David Bowie, An English Icon

One if the many reasons I love David Bowie is his powerful ability to follow his own star. He reinvented himself several times, through several transformations over several decades.

You know, they said he couldn't sing. Yet he has sold over 136 million albums of his music and ranks among the ten best-selling acts in United Kingdom pop music history.

Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 39th of the list of the top 100 Greatest Rock Artists of all time, and the 23rd best singer of all time.

His voice is patchy, uneven, sometimes raw-throated and off-key. Yet his astounding stage presence and the whole feeling of his music is a depth of spirit most performers never reach. His themes are universal, and heart-rending, and true. He speaks and sings of time, of changes, of fame, of perishing all alone.

He speaks of love, overall love, and you can feel his need for his audience to become involved, to get him, to understand why he is up there in his funky miniskirt or his outrageous one-piece decorated union suit, throwing his heart and soul on the table and hoping his audience comes away with that rare feeling of seeing the true performance, the true person, through all the glamour and glitz.

David Bowie was born David Robert Jones, in Brixton (a part of London) on January 8, 1947. He was a post-World War II-baby, and London was a grim place in that era. It survived the blitzkrieg, just. His mother worked as a movie usherette. His father was a promotions officer for Barnardo's (a British charity for children). David was a handful as a kid--bright, creative, single-minded, and a bit of a brawler.

David sang in the school choir and played the recorder. He had some musical talent, and this was apparent from an early age. His dad brought home some records--American rock'n'roll. David danced like a mad thing to Frankie Lymon and the Teenager, the Platters, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley...he was nine years old, and his teacher found his dancing to be strikingly imaginative and his poise and style to be "vividly artistic".

Bowie wandered throughout the early days, joining and quitting several different bands. He was in search of a voice and a style, the thing that was peculiarly his own, and what drove him. His early imitations of what he heard sounded like and uneasy mixture of rock and jazz--Elvis Presley meets John Coltrane, but not happily... He went from his first band, the Kon-rads, which he formed at the age of 15, to the King Bees, to the Manish Boys, to the Lower Third...with no commercial success whatsoever.

David became David Bowie in 1967, at the age of 20 years. He ceased with music for two years, and studied the dramatic arts, from avant-garde theatre to Commedia dell'arte.

Fame came to David Bowie in 1968, with the single "Space Oddity", written the previous year with the moon landing, a ballad that tells the story of "Major Tom", and astronaut that becomes lost in space. It might have also been a drug allegory. There are layers of meaning to most of Bowie's work.

You need to temporarily allow pop-ups and click on "Watch This On You Tube" to access this video. It's worth the extra two clicks!

David Bowie invented Ziggy Stardust and the Spyders from Mars in 1972, and Ziggy took the world by storm in a major rock tour.

He put on his famous flaming wild outfits, designed by Kansai Yamamoto, and his platform shoes, and took that show on the road. He made his first appearance, his first visit, to the United States, in a sell-out crowd at the Music Hall, in Cleveland, Ohio. "Ziggy Stardust", the "Space" number, and "All the Young Dudes" hit the top of the charts in both the UK and the US.

Bowie broke up the band with the last Ziggy show at London's Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973,

 

The Thin White Duke

David Bowie released another ambitious album, the Diamond Dogs, which went to number one in the UK on the pop charts, making him the best-selling act for the second year in a row. He was a solo act now, and his show was brilliantly produced and choreographed, with many special effects. The big-budget stage production was filmed for the documentary "Cracked Actor " by Alan Yentob.

Bowie was having cocaine problems at this time. You can see it in his gaunt cheeks and haunted eyes. David said that tour and the resulting live album, "David Live ",though commercially very successful, ought to have been called "David Bowie is Alive and Well and Living Only in Theory ", because he was a frenetic mess at this point in his life. He was still the inveterate showman and thrilled audiences everywhere.

David's 1975 "Young Americans" was a new sound--that mixture of R&B and soul, with funk overtones, was something David called "Plastic Soul". It contained the first US number one hit "Fame", co-written by Carlos Alamar and John Lennon. Bowie's very strained and paranoid appearance on the Dick Cavett Show in December of 1975 was confirmation of his growing drug problems.

The "Station to Station" album and tour was a very dark version of the soul persona, the "Thin White Duke", who was also and extension of the character Bowie played in movie, "The Man Who Fell to Earth".

During 1977 to 1979, Bowie's growing interest in the German music scene prompted him to move to Berlin. He cleaned up his drug addiction there, and co-produced some music with Iggy Pop.

Strangely, for Christmas of 1977, Bowie joined Bing Crosby in Hertfordshire, England, to do "Little Drummer Boy". A month after that recording was completed, Bing Crosby died, and five years later, that version of the Christmas carol became a worldwide seasonal hit, charting in the UK at number three on Christmas day, 1982.

David's musicality and showmanship grew, and he learned a lot. In 1981, Queen released "Under Pressure", which was co-written and performed with David. The song was a hit, (it is still a hit!) and became David Bowie's third UK number one single.

In 1985, David performed several of his best songs at Wembley, for Live Aid. David toured again in 1987, the Glass Spider tour to support the new "Never Let Me down" album. His touring band included Peter Frampton on the guitar. He had dancers; he had special effects, and a great theatrical presentation.

 

In addition to his music career, spanning decades and still viable, David Bowie is a world-class actor. Here is a list of some of his film credits:

  • 1976, The Man Who Fell To Earth
  • 1977, Heroes
  • 1979, Just a Gigolo
  • 1981, Elephant Man
  • 1983, The Hunger
  • 1983, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
  • 1983, Yellowbeard
  • 1985, Into the Night
  • 1986, Labyrinth
  • 1988, The Last Temptation of Christ
  • 2001, Zoolander
  • 2006, The Prestige

He played either starring roles or major supporting roles for the most part. He played Pontius Pilate (maybe the most sympathetic Pilate ever filmed) in Martin Scorsese's "the Last Temptation of Christ". He played Nikola Tesla in "The Prestige". His great, glamorous stage presence added something to every film.

Mr. Bowie remains one of the most creative and multi-talented people of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

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Comments 36 comments

Sam van Almen 4 years ago

Probably the greatest artist of all time. Diamond dogs is such a vivid vision of post apocalyptic existence that it terrifies me to this day. He is a visionary that even Orwell pales in comparison to.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

We really do seem to have the same, varied tastes in entertainment, epigramman!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

...gotta love someone like Mister Bowie - my favorite song - Heroes - and one of which you are!

I have seen Bowie perform live three times - The Thin White Duke Tour, the Serious Moonlight Tour and as a back-up piano player on an Iggy Pop tour .... ole!!


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks, ahorseback. You, too!


ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 6 years ago

Nice hub, David Bowie has an amazing voice , I gravitated away from the music industry because of it's decline in quality a few years ago , too much noise not enough talent . David Bowie is a leader in style and substance.....stay well.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks, BlondePoet, my love. Yeah, exactly, so talented and those SEXY eyes!


blondepoet profile image

blondepoet 6 years ago from australia

LOVEEEEEE him, talented, sexy and I love those eyes.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks, TatGuy, I love Ziggy, too. All the Young Dudes, Ziggy Stardust, and Space Oddity are my fave's.


TattoGuy 6 years ago

I am a massive Ziggy fan, sorry but I still call Bowie Ziggy Stardust lol and back in the day I used to have the Ziggy haircut. Totally awesome hub that in 3 or 6 months once its aged will be making you good money. Loved it !!!

Fav 3 Ziggy songs.

Five Years.

Life on Mars.

All The Young Dudes. ( Ok Mott the Hoople sang it but Ziggy wrote it and does occassionly sing it )


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks, Laura, for the comment.

Carolina--yeah, it was an interesting interview and David Bowie had a lot of interesting things to say, but he was really, really twitchy.


carolina muscle profile image

carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

Yes... that was an interesting video.. boy he was fiddling with that stick some, huh?


Laura du Toit profile image

Laura du Toit 6 years ago from South Africa

Excellent well researched hub! Brought back a lot of memories and filled in a lot of gaps! Thanks Paradise


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks for the comment!


tony0724 profile image

tony0724 6 years ago from san diego calif

Big Bowie fan here. Two of my favorites are " Starman " and " The Jean Genie ". Both just flat out rock. And I would like to add in " Station To Station " too. Bowie could be elegant and at the same time could rock hard too. He is definitely a rock Icon and the Godfather of the Glam rock scene as far as I am concerned. And in my hubs about the greatest musicians of the last 100 years I ranked him around #50. Good hub


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Oh, Dean, my hero, too!! Thanks for the comment!


cheaptrick profile image

cheaptrick 6 years ago from the bridge of sighs

"Ziggy Stardust"was my hero for many years...

As Bowie would say

"Lets Dance!Kick off your shoes and dance the blues".I'm very glad you Brits gave rise to such a ground breaker.Great Presentation P.Thanks

Dean


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thank you, oh, my blushes!!!! You are so kind and flattering.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

....well you have something in common with Ziggy Stardust - you are both 'icons' ....... he is a pop music icon and you are a Hubpage icon!

You have a nice selection of hubs here which any astute reader would find essential ....


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Carolina, I added the link to the YouTube Dick Cavett interview...it's well worth watching! Thanks for the suggestion.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Oh, I take that back...it DOES say "Embedding Disabled by Request", and I'm going to leave a little note on the video link right now! Thanks again, RM!


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Oh, thanks so much for the comments, everyone. RM: It is so strange, it doesn't show that "Embedding Disabled" on my computer. I can click right into it from my hub. Thanks so much for the heads up!


rmcrayne profile image

rmcrayne 6 years ago from San Antonio Texas

Paradise, Space Oddity "Embedding Disabled by Request". You can still get to it by clicking on "Watch on YouTube". I had to temporarily allow popups and click again. You might want to make a note for your readers. (You can delete my post.)


rmcrayne profile image

rmcrayne 6 years ago from San Antonio Texas

Great job Paradise! I love Bowie. I saw him about 1989, the Sound and Vision Tour, in St. Louis in the hockey arena. He opened with Space Oddity, can you believe it?!?! I saw him again about 2004 in St. Louis at a much more intimate venue, The Fox Theater. I think shortly after I saw him he had to cancel the rest of his tour. I think it was a heart issue- Bowie heart, Neil Young brain? Anyway. I love the collaboration with Bing Crosby too.


scarytaff profile image

scarytaff 6 years ago from South Wales

As ever, a very informative hub, No. 7. Good work.


carolina muscle profile image

carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

I like the guy a lot.. he went through some real changes, but came out as a seminal artist of the era.

Great post.

I'm gonna go see if I can find that Cavett interview.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Lovely comments, everyone, thank you so much!

Oh, Green Lotus, you lucky one, to see the great DB at Carnegie Hall, which is SUCH a terrific concert venue.


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Great stuff paradise, what a treat. I guess I'm dating myself but I was mad about DB from Hunky Dory on. I remember playing the album for friends who thought I was weird to go for such a strange artist, but I guess I am weird. I thought he was a genius. Reinventing himself again and again keep his public persona fresh, but his talent grew with him. One of my great life adventures was seeing Ziggy in concert at Carnegie Hall (no small potatoes for Bowie either). It was brilliant. Here's to "Changes" and other inevitable happenings.


satomko profile image

satomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

"English Icon" ? I thought he was from Mars? Just kidding. Excellent hub, though, and I think as time goes on we're going to see even more people in contemporary music who claim David Bowie as an inspiration.


chrysstil profile image

chrysstil 6 years ago

very interesting information !!


Nick B profile image

Nick B 6 years ago from Normandy, France

Great hub and I have another couple of films for you:

Into the night as Colin Morris and Arthur and the Invisibles,where he was the voice of Matazard.

He's awesone and I have over 20 of his albums, though sadly most of it is on vinyl, which I can't play anymore.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks for the comment, Mike. Yes, he did adopt the name "David Bowie", not to be confused with Davey Jones from the Monkees. He got his name from the American folk hero and the Bowie knife.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

I have always been a huge David Bowie fan, from Space Oddity forward. I rediscovered him in the MTV era when he did music videos for songs like "Modern Love" and "Blue Jean." And, I loved "Little Drummer Boy" with Bing Crosby--it was a special moment in music.

I've seen David Bowie perform live a couple times (with Peter Frampton on guitar) and his concerts are always a special event. Thanks for the tribute, David Bowie is a great musician and showman.

Mike

BTW, the rumor is he adopted the stage name David Bowie to avoid confusion with the singer from the Monkees....


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

You are very welcome! Always glad to hear from a Bowie fan!


Ladybird33 profile image

Ladybird33 6 years ago from Georgia USA

I really liked this a lot, wonderful tribute to David Bowie and I learned a lot of new things about him. Thanks so much!


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York Author

Thanks, Pamela, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!!!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Great tribute to David Bowie.

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