David Bowie, born David Jones, was a singer-songwriter and actor who passed away on January 11th after an 18 month battle with liver cancer, aged 69. In order to commemorate him, this post will be a celebration of his unique and diverse career, and why he was so loved by so many for nearly five decades.
Bowie was born and raised in South London, developing an interest in music from an early age. He formed his first band at 15, playing rock and roll at events and weddings. Because of his dissatisfaction with his stage name as ‘Davy’ Jonas, inviting confusion with Davy Jones of the Monkees, in the mid-60s he renamed himself after American Jim Bowie, as David Bowie.
He immersed himself in dramatic arts under dancer Lindsay Kemp, in 1967 at the London Dance Centre. He studied avant-garde theatre, mime and Buddhism, immersing himself in the creation of personae. She described his life as theatrical, that he lived on his emotions and was a ‘wonderful influence’.
His first hit song, Space Oddity, reached the top five of the UK singles chart in 1969, and three years later, he re-emerged during the glam-rock era as his alter-ego, the flamboyant and androgynous Ziggy Stardust. His impact at the time was huge – David Buckley said that he challenged the ‘core belief of the rock music of its day’ and ‘created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture’.
His success continued throughout the 70s, achieving American success with Fame and his album Young Americans. By now he was married to Angie Barnett, living rock and roll liefestyle of drink, drugs and bisexuality. He killed off Ziggy Stardust and 1973 brought Aladdin Sane, cementing his United States popularity.
On releasing the ‘Berlin Trilogy’ albums, three electronic-influenced collaborations with Brian Eno, they reached the UK top five and were critically praised. The 1980s brought a collaboration with Queen, Under Pressure, and his commercial peak in 1983 with his album Let’s Dance, his fifteenth studio album that produced singles such as Modern Love and China Girl. He acted in Absolute Beginners in 1986 which was poorly received, but his theme song for it reached number two in the UK charts. He was Jareth the Goblin King in the 1986 film Labyrinth, which he wrote five songs for.
Bowie continued to experiment throughout the 1990s and 2000s, heavily using electronic instruments and working with producer Nile Rodgers from Let’s Dance. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, and awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, the same year that he announced a year off from touring and albums. In 2000 he headlined Glastonbury festival for the second time, almost 30 years after his debut there. He returned to film as Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s drama The Prestige.
On his 66th birthday in January 2013, his website announced a new album, the first in a decade, The Next Day. That same month a retrospective of his career, “David Bowie Is…” opened at the V&A, and became its fastest selling show.
He was the oldest recipient of a Brit Award in 2014, winning Best British Male, collected for him by Kate Moss. His speech read: “I’m completely delighted to have a Brit for being the best male – but I am, aren’t I Kate? Yes. I think it’s a great way to end the day. Thank you very, very much and Scotland stay with us.”
His final studio album, Blackstar, was his twenty-fifth and released on his 69th birthday, two days before he died. It’s been described as his ‘oddest album yet’ by The Times, and was recorded at the Magic Shop in New York City with jazz musicians. The title track will be in Lazarus, a new off-Broadway play based on the 1976 film adaptation of Bowie’s The Man Who Fell To Earth. It was said by producer Tony Visconti that most of the lyrics are foretelling of his death, that Bowie had intended for it to be his ‘parting gift’ for fans.
And what a parting gift it is. He has had 61 top 40 singles, 25 studio albums, five number 1s, and 44 top 40 albums. While fighting cancer he wrote an album, he fought and kept working through everything, doing what he wanted to do, his way and the best way.
Loved by all, perhaps Simon Pegg has the most poignant reflection of Bowie: “If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”