I am writing this on a Sunday evening, pondering how the whole world was different this time last week. In the last week Alan Rickman, Dan Haggerty (Grizzly Adams) and Celine Dion’s husband and brother have all died of cancer.
The death that did affect me was that of David Bowie. Over the week there were many people surprised at how they were actually grieving at his loss, something they never usually did when celebrities passed away. I was one of these people, though I was not surprised that I was so sad. I got the news just before 8am my time, via an Aftonbladet text alert on my phone. I was shocked when I read it, particularly as it had been his birthday two days previously and I had just bought his latest album.
I first saw David Bowie on Top of the Pops in 1972, when I was 11 years old. He was the first boy I loved. My first crush. He was like nothing I had ever seen before. That TOTP appearance propelled him into general consciousness and as soon as my teen magazines (Jackie, Pink) started featuring him, I had his posters all over my walls. I also had David Cassidy, Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson on my walls, but when their teenybopper status dwindled as they and their fans grew older, Bowie stayed there. He also outstayed the Bay City Rollers, a few years later. They were my last boyband crush. But Bowie grew and matured with me.
When Bowie retired his Ziggy persona, I continued listening to his music and watching him on television. Through the absolute vocal ballet that was Sorrow, through his plastic soul stage, across his Berlin and electronic phases. He was always ahead of everyone else, always influencing music, fashion, art and paving the way for everyone else.
The only era I was not particularly fond of was his stadium era where he played to crowds of up to 300 000 people at a time (ironically the only two times I saw him live were during his Serious Moonlight and Glass Spider tours, when he was playing huge venues). His albums at that time seemed to be consciously commercial, chasing the dollars. Something he later admitted himself. He was forced by his management to make records when he was not ready to. He had also been shafted by his management during his Ziggy phase, lost the rights to his back catalogue, and was virtually penniless when he made Diamond Dogs, so you can’t really blame him for wanting to secure himself financially and buy back the rights to his older songs, which he managed to do via the proceeds of touring, and also Bowie Bonds (see below).
I liked it when he went into Tin Machine. Not that I liked the music (I didn’t) but it felt like the experimental Bowie was back. It felt as though he was back to being a chameleon and pushing the boundaries.
From LP to cassette to CD to MP3 to iPod, there has always been Bowie music in the background of my life. And he has always been around – Mango had t-shirts with his name and album covers on last week, Topshop seems to have ‘Fashion’ on repeat and the runways frequently go Ziggy. Plus he was in Zoolander!
I have watched most of his movies as well as documentaries about him, and read the majority of biographies that have come out. Read all my David Bowie posts here.
If you want to learn more I would recommend
- Cracked Actor by Alan Yentob
- Five Years (this one is BRILLIANT!)
- David Bowie and the Story of Ziggy Stardust
- The Story of David Bowie (2002)
- Dutch television had a brilliant interview series in 1977
- Jonathan Ross
- Chris Evans on TGIF
- Ellen DeGeneres
- Rosie O’ Donnell
- The Man Who Fell to Earth (perfect casting!)
- The Hunger
- The Prestige
- The Linguini Incident (a pure farce)
- Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence
- His performance as the Elephant Man on Broadway was riveting. Find snippets here
- Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Three good ones I have read are
- Starman by Paul Trynka
- Strange Fascination by David Buckley
- Bowie: A biography by Marc Spitz
A less good recent one is Bowie:The Biography by Wendy Leigh.
The definitive Bowie book is probably The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg (this is more like a reference work).
Others I recommend are:
David Bowie Is – the coffee table book from the Bowie Is retrospective.
- Bowie was the first artist to have a web presence with an interactive website
- He has sold more than 140 million albums
- He played to 80 000 fans in New Zealand – the largest audience per capita anywhere
- He established Bowie bonds – securities collateralized by future earnings of singer David Bowie’s song catalog. Issued in 1997, Bowie Bonds established a new category of securitized debt in which entertainers sold future royalties to investors
- He played electric and acoustic guitars; saxophone; keyboards including piano and synthesizers; harmonica, xylophone, stylophone, drums, percussion, cello and viola
- He designed stage sets, album covers (most notably Diamond Dogs) and had complete control of projects
- Apart from acting in quite a few films, he was also a hit in The Elephant Man on Broadway. He played the Elephant Man, John Merrick and did not use makeup or prosthetics – just speech and bodily movements – to portray the character. He was
- He was trained in mime and cabaret.
- He was one of the first people to use McQueen as a designer
- He turned down a knighthood in 2003
- He started a society called ‘The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men’
- Over his 40 year career, he produced 27 studio albums, starred in 27 films and released over 100 singles
- He won two Brit awards, sold seven million copies of Let’s Dance and had an estimated 140 million worldwide record sales
- Bowi had platinum hits in every decade since the 1970s
- David appeared in many films: 27 as an actor, eight as a musician and three as a producer
- In 2000, he even ventured into online banking. Bowiebanc, with his face on the credit cards, was a joint venture with USABancshares.com
- In the early days of the web, he also set up his own internet service provider, BowieNet, aimed at his fans.
His death has renewed my respect and awe of him. His last album was a parting gift to his fans. It was a work of art, so fitting to who he was. He chose who to tell about his illness so well that the world did not know until afterwards. He was then cremated before the media got wind of it, outsmarting any greedy plans they had had to dramatically cover his funeral.
Here are some more rare and unusual Bowie photographs. I have collected them over the years, and sourced where possible, but unfortunately with these very old and very obscure ones, they tend to just multiply on the internet with no source. See also David Bowie in Russia