David Bowie’s Fluidity: From ‘Ziggy Stardust’ to ‘The Thin White Duke’

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David Bowie’s longevity exists beyond just his influential discography, contributing significantly in the British music industry’s style and image. Often remembered for his lightning bolt face paint, bright red spiky hair and chunky boots, his artistry remains distinct in the minds of millions of people across the globe.

Having begun his musical career originally as David Jones, the more generic name was matched with an equally generic appearance of an office-like suit and tie. Once he had rebranded himself as Bowie and began creating personas, his style followed in an innovative way. 1972 saw the iconic Ziggy Stardust persona and with it, one of the most highly regarded albums of all time – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Continuing on from his breakthrough hit ‘Space Oddity’ Bowie continued the otherworldliness of space and alien life through his Ziggy alter-ego, a messenger for extraterrestrial life. Furthermore, Ziggy Stardust was characterised by his bisexuality and androgyny, which became Bowie’s staple for years. Fans of David Bowie arrived at his shows dressed in similar Ziggy style, seeing him as the ultimate rock n roll ‘Starman’ for a new era. Beyond its significance in the 1970s, the album has since been preserved by the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant”. It is no exaggeration to claim that Ziggy Stardust brought all of this and continues to for generations beyond his initial audience.

Due to the increasing intensity of his Ziggy Stardust alter ego, Bowie shifted into the next persona of Aladdin Sane, accompanied by the 1973 album of the same name. Straying away from space-fuelled escapism, Aladdin Sane centres around a more grounded version of glam-rock stardom and has been regarded by Bowie himself as the product of his time touring America. Including the likes of ‘The Jean Genie’, ‘Drive-In Saturday’ and ‘Lady Grinning Soul’, the album lyrically undergoes ideas of sex, pornography and love in a confessional human manner. Piano keys flutter throughout the songs, gracing his words with an irresistibly romantic melody that feed into Aladdin Sane’s lustful persona.

After Aladdin Sane, following albums Pin-Ups (1973), Diamond Dogs (1974) and Young Americans (1975) phased out the glam rock of the previous two albums and saw a gradual transition to conventional style. In 1976, Bowie’s next endeavour came with the controversial persona of The Thin White Duke – explained by Bowie as “A very Aryan, fascist type; a would-be romantic with absolutely no emotion at all but who spouted a lot of neo-romance”. His hair was bleached blonde and he wore a simple waistcoat over a white shirt with trousers, sleek and cold.  Accompanied by his tenth studio album Station to Station and an escalated cocaine addiction, it became evident that the persona captured David Bowie at his darkest moments, which he later confessed he struggles to remember.

The Thin White Duke culminated in an understated move to Berlin for Bowie, where he retreated for his deteriorating mental health. What followed was the Berlin Trilogy, a collaboration with ambient music extraordinaire Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti. In his experiences over the years of personas, David Bowie had collected a range of influences from other art and artists. Although Berlin marked the end of his iconic decade of personas, Bowie rounds it off with arguably his most experimental and influential work and cements his past, then-present and future work as seminal.

David Bowie – ‘Moonage Daydream’ (available via Jones/ Tintoretto Entertainment Co.).

 

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