit the road before his arraignment — for gigs in Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, Conn. — returning a few days later to plead innocent in Rochester City Court,” noted the Cannabist. “A crowd of about 200 police, fans and reporters looked on” as the alleged offenders were marched into the Public Safety Building. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that “the biggest greeting was the screams of about a half-dozen suspected prostitutes awaiting arraignment in the rear of the corridor outside the courtroom.”
The newspapers also reported that Bowie, Pop and their friends were facing “a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment on the drug charge but could get as little as five years’ probation if convicted.” But the charges were dismissed by a grand jury following a preliminary hearing on, of all days, April 20, which today stands as the preeminent "holiday" for celebrating marijuana in the U.S.
And that was pretty much the end of the incident. Bowie’s only interview on record on the subject, conducted at his lawyer’s office, found him complimenting the local law enforcement. “They were very courteous and very gentle," he said. "They’ve been just super.” Still, it should be noted that Bowie never again performed in Rochester, according to the Cannabist.
Bowie and Pop (whom Bowie always called "Jimmy," Trynka writes in his book) wrapped up the Station to Station tour without further incident, and then moved to Berlin and embarked on one of the most inspired collaborations between two legendary artists over several solo albums in the years to come.
Forty years later, Chi Wah Soo, the Rochester, N.Y., woman who ended up in the clink with the rockers, talked about the incident.