David Bowie. In a way, I could end the article here. As his name alone triggers years of music and images that speaks volumes of his career in our hearts and minds. For me personally, discovering the works of Bowie was a huge encouraging shove on the shoulder to enter the art world. While I had always had an interest in film and writing I never considered actually being an artist until the album Hunky Dory spun on my turntable. Bowie was never just a musician he was a pure artist molding all mediums together effortlessly at his will. Not many people had or have the ability to spin images, words, and melody into a tapestry of awe like he was able to. David Bowie is many things to many different people whether it was “talented”, “cool”, “strange”, or even “disturbing”. But it was all honest. It was all David Bowie.
Where does an artistic genius come from? Space? Heaven? No, according to wiki Bowie grew up on 40 Stansfield Road in South London on the border of Brixton and Stockwell. Then again, doesn’t pretty much everything great come from the UK? Early in Bowie’s life the music of Elvis Presley (with he shared a birthday with) influenced him as he took on to studying art music and design at Bromley Tech. Other noted early trivia is that he also shared his name with The Monkees Davey Jones, Jones being his real life last name. After changing his name to David Bowie (after the Frontiersman and Knife) he released his first album which was criticized as being too clunky and weird.
Heterochromia or Anisocoria? Other than his crazy hair, Bowie’s eyes were always a stand out characteristic. Some think its due to Heterochromia: a difference in color of the Iris while most argue it was Anisocoria: an unequal size of the pupils due to a fight he had gotten into with a friend in High School. Either way it gave his glare an almost hypnotic effect.
Ziggy Stardust. In February of 1972 David Bowie would strike surprise gold by unveiling his concept band Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. With a mix of hard rock, stage theatrics and many costume changes the Ziggy Stardust project was a huge success in the UK. Examples of the Ziggy era are Starman, Drive in Saturday and Jean Genie. In 1973 on July 3rd David Bowie ended Ziggy Stardust despite its huge success. The sudden end was caught on film and released simply as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.
The Thin White Duke. After moving to the US Bowie releases Diamond Dogs which initiates another alter ego called The Thin White Duke. Meant to be an extension of a character he portrayed in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth David would be this persona for the next 2 years. During which Bowie solidified himself as true rock star despite turbulence and controversy. Bowie became one of the few white artists to be on the tv show Soul Train and by now had at least 6 albums high in the UK charts with his older material being sought after by rabid fans. Highlights of the Thin White Duke era were the albums Young Americans and Station to Station.
Collaboration. David Bowie was definitely not a selfish artist who loved to collaborate with other musicians and groups. From John Lennon, Brian Eno, Queen and Trent Reznor Bowie had amassed a large collection of works with other artists over the years. In 1977 he even sang a Christmas Medley with Bing Crosby which has become a cult hit. His work with Brian Eno lead to what is known as the Berlin Trilogy. The three eclectic albums Low, Heroes, and Lodger were released from 1977 – 1979.
As noted earlier David Bowie was not just a musician. He was also an actor and starred in almost as many film and tv projects as he has music albums. Noted roles include Thomas Newton in 1976’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, Jack Celliers in 1983’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, John Blaylock in The Hunger (also 1983), Jareth the Goblin King in 1986’s Labyrinth and as Pontius Pilot in the highly controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ.
In the early 2000s Bowie retreated into his personal life and many felt he had quit art and music altogether aside from a rare appearance here and there. Battling liver cancer Bowie secretly culminated his farewell message to all of us in the January 8 2016 release of Black Star. While a lot of the artists subject matter was space related it is clear he also was focused on death as well. With songs like Please Mr Gravedigger, Rock n Roll Suicide and My Death it is clear the subject was important for him. With “modern” era musicians and actors dying suddenly David Bowie had the rare chance to say goodbye his way and on his terms. A combination of music and film Black Star serves as a last reminder of the genius that he is and that he will not be forgotten for a very long time. On January 10th 2016 at age 69 the battle with liver cancer took its toll and Bowie passed away just 2 days after the release of Black Star. Maybe someday while looking up at a clear night sky David will let us know if there is Life On Mars.