This Page is devoloped by Chris Ashman
David Bowie, as a musician, performer and songwriter, continually reinvented himself and his art. After living each legendary character to the utmost, he deconstructed that which made him singular, then a new element would arise to confound and entice the masses who thought they had just figured out his latest incarnation. Bowie exemplifies the 70's aesthetic....from his humble folkie beginnings to the glitter and glam of Ziggy Stardust, to the elegance of the Thin White Duke, at each twist and turn of his career, created more than one myth to harken back to his creative visions. David Robert Jones was born in Brixton on January 8, 1947. At age fifteen, inspired by the jazz of the West End, he picked up the saxophone and called up Ronnie Ross for lessons. Early bands that he played with, the Kon-Rads, the King Bees, the Manish Boys, and the Lower Third provided him with an introduction into the showy world of pop and mod, and by 1966 he was David Bowie, with long hair and aspirations of stardom rustling about his head. Kenneth Pitt signed on as his manager, and his career began with a handful of mostly forgotten singles. It wasn't until 1969 that the splashdown into the charts would begin, with the legendary "Space Oddity" (which peaked at number 5 in the U.K.). Amidst his musical wanderings in the late 60's, he experimented with mixed media, mime, Tibetan Buddhism, acting, and love. His first album, originally titled Man of Words, Man of Music, pays homage to all the influences of the London artistic scene, and shows the early songwriting talent that was to yield some of rock and roll's finest works, even if it would take the rest of the world a few years to catch up with him.
The Man Who Sold The World was Bowie's first album recorded as an entity in itself, and marks the first definite creative stretch for the listener. Mick Ronson's guitars are often referred to as the birthpoint of heavy metal, and certainly the auspicious beginnings of glam rock can be traced back here. Released by Mercury in April, 1971 to minimal fanfare, Bowie took his first trip to the United States to promote it that spring. In June of the same year, Zowie Duncan Heywood Bowie was born to David and his wife Angela.
RCA was the next label to sign Bowie, and after a trip to America to complete the legalities, he returned to London to record two albums nearly back to back. Hunky Dory was built from a 6-song demo that had enticed the label to sign him, and featured "Changes" and "Life On Mars". Almost immediately, it was followed up by the instant classic, The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars.
1972 was certainly the year that Bowie began to get a glimpse of the power of the press. A Melody Maker interview in which he "admitted" that he was gay propelled him to talk-of-the-town/outrage status. Previewed in London that Spring, his rock & roll creation, Ziggy Stardust, put on one of the most spectacular and innovative live shows to date, and the craze that followed was the beginnings of his superstar myth. The summer of 1972 was also a busy one for him in the studio, as he produced albums for Lou Reed (Transformer) and Mott the Hoople (All The Young Dudes, for which he wrote the hit title track). The U.S. Ziggy tour began in September, playing sold-out shows full of glitzy costumes, snarling guitars courtesy of Mick Ronson, and a bold, daring approach to performance that propelled the audience into a rock and roll fervor. He abruptly put his own creation to rest on June 3, 1973 with the pronouncement, "of all the shows on the tour this one will stay with us for the longest because not only is it the last show of the tour but it is that last show we'll ever do." This surprised everyone in the house -- not least of all the members of his band.
Amidst the Ziggy fever, Aladdin Sane was released in April 1973, inspired by his experiences in America while touring. After putting the Stardust Show to bed, he travelled to France to begin work on his next albums. Pin-Ups was the last time that Bowie would record an album with Mick Ronson on guitar and Ken Scott at the production helm. His tribute to the artists that he admired in the London years of 64-67 was released in October 1973. Diamond Dogs came out in April of 1974, and his personal "protest" album was full of tension and angst, standing in stark contrast to the disco music that was beginning to crowd the airwaves. In the summer of 1974 he undertook his greatest U.S.tour yet, with an enormous set and choreographed entertainers. The double album David Live was recorded in Philadelphia's Tower theatre, and serves as a souvenir of this tour.
The two previous albums showed hints of Bowie's interest in the music he heard in America. But the most direct result of this fascination is the rhythmic, soul-laden Young Americans, released in 1975. A collaboration with John Lennon on "Fame" came out of an impromptu session at Electric Ladyland in New York, and was a last minute addition to the LP. It resulted in his first ever number one single in the U.S. Not long after the album came out, he moved to Los Angeles, and starred in the science fiction film "The Man Who Fell To Earth." After completion of filming, he almost immediately returned to the studio for the recording of Station To Station, a travelogue of sorts. The "White Light" tour followed, this time a stripped down line-up backed by a Brecht-inspired theatricality. A compilation of hits, Changesonebowie, was released by RCA in May 1976. Never one to stay in one place too long, shortly after this tour ended, he relocated to the Neukoeln section of Berlin.
Low and Heroes were recorded during Bowie's sojourn in East Germany, where collaborators Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, and he adopted new approaches to the songwriting process. In an interview for French radio, he said, "Berlin has the strange ability to make you write only the important things. Anything else you don't mention....and in the end you produce Low." Surrealism and experimentation were the themes of the day, and the incorporation of cut-and-paste techniques into unique instrumentation birthed what are now heralded as luminary ambient soundscapes. Released in 1977, Low confused RCA, and though the masses weren't quite sure what to make of the effort, the single "Sound and Vision" eventually hit #2 on the British charts. Friend Iggy Pop was in Berlin at the time as well, and Bowie took time out of recording to produce and collaborate with him on The Idiot. He also overcame his long-publicized fear of flying to accompany Pop on tour as pianist that summer.
The next in his three album tryptych, Heroes, prominently featured Robert Fripp on guitar, and a more optimistic outlook. One of his greatest singles, the title track from this album recounts a romantic liason between lovers near the Berlin Wall. His next foray into film occurred in "Just A Gigolo", which he described as "...all my thirty-two Elvis Presley movies rolled into one." March of 1978 found him on tour again, and during a May break he narrated "Peter and the Wolf" with the Philadelphia Orchestra (now out of print, the result was a collectible green-vinyl album).
Stage was released in September of 1978, culled from his recent tour of the States, and featured live material from his "Berlin" period. A relocation to Switzerland was to follow, as well as travels to exotic locations in Asia and Africa. Recorded in France, Lodger was released in May 1979, and by the end of the year he was again in the studio. Rehearsals also began for his Broadway debut, in the part of the Elephant Man, which opened in September 1980 to rave reviews.
In the same month, the Scary Monsters album was released. After this period, he distinctly dropped out of the public eye for a while, while remaining involved with various film and movie projects. 1982 saw him playing the male lead in "The Hunger," the role of Celliers in "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," and writing the theme song for the movie "The Cat People." Another greatest hits compilation, Changestwobowie, came out in 1982. Officially signed to EMI in 1983, the album Let's Dance followed, along with the world-encompassing "Serious Moonlight" tour. In October, RCA released the Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture album, capturing the energy of Ziggy and the Spiders during their last show. Shortly thereafter, the movie, originally filmed in 1973, was finally released as well.
During this period Bowie reinvented himself once again. The album Let's Dance, produced by Chic mastermind Nile Rodgers, was perhaps the most straightforward album of his career: A collection of elegantly produced, impeccably sung dancefloor numbers including the Motown-styled "Modern Love," the darkly romantic "China Girl" (first cut with Iggy Pop back in Berlin) and a remake of the movie theme "Cat People." All of the above would be substantial radio hits, as was the glossy and romantic title track. The upbeat romantic theme extended to his next album Tonight (1984), though the single "Loving the Alien" sounded oddly like a grown-up answer to Hunky Dory's "Life on Mars?"
A moving appearance at Live Aid (where he dedicated "Heroes" to his young son), a duet single with Mick Jagger, and the heavily theatrical "Glass Spider" tour (with career-saving lead guitar by Peter Frampton!) all kept Bowie's creative fire going into the '80s. But 1988 brought the biggest surprise of all: He'd formed a new band, Tin Machine, with the Sales brothers (Hunt and Tony, sons of Soupy) and the hot guitar find from Boston, Reeves Gabrels. And he was adamant that this would be a full-time band, not a superstar solo project. On their two albums (plus a limited-edition live disc), Tin Machine proved their mettle as a modern alternative act, with a stripped-down guitar sound, all-new material and a few real surprises (a Pixies cover!). Some fans loved it, others were confused, and Tin Machine was on hiatus by 1992. Meanwhile Bowie supported the 1989 release of Rykodisc's boxed set Sound + Vision with his first full-fledged greatest-hits tour, recruiting longtime collaborator Adrian Belew to play lead guitar. At many of the gigs, fans were allowed to pick the songs via a phone-in poll.
1993 brought the long-awaited return to solo projects, Black Tie White Noise, and the CD-ROM entitled Jump. With Nile Rodgers again producing, the album came close to summing up every period of Bowie, with the opening instrumental "The Wedding" (likely inspired by Bowie's own marriage) offering a brighter-toned return to the sound of LOW, the single "Jump They Say" harking back to funkier times, and the old Cream tune "I Feel Free" marking a long-awaited reunion with Ziggy-era partner Mick Ronson (sadly, Ronson passed away soon after). Commercially the album was something of a disappointment, though it reassured fans that Bowie's creative curiosity was by no means exhausted.
By 1995, Bowie and Eno were again collaborating in the studio, and that the inspiration of the Berlin period was being tapped into once again. The result was the concept album Outside. The album is about what it's like to be an outsider; not only where and how outsiders live, but how the fact of being an outsider makes them feel. As befits the multiphrenic nature of outsider art and emotions, Bowie sings in any number of voices: one minute the melodramatic crooner, another the stylized Londoner, another the quiet, intimate recluse of the Berlin years. Or he is varispeeded between the album's seven characters: on one song a 14-year-old girl, on another a sleazy 78-year-old, on another a 46-year-old Tyrannical Futurist. It is only now, when he has reached his own mid-life, that Bowie can make music that can encompass the point of young, middle-aged, and old.
The year of 1996 has seen Bowie embark on an acclaimed worldwide tour, including first-time-ever concerts in Iceland, Israel, and Russia. He also starred in the film Basquiat, where he plays the character he immortalized in his 1972 song, "Andy Warhol."
And Bowie continues to break new ground with the Internet-only release of his latest single "Telling Lies." A much-anticipated new album is slated for release in 1997. More than 30 years after his debut, the question of what David Bowie will do next remains one of the most compelling in rock.
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