There are few
figures who can be said to have advanced the imagery, theatricality, and
artistic palette of rock music as has David Bowie. Over the course of his
50-year career, Bowie has constantly redefined himself, undertaking complete
reinvention of his music, his appearance, and the characters that he himself
has inhabited. Known alternately as “Ziggy Stardust,” “The Thin White Duke,”
“The Dame,” and quite a few others, perhaps his reputation as the “Rock and
Roll Chameleon” is most fitting. Bowie’s tremendous influence is based as much
on his ability to create music of both artistic and commercial merit as for the
role he played in shattering expectations of what a rock star should be.
Born in the
Brixton district of South London, young David Jones was a gifted but rebellious
child. At the age of nine, he found an outlet for that rebellion. His father
returned from a trip to America with a clutch of rock and roll 45s. Among them
were Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and Little Richard. The music changed his
life. He took up the ukulele and began performing with his friends. Even then,
his provocative stage presence captivated classmates and teachers at the
Bromley Technical High School.
In the early
‘60s, Bowie took on his stage name to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of the
Monkees (imagine making that mistake!). In 1969, Bowie tapped into the global
psyche by releasing the single “Space Oddity” just five days ahead of the
Apollo 11 launch. The majestic interstellar tragedy hit #5 in the U.K.
In 1972, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and
the Spiders From Mars would deliver Bowie to superstardom. A
concept album centering around an androgynous rock and roll messiah from
another planet, performances of Ziggy saw Bowie and his band donning elaborate
Martian costumes and playing with spaced-out majesty. As Bowie shot to stardom,
his seemingly paradoxical cross-dressing machismo established a template for
image-conscious glam, punk, new wave, and hair metal bands yet to come.
‘70s and ‘80s, Bowie enjoyed continued success on both the album and singles
charts in spite of his willful tendency to veer sharply off course of his
previous triumphs. From the “plastic soul” of his mid-70s work, to the German
minimalism of his late-70s albums, to his New Romantic pop in the early-80s,
Bowie sustained an enviable relationship with the Billboard charts. Still, his musical curiosity
course of his career, Bowie has sold something in the range of 140 million
albums worldwide, amounting to nine Platinum records in the U.K. and five in
the U.S. Bowie is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, though
offered the title of Commander of the British Empire and Knighthood in 2000 and
2003 respectively, Bowie declined both.
Clancy's comment: Wow. You'd have to like a guy who knocked back some 'so-called' prestigious awards from Britain.