In 1973, David Bowie traveled to the Soviet Union after finishing the Japan leg of his Ziggy Stardust tour. 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 traveling through land so untouched and unspoilt by man and his inventions.”
“I used to sing songs to them, often late at night, when they had finished work. They couldn’t understand a word of English, and so that meant they couldn’t understand a word of my songs!” wrote Bowie in Mirabelle. “But that didn’t seem to worry them at all. They sat with big smiles on their faces, sometimes for hours on end, listening to my music, and at the end of each song they would applaud and cheer!”
Joining the two in Khabarovsk was Robert Muesel, a veteran reporter with UPI, and photographer Lee Childers. Muzel described what happened when Bowie boarded the train.
“A passenger made an entrance that stopped onlookers in their tracks, as he was destined to do at most of the 91 stops to Moscow. He was tall, slender, young, hawkishly handsome with bright red (dyed) hair and dead white skin. He wore platform-soled boots and a shirt glittering with metallic thread under his blue raincoat. He carried a guitar, but two Canadian girls did not need this identifying symbol of the pop artist. ‘David Bowie’ they screeched ecstatically, ‘on our train.’ Bowie turned their spines to jelly with a smile.”
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.