Bowie, David (Contemporary Musicians)
Few musicians have enjoyed the far-reaching success of David Bowie, a self-described "chameleon of pop" whose career has spanned three decades with little indication of slowing down or even becoming predictable. Bowie is noted for being one step ahead of the times, ushering in glitter or glam-rock, the androgynous look, transgender dressing, robotic rock, rock-funk fused with a futuristic sound, and the superstar rock musician as an actor, producer, painter, philanthropist, millionaire. Rolling Stone's Seth Hinden wrote; "In 1997 Bowie broke new ground again with the Internet-only release of his single Telling Lies'....The electronic-themed release received positive reviews from critics, demonstrating that after more than 30 years in music, Bowie still has his pulse on the modern scene ... it looks like (he) won't be retiring anytime soon."
He was born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947, in the working class section of London known as Brixton. His childhood was marked by difficulty. His publicist father and theater-ushermother married after his birth, which was a scandalous break from convention in 1947, and his brother was eventually confined to a psychiatric hospital. Bowie's teenage fighting in his rough neighborhood led to the paralysis of his left eye, the pupil of which was permanently dilated. He appreciated music from an early age and his parents provided him with recordings of American rock pioneers such as Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard, as well as introducing him to R&B and jazz. He also learned to play the guitar as a child, and took up the saxophone at the age of 12. He performed in a series of high school groups while studying commercial art at Bromley Technical High School in London, but he didn't take his career in music seriously until the early 1960s. He left technical school before earning a degree in order to work at an advertising agency, but soon discovered that he didn't enjoy the work he was doing and quit. He also studied with the Lindsay Kemp Mime Troupe for two and a half years, painted, and acted in small stage roles. At one time Bowie even considered entering a Buddhist monastery.
Bowie started his first serious group, Davie Jones and the King Bees in 1964, but their one single failed to generate much attention. Bowie then moved on to the Manish Boys, but the group didn't meet with much commercial success either. In 1965 Bowie discarded his real name, Davy Jones, in favor of the stage name David Bowie to avoid confusion with the London theater star Davy Jones, who later became well known for acting in televisions' "The Monkees". Freshly dubbed David Bowie, he joined a mod influenced band called The Lower Third which released one single and broke up. Bowie then joined a psychedelic band called The Buzz, which disbanded in 1966. His first real break came a year later in 1967 when he was offered a solo recording deal with Deram Records. Bowie released an eponymous solo album of folk-influenced pop music in late 1967 and garnered a lot of attention by opening for the popular band T-Rex.
Began with Space Oddity
Bowie enjoyed his first Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom in 1969 with the single "Space Oddity," which was the tale of a stranded astronaut influenced by thé Stanley Kubrick's film "2001: A Space Oddessy". He also met his future wife, Angela Barnet, at this time and she convinced a friend at Mercury Records to listen to his music. Since the "Space Oddity" release coincided with the fervor of the American moon landing, Mercury records signed Bowie to rerecord "Space Oddity" for release in Americaignaling the beginning of Bowie's music career in the U.S. Bowie released his first official solo album in 1970, titled Man of Words, Man of Music, with Tony Visconti on bass and Mick Ronson on guitar. The release had a psychedelic feel, and it's standout track was "Space Oddity". The album was rereleased in 1972 as Space Oddity.
Bowie married Barnet in 1970 and they had a son named Zowie Duncan Hayward Bowie in 1971. The Man Who Sold the World was released in 1971 as well, which featured Bowie in a dress and make-up on the cover. The album foreshadowed Bowie's glitter-rock persona and the advent of other glam-rock bands such as the New York Dolls and Slade, but it's over-the-top lyrics prompted Mercury to part ways with Bowie. RCA Records felt more confident of Bowie's musical potential and signed him, at the age of 24, for his next album. Hunky Dory, released later in 1971, combined his "glam," T-Rexinspired sound with that of a 1960s pop style reminiscent of Bob Dylan and Anthony Newley. Hunky Dory included the single "Changes" and was described by John Mendelsohn in Rolling Stone as Bowie's "most easily accessible, and thus his most enjoyable work." Bowie had spent some time in New York City's wild underground art scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and had spent time with Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, and other cult figures. After the release of Hunky Dory, Bowie became a cult figure himself, noted for his outlandish cross-dressing, different colored eyes, and refreshing new sound. Bowie further sealed his fame with the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in 1972, a sci-fi concept album about a band from outer space. The Spiders from Mars included Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder, and drummer Woody Woodmansey. An ensuing international tour propelled Ziggy Stardust to the top of the charts, and Bowie capped off a productive year by producing Lou Reed's 1972 hit album Transformer and writing and producing Mott the Hoople's single" All The Young Dudes".
Explored Numerous Cutting-Edge Personas
Jay Cocks wrote in Time magazine, "Musically, Bowie always seems to know what time it is.... When he first hit the stage as Ziggy, decked out in make-up, dye job, and psychedelic costume, the rock world was ready. Too much karma, too much good vibes, too much hippydippy: audiences wanted decadence with a difference. Bowie was there." Bowie, heralded as the king of glitter rock in the early 1970s, created a mediasensation when he told an interviewer that he was bisexual. As the first rock star to come out in the open about this subject, he was the object of controversy. His sexual ambiguity fueled and occasionally eclipsed his celebrity. He later told Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone, "The biggest mistake I ever made...was telling that... writer that I was bisexual. Christ, I was so young then. I was experimenting."
Bowie was the first rock star to tantalize audiences with a wide array of "looks" or phases, foreshadowing Madonna by at least a decade. Bowie went from Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane, an elfin man decorated with an electric blue lightening bolt drawn across his face and a painted-on teardrop. The album Aladdin Sane was released in 1973. At a London concert in July of 1973, Bowie shocked both his fans and his own band by announcing, "not only is this the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do," which marked the end of the Spiders from Mars. He released Pin-Ups, which was a collection of covers of British hits from the mid-1960s. Bowie mixed Iggy Pop's classic Raw Power album in 1973 and then, in 1974, set out to recruit a new band for the release of Diamond Dogs. Diamond Dogs was an eerily dark, futuristic-sounding release with a picture of Bowie on the cover as a half-man, half-dog. "Rebel Rebel" was the most popular single from the release and the album reached number five on the U.S. popcharts. In 1975, Bowie released Young Americans and was starting to morph into his "Thin White Duke" persona, slicking his hair back and donning white suits. The single "Fame" from the release was a disco hit recorded with the late ex-Beatle John Lennon. Soon after, quite appropriately, he starred in his first major film The Man Who Fell To Earth.
Station to Station was released in 1976, which generated the top ten single "Golden Years". Soon after, Bowie moved to Berlin and collaborated with producer/musician Brian Eno formerly of Roxy Music for the release of Low in 1977. Bowie then assisted Iggy Pop with his next two albums The Idiot and Lust For Life and toured as Pop's piano player before returning to Berlin, where he recorded 1978's "Heroes"with Eno and former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. He moved to Switzerland later in 1978 and released Lodger in 1979. Scary Monsters was released the following year, featuring the singles "Fashion" and "Ashes to Ashes" which were also early MTV videos.
Major Changes in the Eighties
After a rather long breakup, Bowie and his wife Angela divorced in 1980. Turning to other creative outlets, Bowie earned positive reviews as an actor for his lead role in the Broadway play The Elephant Man in 1980, and starredlong with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandonn the vampire thriller The Hunger. He then landed a supporting role in 1983's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Director Nagisa Oshima told Kurt Loder that he chose Bowie for his film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence after seeing him perform in The Elephant Man because Bowie projected "an inner spirit that is indestructible." The sentiment summed up Bowie's talent, intelligence, and ability to forge innovations as well. Bowie then recorded the hit single "Under Pressure" with Queen, which is famous for its bassline, used as the main sample in white bubblegum rapper Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby", and then announced he was foregoing drugs and homosexuality and leaving his longtime label RCA for EMI. He released his most commercially successful album to date in 1983, titled Let's Dance. The album featured the hit singles "Let's Dance," "Modern Love," and "China Girl,". Tonight was released in 1984, which included "Blue Jean" and the title track, a duet with Tina Turner. In 1986, Bowie appeared in the fantasy film Labyrinth and in Absolute Beginners. He also recorded Martha and the Vandellas' Motown hit "Dancing in the Streets" with Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones in 1986.
Never Let Me Down was released in 1987, and the supporting tour for the albumhe Glass Spider Toureatured Peter Frampton as Bowie's backing guitarist. A "greatest hits" boxed set called Sound and Vision was released by the independent Rykodisc label in 1989 along with his entire back catalog up to Scary Monsters which had been long deleted by RCA. Bowie then formed a band called Tin Machine that released two eponymous albums, the first in 1989 and the second in 1991. The Tin Machine was not especially successful, and disbanded in 1992. Bowie married Somolian model Iman in 1992 and released Black Tie, White Noise in 1993. Bowie's first interactive CD-ROM project, Jump, was released at this time, followed by 1995's Outside. Bowie then toured the U.S. with Nine Inch Nails and Europe with Morrissey. In 1996 he appeared as his late friend Andy Warhol in the art-world feature film, Basquiat. Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in July of 1996.
Still Far Ahead of His Time
In 1997 Bowie released the Internet-only single "Telling Lies," followed by the release of the album Earthling. In 1998 he released a 40-minute remix from Earthling titled "I'm Afraid of Americans", which was remixed by Nine Inch Nails and Photek. In 1997 Bowie initiated a novel approach to getting richer by issuing his own bonds; it was an ideal way to land a giant lump sum of moneyn Bowie's case, $55 million. People magazine wrote, "Backed by hit songs that should continue to earn for years, rockers can reap millions now and slowly pay back the bonds (which are really low-interest loans) with the old tunes' royalties." Bowie's prolific, original, and thoroughly memorable contribution to pop music has already stood the test of timend passed with flying colors. He celebrated his 50th birthday in 1997 with an all-star concert at Madison Square Garden and the release of Earthling.
The Man Who Sold the World, Mercury, 1971.
Hunky Dory, RCA, 1971.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, RCA, 1972.
Aladdin Sane, RCA, 1973.
Pin Ups, RCA, 1973.
Diamond Dogs, RCA, 1974.
Young Americans, RCA, 1975.
Low, RCA, 1977.
Heroes, RCA, 1977.
Lodger, RCA, 1979.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), RCA, 1980.
Let's Dance, EMI America, 1983.
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture Soundtrack, RCA, 1983.
Tonight, EMI America, 1984.
Love You 'Til Tuesday, Deram/Polygram, 1984.
David Bowie: Man of Words/Man of Music, Mercury, 1969, later reissued as Space Oddity, RCA, 1984.
Never Let Me Down, EMI America, 1987.
Sound and Vision, Rykodisc, 1989.
Black Tie, White Noise, Virgin Records, 1993.
Santa Monica '72., Griffin Records, 1995.
Outside, Virgin Records, 1995.
Earthling, Virgin Records, 1997.
Cann, Kevin, David Bowie: A Chronology, Simon & Schuster, 1984.
Edwards, Henry, and Tony Zanetta, Stardust: The David Bowie Story, McGraw-Hill, 1986.
Tremelett, George, The David Bowie Story, Warner Books, 1975.
Newsweek, July 18, 1983.
New York Times, May 20, 1976.
People, July 20, 1998.
Playboy, September 1976.
Raygun, February 1998.
Rolling Stone, January 6, 1972; October 4, 1979; May 12, 1983; October 25, 1984; April 23, 1987.
Time, July 18, 1983.
"The Rolling Stone Network," Biography,
B. Kimberly Taylor