Tuesday, September 11, 2012

FOCUS ON: DAVID BOWIE


There have been many musical artists referred to as a "chameleon" but there has really been only one individual that that term can truly be applied to and that is David Bowie. Rock & roll has always involved theatrics but Bowie took it to whole other level as he literally became a completely different persona while recording and performing live on stage. He created several characters during his time but the one that made a major cultural impact was his first; Ziggy Stardust. This gender-bending, larger-than-life alien was inspiring, mind-blowing and (at the time) a little frightening. Ziggy would certainly be considered tame by today's standards but that's because Bowie paved the way to challenge convention and open minds.

Throughout his long career, he not only reinvented himself visually but musically. Bowie greatly appreciated the sounds of the past but was always looking forward, which allowed him to create innovative and exciting moments in rock. I think one of the main reasons why Bowie has had such a profound and powerful impact was that he made anyone who felt or looked different feel that it was okay to embrace that and should be celebrated.

He was born David Jones on January 8, 1947 in Brixton, London. As a young child, David was interested in art, dance and music, most especially early American rock & roll introduced to him by his father. By fifteen, he learned to play the sax and formed his first band, The Komrads, where they played at school functions and weddings. David soon became frustrated by his band-mates lack of ambition and joined another group, The King Bees. In 1964, Jones recorded his first single, "Liza Jane" under "Davie Jones and the King Bees" although it didn't achieve much success. David quickly moved on to perform with a succession of other blues-rock bands such as The Manish Boys, The Lower ThirdThe Buzz and The Riot Squad. Although he managed to record a single with each of these groups but none of them were a hit so David soon decided to go forward as a solo artist.

Unhappy with his surname and not wanting to be confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees, he renamed himself  "Bowie" which was the name of a nineteenth-century fighting knife. David Bowie released his first self-titled studio album in 1967 which was written mostly by him and featured a collection influenced by folk, music hall and psychedelic pop. This record was another commercial failure and Bowie took some time off before attempting to record a follow-up album.

By 1969, he released his next album which was originally also self-titled but would later be renamed "Space Oddity" after the success of this single. This song reached number five on the U.K. charts and was the first to feature his astronaut character, "Major Tom", inspired by the film, "2001: A Space Odyssey". Bowie met American model/actress, Angela Barnett in April of that year and he would marry her a year later. Angela would become a major influence to Bowie's music and style.

The release of Bowie's third album, "The Man Who Sold The World" in 1970 played up his androgynous looks and featured him wearing a dress on the original U.K. cover which he would wear during interviews while doing publicity in the U.S. The record's sound was heavy rock which was an extreme departure from his previous work and was the beginning of what would later be described as "glam-rock".

Following the 1971 album, "Hunky Dory" (which featured the classic song, "Changes" although it was never a big commercial success), came the album which completely altered the course of his career; "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars" was released in 1972 and introduced the world to this character, Ziggy Stardust who was an alien in the human form of an excessive rock & roller who came with a message of peace and love. Inspired by British rocker, Vince Taylor, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, Ziggy Stardust was a fashion-forward creation with many costumes designed by designer, Kansai Yamamoto. The music on the album fused heavy metal with the lighter pop sounds of his earlier work combined with a highly successful elaborate stage show that featured his band, The Spiders From Mars helped turn Bowie in to a major music star, most especially in Brittan. A documentary was filmed by D.A. Pennebaker which showcased the final concert of the tour in 1973 at the Hammersmith Odeon with Bowie announcing that he was retiring Ziggy Stardust.

In 1974, Bowie moved to the United States; first to New York before settling in Los Angeles. "Diamond Dogs" was released that year which was a concept album inspired by George Orwell's novel, "1984" combined with elements of the glam-rock of Ziggy Stardust and soul music. The single, "Rebel Rebel" became a U.K. top five hit.

"Young Americans" was recorded in Philadelphia and was heavily influenced by American r&b. The title track was released first as a single and briefly became his highest charting in the U.S.at number twenty-eight before the next, "Fame" (co-written with John Lennon) would become Bowie's first number one pop song in 1975. The song even made it on the r&b charts, peaking at number twenty-one. In fact, Bowie would be one of the few white artists to perform on "Soul Train" where he did this song and "Golden Years", the first single off of the follow-up album, "Station To Station" which reached the top five in the U.S and U.K. in 1976. During this time he was the lead in his first major film, "The Man Who Fell To Earth", created another character, "The Thin White Duke" to perform during his tour and became heavily dependent on drugs, specifically cocaine.

With his health deteriorating, Bowie left L.A.and eventually ended up in Berlin. After he finally went in to recovery, he was ready to return to music and teamed-up with musician, Brian Eno, a fellow Brit, to work on a series of avant-garde albums that would be referred to as "The Berlin trilogy". The first album was "Low" in 1977, followed by "Heroes" released later that same year and "Lodger" in 1979. Influenced by the emerging electronic music scene happening in Germany, these critically acclaimed and somewhat, commercially successful records contained experimental sounds and abstract lyrics which touched on his struggles with addiction and recovery.

Bowie entered the 1980's newly energized with the album, "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" which featured "Ashes To Ashes" that placed him back at number one on the British pop charts. Bowie returned to acting and appeared on Broadway in "The Elephant Man" in 1980 and he teamed up with Queen to record a single, "Under Pressure" which became a world-wide smash the following year.

In 1983, Bowie changed directions again and teamed with Nile Rodgers, the musician and producer of the disco group, Chic to work on a dance heavy album, "Let's Dance". The title track went to number one in eight countries and with the help of the successful follow-up singles, "Modern Love" and "China Girl", the album would become the biggest commercial hit of his career, selling ten million copies worldwide.

After this achievement, Bowie continued to record, although with more modest results, mostly in Europe. He decided to form another rock band in 1989 and Tin Machine was born. The group recorded two albums and toured extensively but the project was never a big success. Bowie's last solo album to date is "Reality", released in 2003 which was followed by his last tour to support this record that ended in 2004.

David Bowie has recorded twenty-three studio albums, he was inducted in to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 and has sold one hundred and forty million records over his career.

Bowie has been married twice; He was married to Angela Bowie for ten years before separating in 1980. They had a son they named Zowie in 1971 but he now goes by Duncan Jones and is a film director. Bowie married super-model, Iman in 1992 and they have a daughter, Alexandria, born in 2000.

Enjoy just a few of my favorite Bowie tracks:

"Changes" - David Bowie (1972)

"Rebel Rebel" - David Bowie (1974)

"Golden Years" - David Bowie (1975)

"Fashion" - David Bowie (1980)

"Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" - David Bowie (1982)

Bowie was one of the first artists to use the music video not only for promotion but also as a creative visual extension of the song. Here is an early video for "Life On Mars" with Bowie looking very glam:



I love the song, "Ashes To Ashes" and I really love the music video:



Finally, this video for "Boys Keep Swinging" as I've always been a sucker for a man in a dress:

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