And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds;
Are immune to your consultations, They are quite aware of what they are
going through.” -David Bowie
On Sunday, 10 January 2016 the voice of prolific, influential, and beloved singer/songwriter/record producer/actor/musician David Bowie was silenced after an 18-month battle with cancer just two days after his 69th birthday. Bowie is survived by his wife Iman and his children, Duncan Jones and Alexandria ‘Lexi’ Zahra Jones – he is also survived by adoring fans all over globe. Bowie will be remembered for his cutting edge look and music and his ability to change and evolve as an artist.
He was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, London, England on 8 January 1947, to Margaret ‘Peggy’ Jones, a waitress, and Hayward “John” Jones, a promotions officer for a children’s charity Barnadardos. While attending Stockwell Infants School he gained the reputation of being gifted and single-minded. When he [Bowie] was in junior school his voice was judged as “adequate” for the choir, but his creativity was undeniable and was acknowledge when his school introduced a music and dance class. His instructors noted that when he moved they saw him as “vividly artistic” and noted that his grace and poise at such a young age what out almost unknown. Little did these folks know who he would become.
His father further fed his interest in music when he bought his son a collect of 45s that included such groups as, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard to name a few. Bowie once remarked that he “heard God,” when he listened to “Tutti Frutti.” When he saw a cousin of his jump up and dance to “Hound Dog” he was moved because he had never seen anything that affected her in such a way. The ability of music to move and affect people fascinated.
David Bowie’s love of music led him to take up the tea-chest bass and ukulele and to play skiffle music with friends. He would later start playing piano and even performed Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley tunes for his local scout group. Ever a student and convert of music, Terry Burns, David’s half-brother, introduced him to modern jazz and his love of John Coltrane and others. His enthusiasm for the gene led his mum to give him a plastic alto sax and lesions with a local musician. You can hear all of his musical influences in the music that he made.
At the age of 15 he formed his how band, The Konrads, which played guitar laden rock. His band-mates’ lack of ambition led him to leave the group and join the King Bees. He wrote to John Bloom, an entrepreneur, to ask for his support and for him to “do what Brian Epstein” did for the Beatles. Though Mr. Bloom did not answer, he did refer him to Dick James and Leslie Conn which lead to his first management contract.
Leslie Conn began to promote his music. Jones [Bowie] debuted the single, “Liza Jane”, with the King Bees soon after and it along with many of his first singles did not achieve commercial success. He moved from band to band. In the mid-sixties he was often confused with Davy Jones of the Monkees so he changed his name to David Bowie to assuage confusion. He chose the surname ‘Bowie’ after the American frontiersman Jim Bowie and the knife that he made famous.
In 1967 Bowie released his solo single, “The Laughing Gnome,” using sped-up high-pitched vocals and it was commercial failure – weeks later he would release the album David Bowie which met the same fate. It wasn’t until her met Lindsey Kemp and started taking dance classes with him that his interest in performance and image developed. Kemp was a theatrical person and his every day lived-life was evidence of this. He introduced Bowie to the avant-garde that would define his style and persona as an artist.
The 1970s found Mr. Bowie taking full advantage of his androgynous appearance and making people question sexuality and societal norms. Perhaps his most infamous persona, Ziggy Stardust, was developed and cultivated in the early 70s as an amalgamation of the look and feel of Iggy Pop and, what as he envisioned, the music of Lou Reed. This fire engine red coiffed and elaborately costumed character would forever be a defining moment in his career and is musical performance. David Bowie put ‘glam rock’ on the map and no one has EVER done it better. Many artists and actors of the past and present like Adam Lambert, Annie Lennox, Boy George, Tilda Swinton, and Grace Jones, to name a few, have followed his gender-bending ways.
The best thing about Bowie was his ability to grow and reinvent himself as an artist and continue to be a driving force in the genre. When he started making music he first learned towards guitar-based rock. Soon after that he was part of bands whose sounds were folk and bluesy with a soul influence. This ‘art-rock’ god would then move into psychedelic folk style that would garner such classics as Space Oddity, Life on Mars, The Man Who Sold the World, and – a personal favorite – Changes in the 1970s.
The mid-70 he fused soul and funk to create hits Young Americans and Golden Years. In late 70s Bowie moved to West Berlin, became influence by their minimalist music where he produced a trilogy of albums, Low, Heroes, and Lodger. Probably the most notable of the three efforts is Heroes and its title track. It was pop and rock hit with a message about the Cold War and continues to speak to masses. In the 1980’s he embraced ‘New Wave’ and ‘Pop’ and produced such hits as, Ashes to Ashes, China Girl, Let’s Dance, and Modern Love.
In the early 1990s Bowie was a part of the hard rock quartet Tin Machine which was met with initial success, but soon found some critics because of its politicized content. The first world tour of ‘Machine‘ was a commercially a success, but fans of Bowie were not content to experience him as just another band member. After this disbandment of the group he experimented with electronic music releasing a Black Tie White Noise and the hit song, “Jump They Say.” During this time he also wrote the music for the computer game Omikron as well as voiced one of the characters along with his wife Iman.
On his 66th birthday Bowie announced that he would be releasing a new album titled, The Next Day. It was his first hit on the UK charts in ten years. His final album offering, Blackstar, came to us on his 69th birthday, 8 January 2016, just two days before his death. The album is dark and reflective which is clearly illustrated in songs like the title track Blackstar, Lazarus, and I Can’t Give Everything Away. It would seem, from listening to this music, that he was quite aware of his mortality and that he was not long for this world.
So, farewell sweet prince and thank you for your legacy of music, art, films, and style that you left behind. You absence will be felt forever.