‘People stared at the makeup on his face
Laughed at his long black hair, his animal grace
The boy in the bright blue jeans
Jumped up on the stage
And Lady Stardust sang his songs
Of darkness and disgrace.’
A major figure for over four decades in the world of popular music, David Bowie is widely regarded as an innovator, particularly for his extroverted work in the 1970s, and is known for his distinctive voice and the intellectual depth of his work.
He has experimented with differing genres of music, art, fashion and film, all of which have seen his career progress and change relentlessly.
There are only a few stars in the history of the music industry, who have shone as brightly as David Bowie has. Before Madonna, before Lady Gaga, there was David Bowie.
Today, aged 64 he lives quietly in politically correct mixed matrimony with the Somalian supermodel Iman in New York. But it was not always like this. Sexual adventures were at the heart of the gender-bending Bowie, as well as the gargantuan quantities of drugs he consumed during the Seventies.
Music experts state that David Bowie is a chameleon that changed according to the public’s demands, following, at the same time, his unique style, which is recognizable at any time and in any context. During the first ten years of his active stage activity, he had three rises on the wave of relevant interests of the public and falls caused by appearance of new music styles and directions.
David Bowie was an innovator in many respects, bringing new images and techniques, shocking and grooving the public. He developed a provocative sexual ambiguity long before the rest of the world caught up
He remained among the world music stars, even while his music genre was suppressed by more commercial and successful directions, made him unique and original as a singer
Life and Career of David Bowie (in French) interview below
1947–62: early years
David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, London, on 8 January 1947.
His mother, Margaret Mary “Peggy” (née Burns), of Irish descent, worked as a cinema usherette, while his father, Haywood Stenton “John” Jones, was a promotions officer for Barnardo’s.
The family lived at 40 Stansfield Road, located near the border of the south London areas of Brixton and Stockwell.
A neighbour recalled that “London in the forties was the worst possible place, and the worst possible time for a child to grow up in.” Bowie attended Stockwell Infants School until he was six years old, acquiring a reputation as a gifted and single-minded child—and a defiant brawler.
In 1953 the family moved to the suburb of Bromley, where, two years later, Bowie progressed to Burnt Ash Junior School. His singing voice was considered “adequate” by the school choir, and his recorder playing judged to demonstrate above-average musical ability.
At the age of nine, his dancing during the newly introduced music and movement classes was strikingly imaginative: teachers called his interpretations “vividly artistic” and his poise “astonishing” for a child.
The same year, his interest in music was further stimulated when his father brought home a collection of American 45s by artists including Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Platters, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley and Little Richard.
Upon listening to “Tutti Frutti”, Bowie would later say, “I had heard God”.
Presley’s impact on him was likewise emphatic: “I saw a cousin of mine dance to … ‘Hound Dog’ and I had never seen her get up and be moved so much by anything. It really impressed me, the power of the music. I started getting records immediately after that.”
By the end of the following year he had taken up the ukelele and tea-chest bass and begun to participate in skiffle sessions with friends, and had started to play the piano; meanwhile his stage presentation of numbers by both Presley and Chuck Berry—complete with gyrations in tribute to the original artists—to his local Wolf Cub group was described as “mesmerizing … like someone from another planet.”
Failing his eleven plus exam at the conclusion of his Burnt Ash Junior education, Bowie joined Bromley Technical High School.
It was an unusual technical school, as biographer Christopher Sandford wrote: – “Despite its status it was, by the time David arrived in 1958, as rich in arcane ritual as any [English] public school. There were houses, named after eighteenth-century statesmen like Pitt and Wilberforce. There was a uniform, and an elaborate system of rewards and punishments. There was also an accent on languages, science and particularly design, where a collegiate atmosphere flourished under the tutorship of Owen Frampton.”
In David’s account, Frampton led through force of personality, not intellect; his colleagues at Bromley Tech were famous for neither, and yielded the school’s most gifted pupils to the arts, a regime so liberal that Frampton actively encouraged his own son, Peter, to pursue a musical career with David, a partnership briefly intact thirty years later.
Bowie studied art, music, and design, including layout and typesetting.
After Terry Burns, his half-brother, introduced him to modern jazz, his enthusiasm for players like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane led his mother to give him a plastic alto saxophone in 1961; he was soon receiving lessons from a local musician.
He received a serious injury at school in 1962 when his friend George Underwood, wearing a ring on his finger, punched him in the left eye during a fight over a girl. Doctors feared he would lose the sight of the eye, and he was forced to stay out of school for a series of operations during a four-month hospitalisation.
The damage could not be fully repaired, leaving him with faulty depth perception and a permanently dilated pupil (the latter producing Bowie’s appearance of having different coloured eyes, though each iris has the same blue colour).
Despite their fisticuffs, Underwood and Bowie remained good friends, and Underwood went on to create the artwork for Bowie’s early albums.
1962–68: Changing Bands
Graduating from his plastic saxophone to a real instrument in 1962, Bowie formed his first band at the age of 15. Playing guitar-based rock and roll at local youth gatherings and weddings, the Konrads had a varying line-up of between four and eight members, Underwood among them.
When Bowie left the technical school the following year, he informed his parents of his intention to become a pop star. His mother promptly arranged his employment as an electrician’s mate. Frustrated by his band-mates’ limited aspirations, Bowie left the Konrads and joined another band, the King Bees.
He wrote to the newly successful washing-machine entrepreneur John Bloom inviting him to “do for us what Brian Epstein has done for the Beatles—and make another million.” Bloom did not respond to the offer, but his referral to Dick James’s partner Leslie Conn led to Bowie’s first personal management contract.
Conn quickly began to promote Bowie.
The singer’s debut single, “Liza Jane”, credited to Davie Jones and the King Bees, had no commercial success.
Dissatisfied with the King Bees and their repertoire of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon blues numbers, Bowie quit the band less than a month later to join the Manish Boys, another blues outfit, who incorporated folk and soul — “I used to dream of being their Mick Jagger”, Bowie was to recall.
Davy Jones and the Mannish Boys played as the backing band for Gene Pitney on a Gerry and the Pacemakers’ tour and released a single in March 1965 — a cover of Bobby Bland’s I Pity The Fool. On the b-side, however, was Bowie’s first ever recorded composition called ‘Take My Tip’ (Jimmy Page was the young session guitarist).
In 1964 The Mannish Boys’ manager Leslie Conn arranged for the band to appear on the BBC show Gadzooks! It’s All Happening but the producer Barry Langford insisted that Bowie cut his long hair. Bowie, of course, refused and Conn cleverly organised a protest outside the BBC with fans holding banners such as ‘Be Fair To Long Hair’.
The London Evening News reported on the society quoting Bowie – “It’s really for the protection of pop musicians and those who wear their hair long,’ explained the founder and president, David Jones, of Plaistow Grove, Bromley. ‘Anyone who has the courage to wear their hair down to his shoulders has to go through hell.
It’s time we were united and stood up for our curls.’ David is in the process of enrolling members. ‘Everybody makes jokes about you on a bus, and if you go past navvies digging in the road, it’s murder!’”
The BBC eventually backed down on the condition that if there were viewer complaints the band’s fee would go to charity. No complaints were received and the band kept their fee.
Biographer David Buckley writes, “The essence of Bowie’s contribution to popular music can be found in his outstanding ability to analyse and select ideas from outside the mainstream—from art, literature, theatre and film—and to bring them inside, so that the currency of pop is constantly being changed.”
Buckley says “Just one person took glam rock to new rarefied heights and invented character-playing in pop, marrying theatre and popular music in one seamless, powerful whole.”
Bowie’s career has also been punctuated by various roles in film and theatre productions, earning him some acclaim as an actor in his own right. The beginnings of his acting career predate his commercial breakthrough as a musician.
It was during this time that he changed his name to Bowie to avoid confusion with the singer in The Monkees and in 1967 he recorded an album as a solo project and called it simply ‘David Bowie’. Bowie re-named himself after the 19th century American frontiersman Jim Bowie and the knife he had popularised.
Unfortunately the record again sold poorly and it would be two years before Bowie recorded again. During the sessions a novelty single recorded at the same time called ‘The Laughing Gnome’ (utilising sped-up Chipmunk-style vocals) which would became a number six hit when it was released in 1973
Released six weeks later, his album debut, David Bowie, an amalgam of pop, psychedelia, and music hall, met the same fate. It would be his last release for two years. “I Pity the Fool” was no more successful than “Liza Jane”, and Bowie soon moved on again to join the Lower Third, a blues trio strongly influenced by The Who.
“You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving” fared no better, signalling the end of Conn’s contract.
Declaring that he would exit the pop world “to study mime at Sadler’s Wells”, Bowie nevertheless remained with the Lower Third.
His new manager, Ralph Horton, later instrumental in his transition to solo artist, soon witnessed Bowie’s move to yet another group, the Buzz, yielding the singer’s fifth unsuccessful single release, “Do Anything You Say”.
Whilst with the Buzz, Bowie also joined the Riot Squad; their recordings, which included a Bowie number and Velvet Underground material, went unreleased. Ken Pitt, introduced by Horton, took over as Bowie’s manager.
Bowie’s career throughout the sixties exemplifies Thomas Edison’s adage “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration,” as the young hopeful musician worked hard and toured the length and breadth of the UK under various guises: The Konrads, The Hookers, Davie Jones and The King Bees, The Manish Boys, the Blues influenced Davie Jones and The Lower Third, Davie Jones and The Buzz, and The Riot Squad, a band described as: “The Complete Musical Entertainers covering Pop, Tableaux, Burlesque and Parody”
Even at this early stage, Bowie was shedding musical styles quicker than he changed his hair – from beat thru Blues to Music Hall and Pop.
With hindsight, you can see where he was going, but by 1967 – Bowie’s fascination with the bizarre was fuelled when he met dancer Lindsay Kemp: “He lived on his emotions, he was a wonderful influence. His day-to-day life was the most theatrical thing I had ever seen, ever. It was everything I thought Bohemia probably was. I joined the circus.”
During this time, he fell under the influence of mime artist and performer, Lindsay Kemp, who helped Bowie channel his unique talent towards Space Oddity and later Ziggy Stardust. As Kemp later told journalist Mick Brown for Crawdaddy in 1974: – “I taught David to free his body,” says Kemp, smiling wickedly.
Kemp, for his part, recalled, “I didn’t really teach him to be a mime artiste but to be more of himself on the outside, … I enabled him to free the angel and demon that he is on the inside.”
“Even before meeting, David and I had felt the need to work together. I’d identified myself with his songs, and he’d seen my performances and identified himself with my songs. I was singing the songs of my life with my body; he was singing the songs of his life very fabulously with his voice, and we reckoned that by putting the two together the audience couldn’t help but be enthralled. In other words, one large gin is very nice, but two large gins are even nicer.”
The two large gins became Pierrot in Turquoise, which was filmed by Scottish Television in 1969, and broadcast in July 1970. It is said that choreographer and mime artist Lindsay Kemp let Bowie appear in his show Pierrot in Turquoise in return for sex.
After a few weeks of performing together in Pierrot in Turquoise Bowie disappeared one night with the artistic director of their show — a woman called Natasha Korlinov. Lindsay Kemp was devastated and tried to commit suicide by cutting his wrists, failing however in his attempt. Two months later Bowie returned back to Kemp, but unfortunately this time it was the turn of Natasha to try and kill herself, eventually surviving an overdose of sleeping pills.
For a time, during the tail end of the ’60s, David Bowie became a professional mime who occasionally sang on stage. His label wanted to be rid of him, every record that he had released had flopped, he didn’t have a band, and often his only regular work came from mime shows, whether in stage productions or even (disastrously) opening for rock bands like Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Mime, lies behind everything that he did after 1968: Ziggy Stardust, Halloween Jack, The Thin White Duke, even the wan extraterrestrial figure of his “Berlin” trilogy are basically all mimetic interpretations of rock musicians.
Coming full circle, Bowie dressed as Pierrot in his 1980 video for “Ashes to Ashes,” winding down his most creative period.
Bowie had followed the path of a typical British would-be rock star—leaving school early, playing in beat groups, getting a manager, cutting singles, making a moderately psychedelic LP. His mime years broke this mould; it marked him with a different aesthetic than the typical rocker.
Studying the dramatic arts under Kemp, from avant-garde theatre and mime to commedia dell’arte, Bowie became immersed in the creation of personae to present to the world.
Kemp and Bowie had a very close working relationship and Kemp would become a huge influence on the future star especially in the creation of alter ego characters on stage . Thus Kemp, indirectly through Bowie, influenced an innumerable amount of performers and bands over the next twenty years or so.
Satirising life in a British prison, meanwhile, the Bowie-penned “Over the Wall We Go” became a 1967 single for Oscar; another Bowie composition, “Silly Boy Blue”, was released by Billy Fury the following year.
In 1968 Bowie, as a solo mime artist, opened a show for Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex — the performance was apparently a version of the Chinese invasion to Tibet. Performing with Bolan meant that Bowie was introduced to Tony Visconti who was producing T-Rex at the time.
Bolan and Bowie were at similar stages of their career — both incredibly ambitious but wavering between different musical styles and ideas — but desperately looking for an approach that would find them success. Visconti became the catalyst that realised this for both of them.
During the same year Bowie, with John Hutchinson and the ballet dancer Hermione Farthingale, formed a multi-media band, initially called Turquoise but subsequently known as Feathers.
After Kemp cast Bowie with Hermione Farthingale for a poetic minuet, the pair began dating; they soon moved into a London flat together.
Playing acoustic guitar, she formed a group with Bowie and bassist John Hutchinson ( called Feathers ); between September 1968 and early 1969, when Bowie and Farthingale broke up, the trio gave a small number of concerts combining folk, Merseybeat, poetry and mime.
This may have been Bowie’s first serious relationship in his life. Unfortunately Hermione soon left Bowie, running off with a male fellow dancer — Bowie later wrote; – “I was totally head-over-heels in love with her, and it really sort of demolished me..it set me off on the Space Oddity song”.
It took him along time to get over Hermione and his next album contained two songs about her — Letter to Hermione and Occasional Dream. The album also contained the song Space Oddity which was to become the reason for Bowie’s first brush with fame, something he had been seeking for years.
The song was written in 1968 but was planned to be recorded and released to coincide with the lunar landing the following year. A plan that worked and the BBC eventually used the track for their coverage of Apollo 11 and the first moon landing in 1969. Considering the importance of the event (men landing on the moon, not the BBC playing David Bowie) the BBC wiped the tapes of the moon-landing a few years later.
Space Oddity famously used the cheap, portable battery-operated Rolf Harris advertised stylophone — Marc Bolan later wrote; – “I remember David playing me ‘Space Oddity’ in his room and I loved it and he said he needed a sound like The Bee Gees, who were very big then. The stylophones he used on that, I gave him. Tony Visconti turned me on to stylophones. The record was a sleeper for months before it became a hit.”
Ironically Visconti saw the song as just a novelty and left the production to an assistant Gus Dudgeon who would soon become famous as Elton John’s main producer. The original video made for song actually features Hermione Farthingale
Because of his lack of commercial success, Bowie was forced to try to earn a living in different ways. He featured in a Lyons Maid ice cream commercial ( directed by Ridley Scott ), but was rejected for another by Kit Kat.
Intended as a vehicle to promote the singer, a 30-minute film featuring performances from his repertoire, Love You till Tuesday, was made. Although not released until 1984, the filming sessions in January 1969 led to unexpected success when Bowie told the producers, “That film of yours—I’ve got a new song for it.”
Breaking up with Farthingale shortly after completion of the film, Bowie moved in with Mary Finnigan as her lodger.
Continuing the divergence from rock and roll and blues begun by his work with Farthingale, Bowie joined forces with Finnigan, Christina Ostrom and Barrie Jackson to run a folk club on Sunday nights at the Three Tuns pub in Beckenham High Street.
This soon morphed into the Beckenham Arts Lab, and became extremely popular. The Arts Lab hosted a free festival in a local park, later immortalised by Bowie in his song “Memory of a Free Festival”.
1969-1973 Psychedelic Folk to Glam Rock ( Space Oddity )
“Space Oddity” was released on 11 July, five days ahead of the Apollo 11 launch, to become a UK top five hit.
Bowie’s second album, Space Oddity, followed in November; originally issued in the UK as David Bowie, it caused some confusion with its predecessor of the same name, and the early US release was instead titled Man of Words/Man of Music.
Featuring philosophical post-hippie lyrics on peace, love and morality, its acoustic folk rock occasionally fortified by harder rock, the album was not a commercial success at the time of its release.
In 1969 Bowie met the 18 year old Mary Angela Barnett, the wild child daughter of a U.S. army colonel (Bowie later said that ‘they were fucking the same bloke’ — record executive Calvin Mark Lee) backstage after a concert at the Roundhouse.
A few months later that their relationship began in earnest. Angela became a crucial figure in David’s life, providing both moral support and behind-the-scenes promotion for his career.
She was an art student who wanted to act, with a talent for outrage and a taste for casual sex. ‘I was wild and David needed me to help him be wild,’ she said. ‘I chopped his hair off and dyed it and put him in a dress. I gave him notoriety. He gave me fame.’
It seems to have been an entirely pragmatic pairing – Angie needed a visa to remain in the UK. And it was certainly an open marriage. She was openly bisexual, and they had an open relationship, where they would acknowledge each other’s freedom to sleep with different partners.
They married in March 1970., at the Bromley Registry office on Beckenham Lane in 1970
To sing a song of when I loved The Prettiest Star
One day though it might as well be someday
You and I will rise up all the way
All because of what you are The Prettiest Star
Her impact on him was immediate, and her involvement in his career far-reaching, leaving Pitt with limited influence.
He was by now well on his way to become the rock superstar he had spent years craving for. Having established himself as a solo artist with “Space Oddity”, Bowie now began to sense a lack of “a full-time band for gigs and recording—people he could relate to personally”.
The shortcoming was underlined by his artistic rivalry with Marc Bolan, who was at the time acting as his session guitarist.
A band was duly assembled. John Cambridge, a drummer Bowie met at the Arts Lab, was joined by Tony Visconti on bass and Mick Ronson on electric guitar. After a brief and disastrous manifestation as the Hype, the group reverted to a configuration presenting Bowie as a solo artist.
Their initial studio work was marred by a heated disgreement between Bowie and Cambridge over the latter’s drumming style; matters came to a head when Bowie, enraged, accused, “You’re fucking up my album.” Cambridge summarily quit and was replaced by Mick Woodmansey.
Not long after, in a move that would result in years of litigation, at the conclusion of which Bowie would be forced to pay Pitt compensation, the singer fired his manager, replacing him with Tony Defries.
The studio sessions continued and resulted in Bowie’s third album, The Man Who Sold the World (1970).
Characterised by the heavy rock sound of his new backing band, it was a marked departure from the acoustic guitar and folk rock style established by Space Oddity. It was in this album that bowie started to develop his androgynous appearance and during this tour, that he created the character of Ziggy Stardust
To promote it in the United States, Mercury Records financed a coast-to-coast publicity tour in which Bowie, between January and February 1971, was interviewed by radio stations and the media.
Exploiting his androgynous appearance, the original cover of the UK version unveiled two months later would depict the singer wearing a dress: taking the garment with him, he wore it during interviews—to the approval of critics, including Rolling Stone’s John Mendelsohn who described him as “ravishing, almost disconcertingly reminiscent of Lauren Bacall”—and in the street, to mixed reaction including laughter and, in the case of one male pedestrian, producing a gun and telling Bowie to “kiss my ass”.
During the tour Bowie’s observation of two seminal American proto-punk artists led him to develop a concept that would eventually find form in the Ziggy Stardust character: a melding of the persona of Iggy Pop with the music of Lou Reed, producing “the ultimate pop idol”.
A girlfriend recalled his “scrawling notes on a cocktail napkin about a crazy rock star named Iggy or Ziggy”, and on his return to England he declared his intention to create a character “who looks like he’s landed from Mars.
Pre-Ziggy, but not pre-glam, as this was total cinematic glamour. Sometimes compared to Lauren Bacall, this Bowie was on the back of the Hunky Dory album. This also includes the period when he wore the infamous “man’s dresses” and “came out” to the press.
An experiment that did not go very far. In a photo shoot with Brian Ward in 1971, Bowie tried some different directions. Indeed. Brian Ward also shot the Ziggy Stardust album cover
Hunky Dory (1971) found Visconti, Bowie’s producer and bassist, supplanted in both roles, by Ken Scott and Trevor Bolder respectively.
The album saw the partial return of the fey pop singer of “Space Oddity”, with light fare such as “Kooks”, a song written for his son, Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones, born on 30 May. (His parents chose “his kooky name”—he would be known as Zowie for the next 12 years—after the Greek word zoe, life.)
Zowie Bowie now known as Duncan Jones (aged 40) is the film director responsible for the award-winning Moon and 2011’s Source Code. The Bowie legacy lives on.
Elsewhere, the album explored more serious themes, and found Bowie paying unusually direct homage to his influences with “Song for Bob Dylan”, “Andy Warhol”, and “Queen Bitch”, a Velvet Underground pastiche. It was not a significant commercial success at the time.
Candid cover for Curious magazine from 1971: Bowie spotted the dress designer Fred Burrett (aka Rudi Valentino) at the Kensington disco “Yours or Mine” wearing white spandex hot pants.
He became a close friend Bowie determined would be “the next Mick Jagger” in a specially created band called The Arnold Corns. In the event, as Freddie Burretti he made Ziggy Stardust’s outfits from the first quilted jumpsuit onward… Bowie here drags up in the Mr Fish “man-dress” that appears on the sleeve for The Man Who Sold The World — one of many mementoes in Any Day Now, Kevin Cann’s book about Bowie.
The original band had been assembled in Dulwich College, the name inspired by Pink Floyd’s song “Arnold Layne”, and when Bowie agreed to write some songs for Burretti in 1971, he revived Arnold Corns, with his regular line-up of Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass), Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey (drums), with Bowie and Freddie on vocals.
Arnold Corns’ version of “Moonage Daydream” was recorded in April ‘71 and released as a single in May of that year, with “Hang on to Yourself” as its B-side.
The song tells the story of an alien messiah, who is born to save the world from impending disaster. Surprisingly, it was a flop, but Bowie recognized he had hit on an idea that was too good to waste, and developed it for the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Ziggy was a mini-concept album, really a sequence of related songs, as Bowie later explained to William S. Burroughs in Rolling Stone magazine –
“The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There’s no electricity to play it.
Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ‘cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. “All the Young Dudes” is a song about this news. It’s no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite…
Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a Starman, so he writes “Starman”, which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately…
The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don’t have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black hole jumping. Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe.
Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples.
When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make them real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song ‘Rock ‘n’ roll suicide’. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible.”
With his next venture, Bowie, in the words of biographer David Buckley, “challenged the core belief of the rock music of its day” and “created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture”.
Dressed in a striking costume, his hair dyed red, Bowie launched his Ziggy Stardust stage show with the Spiders from Mars—Ronson, Bolder and Woodmansey—at the Toby Jug pub in Tolworth on 10 February 1972.
The show was hugely popular, catapulting him to stardom as he toured the UK over the course of the next six months and creating, as described by Buckley, a “cult of Bowie” that was “unique—its influence lasted longer and has been more creative than perhaps almost any other force within pop fandom.”
“Starman”, issued as an April single ahead of the album, was to cement Bowie’s UK breakthrough: both single and album charted rapidly following his July Top of the Pops performance of the song.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), combining the hard rock elements of The Man Who Sold the World with the lighter experimental rock and pop of Hunky Dory, was released in June.
The album, which would remain in the chart for two years, was soon joined there by the six-month-old Hunky Dory. At the same time the non-album single “John, I’m Only Dancing”, and “All the Young Dudes”, a song he wrote and produced for Mott the Hoople, became UK hits.
Aladdin Sane is an album by David Bowie, released by RCA Records in 1973. It topped the UK charts in 1973, his first number one album.
The follow-up to his breakthrough The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, it was the first album Bowie wrote and released as a bona fide pop star. While many critics agree that it contains some of his best material, opinion as to its overall quality has often been divided.
The name of the album is a pun on “A Lad Insane”. An early variation was “Love Aladdin Vein”, which Bowie dropped partly because of its drug connotations.
Although technically a new Bowie ‘character’, Aladdin Sane was essentially a development of Ziggy Stardust in his appearance and persona, as evidenced on the cover by Brian Duffy and in Bowie’s live performances throughout 1973 that culminated in Ziggy’s ‘retirement’ at the Hammersmith Odeon in July of that year.
Bowie himself described Aladdin Sane as simply “Ziggy goes to America”, most of the tracks being observations he composed on the road during his 1972 U.S. tour – the reason for the place names following each song title on the original record sleeve.
Biographer Christopher Sandford believed the album showed that Bowie “was simultaneously appalled and fixated by America”.
Many have called “Jean Genie” a portrait of Iggy Pop as an authentic American Primitive, though Bowie told an interviewer in 2000 that the song’s more about “an Iggy-type character…a white-trash, kind of trailer-park kid thing—the closet intellectual who wouldn’t want the world to know that he reads.”
Another inspiration was Cyrinda Foxe, the model who appeared in the promo film and who was Bowie’s major fling during late ’72 (she turns up, under assumed names, in other Aladdin Sane songs like “Watch That Man”). Bowie said he wrote much of the lyric in her apartment to entertain her
Aladdin Sane spawned the UK top five singles “The Jean Genie” and “Drive-In Saturday”.
Bowie’s love of acting led his total immersion in the characters he created for his music. “Offstage I’m a robot. Onstage I achieve emotion. It’s probably why I prefer dressing up as Ziggy to being David.”
With satisfaction came severe personal difficulties: acting the same role over an extended period, it became impossible for him to separate Ziggy Stardust—and, later, the Thin White Duke—from his own character offstage.
Ziggy, Bowie said, “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.”
His later Ziggy shows, which included songs from both Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, were ultra-theatrical affairs filled with shocking stage moments, such as Bowie stripping down to a sumo wrestling loincloth or simulating oral sex with Ronson’s guitar.
Bowie toured and gave press conferences as Ziggy before a dramatic and abrupt on-stage “retirement” at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973. Footage from the final show was released in 1983 for the film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
His back catalogue was now highly sought: The Man Who Sold the World had been re-released in 1972 along with Space Oddity. “Life on Mars?”, from Hunky Dory, was released in June 1973 and made number three in the UK singles chart.
Entering the same chart in September, Bowie’s novelty record from 1967, “The Laughing Gnome”, would reach number four.
Pin Ups, a collection of covers of his 1960s favourites, followed in October, producing a UK number three hit in “Sorrow” and itself peaking at number one, making David Bowie the best-selling act of 1973 in the UK. It brought the total number of Bowie albums currently in the UK chart to six.
The extent to which drug addiction was now affecting Bowie was made public when Russell Harty interviewed the singer for his London Weekend Television talk show in anticipation of the album’s supporting tour.
Shortly before the satellite-linked interview was scheduled to commence, the death of the Spanish dictator General Franco was announced. Bowie was asked to relinquish the satellite booking, to allow the Spanish Government to put out a live newsfeed. This he refused to do, and his interview went ahead.
In the ensuing conversation with Harty, as described by biographer David Buckley, “the singer made hardly any sense at all throughout what was quite an extensive interview. Bowie looked completely disconnected and was hardly able to utter a coherent sentence.”
His sanity—by his own later admission—had become twisted from cocaine; he overdosed several times during the year, and was withering physically to an alarming degree.
1974–1976: Soul, funk and the Thin White Duke
After breaking up the Spiders from Mars, Bowie attempted to move on from his Ziggy persona.
Bowie moved to the United States in 1974, initially staying in New York City before settling in Los Angeles.
Diamond Dogs (1974), parts of which found him heading towards soul and funk, was the product of two distinct ideas: a musical based on a wild future in a post-apocalyptic city, and setting George Orwell’s 1984 to music.
The album went to number one in the UK, spawning the hits “Rebel Rebel” and “Diamond Dogs”, and number five in the US.
To promote it, Bowie launched the Diamond Dogs Tour, visiting cities in North America between June and December 1974. Choreographed by Toni Basil, and lavishly produced with theatrical special effects, the high-budget stage production was filmed by Alan Yentob.
The resulting documentary, Cracked Actor, featured a pasty and emaciated Bowie: the tour coincided with the singer’s slide from heavy cocaine use into addiction, producing severe physical debilitation, paranoia and emotional problems.
He later commented that the accompanying live album, David Live, ought to have been titled “David Bowie Is Alive and Well and Living Only In Theory”.
David Live nevertheless solidified Bowie’s status as a superstar, charting at number two in the UK and number eight in the US. It also spawned a UK number ten hit in Bowie’s cover of “Knock on Wood”.
After a break in Philadelphia, where Bowie recorded new material, the tour resumed with a new emphasis on soul.
The fruit of the Philadelphia recording sessions was Young Americans (1975).
Biographer Christopher Sandford writes, “Over the years, most British rockers had tried, one way or another, to become black-by-extension. Few had succeeded as Bowie did now.”
The album’s sound, which the singer identified as “plastic soul”, constituted a radical shift in style that initially alienated many of his UK devotees.
Young Americans yielded Bowie’s first US number one, “Fame”, co-written with John Lennon, who contributed backing vocals, and Carlos Alomar. Lennon would call Bowie’s work as “great, but just rock and roll with lipstick on”.
Earning the distinction of being one of the first white artists to appear on the US variety show Soul Train, Bowie mimed “Fame”, as well as “Golden Years”, his October single, and that it was offered to Elvis Presley to perform, but Presley declined it.
Young Americans was a commercial success in both the US and the UK, and a re-issue of the 1969 single “Space Oddity” became Bowie’s first number one hit in the UK a few months after “Fame” achieved the same in the US.
Despite his by now well established superstardom, Bowie, in the words of biographer Christopher Sandford, “for all his record sales (over a million copies of Ziggy Stardust alone), existed essentially on loose change.”
In 1975, in a move echoing Pitt’s acrimonious dismissal 15 years earlier, Bowie fired DeFries his manager. At the culmination of the ensuing months-long legal dispute, he watched, as described by Sandford, “millions of dollars of his future earnings being surrendered” in what were “uniquely generous terms for Defries”, then “shut himself up in West 20th Street, where for a week his howls could be heard through the locked attic door.”
Michael Lippman, Bowie’s lawyer during the negotiations, became his new manager; Lippman in turn would be awarded substantial compensation when Bowie fired him the following year
When his music propelled him to international superstardom, Bowie found himself in the unique position of being able to pick and choose the parts he played. This has led to a colorful and rewarding film career that’s stretched over four decades.
The Man Who Fell to Earth – 1976
David Bowie’s seminal 1976 sci-fi film The Man Who Fell To Earth ( directed by Nic Roeg ) celebrates one of The Thin White Duke’s finest movie roles. Bowie earned acclaim for his first major film role, portraying Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien from a dying planet.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a 1976 science fiction film directed by Nicolas Roeg about an extraterrestrial who crash lands on Earth seeking a way to ship water to his planet, which is suffering from a severe drought.
Things go smoothly at first, with Newton using his advanced technology to make the fortune needed for the transfer of resources back to his home planet of Anthea. But then he meets a young woman who introduces him to the pleasures of alcohol and television, and his will to help his race soon buckles under these alien pleasures.
It also doesn’t help that he’s outed as an alien to the government, allowing them the opportunity to come in and completely foul things up. Bowie’s performance is solemn and filled with a sad dignity, while the entire human race comes off looking like a bunch of idiotic little cockroaches.
The film maintains a strong cult status for its strong use of surreal imagery and its performances by David Bowie (in his first starring film role), Candy Clark, and Hollywood veteran Rip Torn. The film was based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis and was later remade as a less-successful 1987 television adaptation.
Station to Station’s January 1976 release was followed in February by a three-and-a-half-month concert tour of Europe and North America.
Featuring a starkly lit set, the Isolar – 1976 Tour highlighted songs from the album, including the dramatic and lengthy title track, the ballads “Wild Is the Wind” and “Word on a Wing”, and the funkier “TVC 15” and “Stay”.
The core band that coalesced around this album and tour—rhythm guitarist Alomar, bassist George Murray, and drummer Dennis Davis—would continue as a stable unit for the remainder of the 1970s.
The tour was highly successful but mired in political controversy. Bowie was quoted in Stockholm as saying that “Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader”, and detained by customs on the Russian/Polish border for possessing Nazi paraphernalia.
Matters came to a head in London in May in what became known as the “Victoria Station incident”. Arriving in an open-top Mercedes convertible, the singer waved to the crowd in a gesture that some alleged was a Nazi salute, which was captured on camera and published in NME. Bowie said the photographer simply caught him in mid-wave.
He later blamed his pro-Fascism comments and his behaviour during the period on his addictions and the character of the Thin White Duke.
“I was out of my mind, totally crazed. The main thing I was functioning on was mythology … that whole thing about Hitler and Rightism … I’d discovered King Arthur …”.
According to playwright Alan Franks, writing later in The Times, “he was indeed ‘deranged’. He had some very bad experiences with hard drugs.”
In March of 1976, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and two associates were arrested in a Rochester, NY hotel for possession of marijuana. Now, one may think that Mr. Bowie was just in a state of perpetual cool and unending class by the looks of that mugshot. The truth is, he actually had three days to get into his Thin White Duke character before posing.
This photo was taken on the day of his arraignment. On the day they were arrested, Bowie and friends spent only a few hours in the Monroe County Jail. The charges were all dropped after their court date. Lucky for them since they were facing fifteen-year sentences
Thin White Duke
The Thin White Duke was David Bowie’s 1976 persona and character, primarily identified with his album Station to Station (released that year) and mentioned by name in the title track, although the ‘Duke’ persona had been adopted during the Young Americans tour and promotion.
Visually, the character was an extension of Thomas Jerome Newton, the extraterrestrial being he portrayed in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth in the same year.
Developing the funk and soul of Young Americans, Station to Station also prefigured the Krautrock and synthesiser music of his next releases.
At first glance, the Duke appeared more “normal” than Bowie’s previous incarnations, wearing a stylish, cabaret-style wardrobe, but the massive amounts of cocaine he consumed during this period made his personality, or at least the personality he displayed during interviews, more alarming than it had ever been.
At this time in his life, he said that he lived on “red peppers, cocaine and milk”.
1976–79: the Berlin era
Bowie moved to Switzerland in 1976, purchasing a chalet in the hills to the north of Lake Geneva. In the new environment, his cocaine use increased; so too did his interest in pursuits outside his musical career. He took up painting, producing a number of post-modernist pieces. When on tour, he took to sketching in a notebook, and photographing scenes for later reference.
Visiting galleries in Geneva and the Brücke Museum in Berlin, Bowie became, in the words of biographer Christopher Sandford, “a prolific producer and collector of contemporary art.
Not only did he become a well-known patron of expressionist art: locked in Clos des Mésanges he began an intensive self-improvement course in classical music and literature, and started work on an autobiography”.
Before the end of 1976, Bowie’s interest in the burgeoning German music scene, as well as his drug addiction, prompted him to move to West Berlin to clean up and revitalise his career
‘I find that I have to put myself in those situations to produce any reasonable good writing. I’ve still got that same thing about when I get to a country or a situation and I have to put myself on a dangerous level, whether emotionally or mentally or physically, and it resolves in things like that: living in Berlin leading what is quite a spartan life for a person of my means, and in forcing myself to live according to the restrictions of that city.” DB 1977
Bowie recorded in Berlin in and around 1977.
Struck down by personal problems, ranging from drug addiction to a crumbling marriage, Bowie left success and celebrity in a paranoid and fractured Los Angeles to recuperate in Europe. The influence of Kraftwerk, Faust, and late-1970s electronica lead Bowie to Germany, where he found a small, modest apartment in its capital city, Berlin.
Bowie, together with a number of close friends, would live in Berlin and incorporate himself into its culture. There he could walk the streets unrecognized, and frequent the shopfronts and late-night bars without fear of being accosted or surveyed. It was here that Bowie began to kick his cocaine habit and adjust to the newly-found solitude of being single again.
He wrote, recorded, and released three albums during this period, commonly named together as the Berlin Trilogy (although Bowie and Brian Eno always preferred ‘The Berlin Triptych’ ie Low / Heroes / Lodger albums).
Working with Brian Eno while sharing an apartment in Schöneberg with Iggy Pop, he began to focus on minimalist, ambient music for the first of three albums, co-produced with Tony Visconti, that would become known as his Berlin Trilogy
During the same period, Iggy Pop, with Bowie as a co-writer and musician, completed his solo album debut, The Idiot, and its follow-up, Lust for Life, touring the UK, Europe, and the US in March and April 1977.
Low (1977), partly influenced by the Krautrock sound of Kraftwerk and Neu!, evidenced a move away from narration in Bowie’s songwriting to a more abstract musical form in which lyrics were sporadic and optional.
It received considerable negative criticism upon its release—a release which RCA, anxious to maintain the established commercial momentum, did not welcome, and which Bowie’s ex-manager, Tony Defries, who still maintained a significant financial interest in the singer’s affairs, tried to prevent.
Despite these forebodings, Low yielded the UK number three single “Sound and Vision”, and its own performance surpassed that of Station to Station in the UK chart, where it reached number two.
Leading contemporary composer Philip Glass described Low as “a work of genius” in 1992, when he used it as the basis for his Symphony No. 1 “Low”; subsequently, Glass used Bowie’s next album as the basis for his 1996 Symphony No. 4 “Heroes”.Glass has praised Bowie’s gift for creating “fairly complex pieces of music, masquerading as simple pieces”.
Echoing Low’s minimalist, instrumental approach, the second of the trilogy, “Heroes” (1977), incorporated pop and rock to a greater extent, seeing Bowie joined by guitarist Robert Fripp. Like Low, “Heroes” evinced the zeitgeist of the Cold War, symbolised by the divided city of Berlin.
Incorporating ambient sounds from a variety of sources including white noise generators, synthesizers and koto, the album was another hit, reaching number three in the UK. Its title track, though only reaching number 24 in the UK singles chart, gained lasting popularity, and within months had been released in both German and French.
Towards the end of the year, Bowie performed the song for Marc Bolan’s television show Marc ( 1 week before Bolans death), and again two days later for Bing Crosby’s televised Christmas special, when he joined Crosby in “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy”, a version of “The Little Drummer Boy” with a new, contrapuntal verse.
Five years later, the duet would prove a worldwide seasonal hit, charting in the UK at number three on Christmas Day, 1982.
After completing Low and “Heroes”, Bowie spent much of 1978 on the Isolar II world tour, bringing the music of the first two Berlin Trilogy albums to almost a million people during 70 concerts in 12 countries.
1978 Isolar II World Tour – Australian Leg – Interview with Michael Willesee
By now he had broken his drug addiction; biographer David Buckley writes that Isolar II was “Bowie’s first tour for five years in which he had probably not anaesthetised himself with copious quantities of cocaine before taking the stage. Without the oblivion that drugs had brought, he was now in a healthy enough mental condition to want to make friends.”
Recordings from the tour made up the live album Stage, released the same year.
Just a Gigolo (1978) – Bowie has referred to this critical and box-office flop as “my 32 Elvis Presley movies rolled into one.”
Just a Gigolo (1979), an Anglo-German co-production directed by David Hemmings, saw Bowie in the lead role as Prussian officer Paul von Pryzgodski, who, returning from World War I, is discovered by a Baroness (Marlene Dietrich) and put into her Gigolo Stable.
Marlene Dietrich was lured out of retirement to play the brothel’s manager, and Bowie stated this was one of the main reasons he accepted the role (although they never actually met).
The final piece in what Bowie called his “triptych”, Lodger (1979), eschewed the minimalist, ambient nature of the other two, making a partial return to the drum- and guitar-based rock and pop of his pre-Berlin era. The result was a complex mixture of New Wave and World Music, in places incorporating Hejaz non-Western scales.
Some tracks were composed using Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies cards: “Boys Keep Swinging” entailed band members swapping instruments, “Move On” used the chords from Bowie’s early composition “All the Young Dudes” played backwards, and “Red Money” took backing tracks from “Sister Midnight”, a piece previously composed with Iggy Pop.
The album was recorded in Switzerland. Ahead of its release, RCA’s Mel Ilberman stated, “It would be fair to call it Bowie’s Sergeant Pepper – a concept album that portrays the Lodger as a homeless wanderer, shunned and victimized by life’s pressures and technology.”
As described by biographer Christopher Sandford, “The record dashed such high hopes with dubious choices, and production that spelt the end—for fifteen years—of Bowie’s partnership with Eno.”
Lodger reached number 4 in the UK and number 20 in the US, and yielded the UK hit singles “Boys Keep Swinging” and “DJ”.
Towards the end of the year, Bowie and Angela initiated divorce proceedings, and after months of acrymonious court battles the marriage was ended in early 1980.
Bowie took the title role in the Broadway theatre production The Elephant Man, earning high praise for an expressive performance. He played the part 157 times between 1980 and 1981.
1980–89: from superstar to megastar
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980) produced the number one hit “Ashes to Ashes”, featuring the textural work of guitar-synthesist Chuck Hammer and revisiting the character of Major Tom from “Space Oddity”.
The song gave international exposure to the underground New Romantic movement when Bowie visited the London club “Blitz”—the main New Romantic hangout—to recruit several of the regulars (including Steve Strange of the band Visage) to act in the accompanying video, renowned as one of the most innovative of all time.
While Scary Monsters utilised principles established by the Berlin albums, it was considered by critics to be far more direct musically and lyrically. The album’s hard rock edge included conspicuous guitar contributions from Robert Fripp, Pete Townshend, Chuck Hammer and Tom Verlaine.
As “Ashes to Ashes” hit number one on the UK charts, Bowie opened a three-month run on Broadway on 24 September, starring in The Elephant Man.
Bowie paired with Queen in 1981 for a one-off single release, “Under Pressure”. The duet was a hit, becoming Bowie’s third UK number one single.
Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, a 1981 biographical film focusing on a young girl’s drug addiction in West Berlin, featured Bowie in a cameo appearance as himself at a concert in Germany. Its soundtrack album, Christiane F. (1981), featured much material from his Berlin Trilogy albums.
Bowie was given the lead role in the BBC’s 1981 televised adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s play Baal. Coinciding with its transmission, a five-track EP of songs from the play, recorded earlier in Berlin, was released as David Bowie in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal.
In March 1982, the month before Paul Schrader’s film Cat People came out, Bowie’s title song, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”, was released as a single, becoming a minor US hit and entering the UK top 30.
Bowie reached a new peak of popularity and commercial success in 1983 with Let’s Dance.
‘Let’s Dance’, with its little narrative surrounding the young Aborigine couple, targeted ‘youth’, and ‘China Girl’, with its bare-bummed (and later partially-censored) beach lovemaking scene (a homage to the film From Here to Eternity), was sufficiently sexually provocative to guarantee heavy rotation on MTV.
The Hunger (1983)
Bowie starred as John in The Hunger (1983), a revisionist vampire film, with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. Tony Scott’s directorial was sexed up to the extreme and featured Bowie as the lover of Catherine Deneuve’s vampire Miriam Blaylock.
Bowie stars as John, a talented cellist who was transformed by his vampiric lover Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) back in 18th century France. But her promises of everlasting life weren’t entirely true, and now he finds himself rapidly growing old.
Desperate to find a way to reverse the process, he seeks out Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), an expert on aging disorders. This leads to a meeting between Miriam and Sarah, and the beginning of a passionate and ultimately violent relationship.
Her partners are promised eternal life, but the introduction of Susan Sarandon’s doctor creates a love triangle. This stylish opening sequence sets the mood with some Bauhaus and nudity…
Maj. Jack “Strafer” Celliers from Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) – A wonderfully complex tale of four men in a Japanese POW camp during World War II, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence stars Ryuichi Sakamoto as the camp commander who develops a strange obsession with rebellious prisoner Jack Celliers (Bowie).
Meanwhile, Tom Conti co-stars as a captive British officer, and Takeshi “Beat” Kitano is a Japanese soldier who alternates between harsh brutality and surprising humanity.
By 1983, Bowie had emerged as one of the most important video artists of the day.
Let’s Dance was followed by the Serious Moonlight world tour, during which Bowie was accompanied by guitarist Earl Slick and backing vocalists Frank and George Simms. The tour lasted six months and was extremely popular.
1983 – Countdown Interview with Molly
1983 Tour Arrival in Perth
Tonight (1984), another dance-oriented album, found Bowie collaborating with Tina Turner and, once again, Iggy Pop. It included a number of cover songs, among them the 1966 Beach Boys hit “God Only Knows”.
The album bore the transatlantic top ten hit “Blue Jean”, itself the inspiration for a short film that won Bowie a Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video, “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean”.
Bowie Bowie performed at Wembley in 1985 for Live Aid, a multi-venue benefit concert for Ethiopian famine relief. During the event, the video for a fundraising single was premièred, Bowie’s duet with Jagger. “Dancing in the Street” quickly went to number one on release.
The same year, Bowie worked with the Pat Metheny Group to record “This Is Not America” for the soundtrack of The Falcon and the Snowman. Released as a single, the song became a top 40 hit in the UK and US.
Bowie was given a role in the 1986 film Absolute Beginners. It was poorly received by critics, but Bowie’s theme song rose to number two in the UK charts.
Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986)
Bowie teamed up with a young Jennifer Connelly and the legendary Jim Henson for beloved ’80s cult film Labyrinth. Connelly’s Sarah is sent on a mad quest to another world to find her brother, who’s been abducted by Bowie’s creepy Goblin King Jareth. The below ‘Magic Dance’ scene apparently featured over 48 puppets, 52 puppeteers and 8 people in goblin outfits. Labyrinth was Henson’s last movie.
The film bombed upon its initial release, but it’s since developed a cult following and even inspired the two-day “Labyrinth of Jareth,“ an event in Hollywood that’s been held annually since 1997. Bowie wrote 5 songs for the film
His final solo album of the decade was 1987’s Never Let Me Down, where he ditched the light sound of his previous two albums, instead offering harder rock with an industrial/techno dance edge.
Peaking at number six in the UK, the album yielded the hits “Day-In, Day-Out” (his 60th single), “Time Will Crawl”, and “Never Let Me Down”. Bowie later described it as his “nadir”, calling it “an awful album”.
Supporting Never Let Me Down, and preceded by nine promotional press shows, the 86-concert Glass Spider Tour commenced on 30 May
Bowie’s backing band included Peter Frampton on lead guitar. Critics maligned the tour as overproduced, saying it pandered to the current stadium rock trends in its special effects and dancing.
Pontius Pilate from The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) – Martin Scorsese’s controversial adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel stars Willem Dafoe as Jesus Christ, Harvey Keitel as Judas, and Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene. Bowie also puts in an appearance as Pontius Pilate, the Roman magistrate who reluctantly sentences Jesus to be crucified.
This controversial Martin Scorsese epic initially had Sting earmarked for the role of Pontius Pilate, but it was Bowie who stepped into the part when the project finally got off the ground in the late ’80s
1989–91: Tin Machine
Bowie shelved his solo career in 1989, retreating to the relative anonymity of band membership for the first time since the early 1970s.
A hard-rocking quartet, Tin Machine came into being after Bowie began to work experimentally with guitarist Reeves Gabrels. The line-up was completed by Tony and Hunt Sales, known by Bowie since the late 1970s for their contribution, on drums and bass respectively, to Iggy Pop’s 1977 album Lust For Life.
Though he intended Tin Machine to operate as a democracy, Bowie dominated, both in songwriting and in decision-making.
The band’s album debut, Tin Machine (1989), was initially popular, though its politicised lyrics did not find universal approval: Bowie described one song as “a simplistic, naive, radical, laying-it-down about the emergence of neo-Nazis”; in the view of biographer Christopher Sandford, “It took nerve to denounce drugs, fascism and TV in terms that reached the literary level of a comic book.”
EMI complained of “lyrics that preach” as well as “repetitive tunes” and “minimalist or no production”.
The album nevertheless reached number three in the UK. Tin Machine’s first world tour was a commercial success, but there was growing reluctance—among fans and critics alike—to accept Bowie’s presentation as merely a band member.
A series of Tin Machine singles failed to chart, and Bowie, after a disagreement with EMI, left the label.
Like his audience and his critics, Bowie himself became increasingly disaffected with his role as just one member of a band. Tin Machine began work on a second album, but Bowie put the venture on hold and made a return to solo work.
Performing his early hits during the seven-month Sound+Vision Tour, he found commercial success and acclaim once again.
In October 1990, a decade after his divorce from Angela, Bowie and Somali-born supermodel Iman were introduced by a mutual friend. Bowie recalled, “I was naming the children the night we met … it was absolutely immediate.”
Tin Machine resumed work the same month, but their audience and critics, ultimately left disappointed by the first album, showed little interest in a second.
Tin Machine II’s arrival was marked by a widely publicised and ill-timed conflict over the cover art: after production had begun, the new record label, Victory, deemed the depiction of four ancient nude Kouroi statues, judged by Bowie to be “in exquisite taste”, “a show of wrong, obscene images”, requiring air-brushing and patching to render the figures sexless.
Tin Machine toured again, but after the live album Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby failed commercially, the band drifted apart, and Bowie, though he continued to collaborate with Gabrels, resumed his solo career.
Bowie portrayed a disgruntled restaurant employee opposite Rosanna Arquette in The Linguini Incident (1991),
In April 1992 Bowie appeared at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness, following the Queen front-man’s death the previous year. This was an open-air concert held on Easter Monday, 20 April 1992 at London’s Wembley Stadium, for an audience of 72,000 and broadcast live on television and radio to 76 countries around the world.
As well as performing “Heroes” and “All the Young Dudes”, he was joined on “Under Pressure” by Annie Lennox, who took Mercury’s vocal part.
Four days later, Bowie and Iman were married in Switzerland.
Intending to move to Los Angeles, they flew in to search for a suitable property, but found themselves confined to their hotel, under curfew: the 1992 Los Angeles riots began the day they arrived. They settled in New York instead.
1992 David Lynch cast Bowie as “the long-lost” mysterious Phillip Jeffries for a surreal sequence in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. “Who do you think this is there?” Jeffries rants in a Southern drawl as he materialises out of nowhere then quickly disappears.
The character is largely shrouded in mystery – Lynch had planned to flesh his story out with more Twin Peaks movies and TV specials – but box office disappointment meant the mind-melting series wrapped up with this film.
1993 saw the release of Bowie’s first solo offering since his Tin Machine departure, the soul, jazz and hip-hop influenced Black Tie White Noise.
Making prominent use of electronic instruments, the album, which reunited Bowie with Let’s Dance producer Nile Rodgers, confirmed Bowie’s return to popularity, hitting the number one spot on the UK charts and spawning three top 40 hits, including the top 10 song “Jump They Say”.
Bowie explored new directions on The Buddha of Suburbia (1993), a soundtrack album of incidental music composed for the TV series adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s novel. It contained some of the new elements introduced in Black Tie White Noise, and also signalled a move towards alternative rock.
The album was a critical success but received a low-key release and only made number 87 in the UK charts.
Reuniting Bowie with Eno, the quasi-industrial Outside (1995) was originally conceived as the first volume in a non-linear narrative of art and murder. Featuring characters from a short story written by Bowie, the album achieved US and UK chart success, and yielded three top 40 UK singles.
In a move that provoked mixed reaction from both fans and critics, Bowie chose Nine Inch Nails as his tour partner for the Outside Tour. Visiting cities in Europe and North America between September 1995 and February the following year, the tour saw the return of Gabrels as Bowie’s guitarist.
Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 17 January 1996.
Andy Warhol from Basquiat (1996) – A look at the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeffrey Wright), a graffiti artist turned international art sensation who died of a drug overdose at the age of 27.
Bowie pops up in a clever bit of casting as pop art icon Andy Warhol. The excellent supporting cast includes Gary Oldman, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Walken, Benicio del Toro, Michael Wincott, Dennis Hopper, Claire Forlani, Tatum O’Neal, and Courtney Love.
Incorporating experiments in British jungle and drum ‘n’ bass, Earthling (1997) was a critical and commercial success in the UK and the US, and two singles from the album became UK top 40 hits.
Bowie’s song “I’m Afraid of Americans” from the Paul Verhoeven film Showgirls was re-recorded for the album, and remixed by Trent Reznor for a single release. The heavy rotation of the accompanying video, also featuring Reznor, contributed to the song’s 16-week stay in the US Billboard Hot 100.
The Earthling Tour took in Europe and North America between June and November 1997.
Bowie reunited with Visconti in 1998 to record “(Safe in This) Sky Life” for The Rugrats Movie. Although the track was edited out of the final cut, it would later be re-recorded and released as “Safe” on the B-side of Bowie’s 2002 single “Everyone Says ‘Hi'”.
The reunion led to other collaborations including a limited-edition single release version of Placebo’s track “Without You I’m Nothing”, co-produced by Visconti, with Bowie’s harmonised vocal added to the original recording.
Bowie as Jack Sikora co-starred in Giovanni Veronesi’s Spaghetti Western “Il Mio West” (1998 ) as the most feared gunfighter in the region looking to settle down and retire.
1999–present: Neoclassicist Bowie
Bowie created the soundtrack for Omikron, a 1999 computer game in which he and Iman also appeared as characters. Released the same year and containing re-recorded tracks from Omikron, his album ‘Hours…’ featured a song with lyrics by the winner of his “Cyber Song Contest” Internet competition, Alex Grant.
Making extensive use of live instruments, the album was Bowie’s exit from heavy electronica.
Sessions for the planned album Toy, intended to feature new versions of some of Bowie’s earliest pieces as well as three new songs, commenced in 2000, but the album was never released.
In Mr. Rice’s Secret (2000), he played the title role as the neighbour of a terminally ill twelve-year-old.
Bowie and Visconti continued their collaboration, producing a new album of completely original songs instead: the result of the sessions was the 2002 album Heathen.
Alexandria Zahra Jones, Bowie and Iman’s daughter, was born on 15 August, 2001.
David Bowie from Zoolander (2001) – When not-so-bright male model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) takes on upstart rival Hansel (Owen Wilson) in a “walk-off,” there’s nobody more qualified to act as judge than fashion trendsetter David Bowie.
When tensions boil over between the pair, it’s left to Bowie, cameoing as himself, to settle the argument by officiating a dance off to Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’. The rules: duplicate and elaborate.
In October 2001, Bowie opened The Concert for New York City, a charity event to benefit the victims of the September 11 attacks, with a minimalist performance of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”, followed by a full band performance of “Heroes”.
2002 saw the release of Heathen, and, during the second half of the year, the Heathen Tour.
Taking in Europe and North America, the tour opened at London’s annual Meltdown festival, for which Bowie was that year appointed artistic director. Among the acts he selected for the festival were Philip Glass, Television and The Polyphonic Spree. As well as songs from the new album, the tour featured material from Bowie’s Low era.
Reality (2003) followed, and then a world tour. Covering Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan, ‘A Reality Tour’, with an estimated attendance of 722,000, grossed more than any other tour in 2004.
Onstage in Oslo, Norway, on 18 June, Bowie was hit in the eye with a lollipop thrown by a fan; a week later he suffered chest pain while performing at the Hurricane Festival in Scheeßel, Germany. Originally thought to be a pinched nerve in his shoulder, the pain was later diagnosed as an acutely blocked artery, requiring an emergency angioplasty in Hamburg. The remaining 14 dates of the tour were cancelled.
Since recuperating from the heart surgery, Bowie has reduced his musical output, making only one-off appearances on stage and in the studio.
He sang in a duet of his 1972 song “Changes” with Butterfly Boucher for the 2004 animated film Shrek 2.
During a relatively quiet 2005, he recorded the vocals for the song “(She Can) Do That”, co-written with Brian Transeau, for the film Stealth.
He returned to the stage on 8 September 2005, appearing with Arcade Fire for the US nationally televised event Fashion Rocks, and performed with the Canadian band for the second time a week later during the CMJ Music Marathon.
He contributed back-up vocals on TV on the Radio’s song “Province” for their album Return to Cookie Mountain, made a commercial with Snoop Dogg for XM Satellite Radio, and joined with Lou Reed on Danish alt-rockers Kashmir’s 2005 album No Balance Palace.
Bowie was awarded the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award on 8 February 2006.
In April, 2006 he announced, “I’m taking a year off—no touring, no albums.”
Nikola Tesla from The Prestige (2006) – Directed by Christopher Nolan, The Prestige follows two feuding stage magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) in 19th century London.
With each searching for the ultimate piece of magic in order to outdo the other, we’re eventually introduced to scientist Nikola Tesla (Bowie), a genius who’s able to build a teleportation device. But the contraption has an unexpected side effect, one that leads to multiple murders and the execution of a lead character.
He made a surprise guest appearance at David Gilmour’s 29 May concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The event was recorded, and a selection of songs on which he had contributed joint vocals were subsequently released.
He performed again in November, alongside Alicia Keys, at the Black Ball, a New York benefit event for Keep a Child Alive.
Bowie was chosen to curate the 2007 High Line Festival, selecting musicians and artists for the Manhattan event, and performed on Scarlett Johansson’s 2008 album of Tom Waits covers, Anywhere I Lay My Head.
On the 40th anniversary of the July 1969 moon landing—and Bowie’s accompanying commercial breakthrough with “Space Oddity”—EMI released the individual tracks from the original eight-track studio recording of the song, in a 2009 contest inviting members of the public to create a remix.
A Reality Tour, a double album of live material from the 2003 concert tour, was released in January 2010.
In late March 2011, Toy, Bowie’s previously unreleased album from 2001, was leaked onto the internet, containing material used for Heathen and most of its single B-sides, as well as unheard new versions of his early back catalogue.
Ziggy confused both his creator and his audience – a big part of that confusion centred on the topic of sexuality.
Throughout his career, Bowie has changed his proclaimed sexual orientation nearly as often as he’s changed the color of his hair.
Bowie claimed himself to be gay in an interview with Michael Watts of Melody Maker in January 1972, a move coinciding with the first shots in his campaign for stardom as Ziggy Stardust.
In a September 1976 interview with Playboy, Bowie said: “It’s true—I am a bisexual. But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
In 1976 David Bowie confessed to writer Chris Charlesworth, who wrote the book David Bowie Profile (1981) – “Bisexual? Oh Lord no. Positively not. That was just a lie. They gave me that image so I stuck with it pretty well for a few years. I never adopted that stance. It was given to me. I’ve never done a bisexual thing in my life, on stage, on record or anywhere else. I don’t think I even had much of a gay following. A few glitter queens maybe, but nothing much really. A lot of people provide me with quotes. They suggest all kinds of things to say and I do, really, because I’m not very hip at all. Then I go away and spout it all out and that makes it easier for people to classify me.”
In a 1983 interview with Rolling Stone, Bowie said his public declaration of bisexuality was “the biggest mistake I ever made”, and on other occasions he said his interest in homosexual and bisexual culture had been more a product of the times and the situation in which he found himself than his own feelings; as described by Buckley, he said he had been driven more by “a compulsion to flout moral codes than a real biological and psychological state of being”.
Asked in 2002 by Blender whether he still believed his public declaration was the biggest mistake he ever made, he replied: — “Interesting. [Long pause] I don’t think it was a mistake in Europe, but it was a lot tougher in America. I had no problem with people knowing I was bisexual. But I had no inclination to hold any banners nor be a representative of any group of people. I knew what I wanted to be, which was a songwriter and a performer, and I felt that bisexuality became my headline over here for so long. America is a very puritanical place, and I think it stood in the way of so much I wanted to do.”
Buckley’s view of the period is that Bowie, “a taboo-breaker and a dabbler … mined sexual intrigue for its ability to shock”, and that “it is probably true that Bowie was never gay, nor even consistently actively bisexual … he did, from time to time, experiment, even if only out of a sense of curiosity and a genuine allegiance with the ‘transgressional’.”
Biographer Christopher Sandford says that according to Mary Finnigan, with whom Bowie had an affair in 1969, the singer and his first wife Angie “lived in a fantasy world and they created their bisexual fantasy.”
Sandford tells how, during the marriage, Bowie “made a positive fetish of repeating the quip that he and his wife had met while ‘fucking the same bloke’.
Gay sex was always an anecdotal and laughing matter. That Bowie’s actual tastes swung the other way is clear from even a partial tally of his affairs with women.”
Throughout his career, he has sold an estimated 140 million albums. In the United Kingdom, he has been awarded 9 Platinum album certifications, 11 Gold and 8 Silver, and in the United States, 5 Platinum and 7 Gold certifications.
In the BBC’s 2002 poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, Bowie was placed at number 29. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him 39th on their list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”, and 23rd on their list of the best singers of all-time.
Legacy – David Bowie on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Bowie’s innovative songs and stagecraft brought a new dimension to popular music in the early 1970s, strongly influencing both its immediate forms and its subsequent development.
A pioneer of glam rock, Bowie, according to music historians Schinder and Schwartz, has joint responsibility with Marc Bolan for creating the genre.
At the same time, he inspired the innovators of the punk rock music movement—historian Michael Campbell calls him “one of punk’s seminal influences”. While punk musicians trashed the conventions of pop stardom, Bowie moved on again—into a more abstract style of music making that would in turn become a transforming influence.
Biographer David Buckley writes, “At a time when punk rock was noisily reclaiming the three-minute pop song in a show of public defiance, Bowie almost completely abandoned traditional rock instrumentation.”
Bowie’s record company sought to convey his unique status in popular music with the slogan, “There is old wave, there is new wave, and there is Bowie…”
Musicologist James Perone credits him with having “brought sophistication to rock music”, and critical reviews frequently acknowledge the intellectual depth of his work and influence.
Buckley writes that, in an early 1970s pop world that was “Bloated, self-important, leather-clad, self-satisfied, … Bowie challenged the core belief of the rock music of its day.”
As described by John Peel, “The one distinguishing feature about early-70s progressive rock was that it didn’t progress. Before Bowie came along, people didn’t want too much change.”
Buckley says that Bowie “subverted the whole notion of what it was to be a rock star”, with the result that “After Bowie there has been no other pop icon of his stature, because the pop world that produces these rock gods doesn’t exist any more. … The fierce partisanship of the cult of Bowie was also unique—its influence lasted longer and has been more creative than perhaps almost any other force within pop fandom.”
Buckley concludes that “Bowie is both star and icon. The vast body of work he has produced … has created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture. … His influence has been unique in popular culture—he has permeated and altered more lives than any comparable figure.”
Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Through perpetual reinvention, he has seen his influence continue to broaden and extend: music reviewer Brad Filicky writes that over the decades, “Bowie has become known as a musical chameleon, changing and dictating trends as much as he has altered his style to fit”, influencing fashion and pop culture to a degree “second only to Madonna”.
Biographer Thomas Forget adds, “Because he has succeeded in so many different styles of music, it is almost impossible to find a popular artist today that has not been influenced by David Bowie