Spying on David Bowie with stethoscopes the night he went to jail

It took filmmaker Matt Ehlers a year and a half of haircuts and cajoling to convince the mysterious Chi Wah Soo to do an interview. The result is a new documentary, Bowie Goes to Jail. Sixty-one-year-old salon owner, Soo, was in the Rochester hotel room with David Bowie when he was arrested on drug charges 40 years ago. She was booked alongside the rockstar, and she’s finally lifted the veil on that infamous night (via USAToday).

Ehlers’ documentary says police acted on a tip that Bowie had cocaine, and secured the adjacent hotel room. Using stethoscopes to eavesdrop through the wall (yes, stethoscopes), police heard something unexpected. Bowie received a phone call saying his young son was very sick and his wife, Angela, could not be found.

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“I slowly watched a gentle meltdown of David Bowie,” Soo said.

While Bowie made frantic calls, she used a phonebook to identify the original call as a Florida area code. When Soo told Bowie, he instantly realized a couple of girls from Florida were the perpetrators of a cruel prank.

Bowie’s entourage had marijuana but they didn’t have cocaine. Undercover police officer Deborah Kilborn said they only asked her where they could score some. Nevertheless, police had enough evidence to raid. Soo saw three faces peer into the room when Bowie cracked open the door. It slammed him in the face and knocked him backward.

“That was the start of the nightmare,” said Soo.

Charges against Soo, Bowie, Pop and Bowie’s bodyguard were eventually dropped, but their reputations had been tarnished. Ehlers considers the arrest a “wake-up call” in a drug-addled chapter of Bowie’s life.

Despite only meeting Bowie twice, Soo made an impact on Bowie – so much so that she believes the song China Girl was written about her. Indeed, a traditional Chinese wedding blanket that she gave him at the arraignment looks like the blanket in the song’s video.

No word yet on whether Soo’s Brighton salon, Chi Wah Organica, has seen a bump in foot traffic, but I suspect it will. Learn more about Bowie Goes to Jail here.

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