David Bowie: 5 Years On…
January 10th 2016 marks a tragic day in musical history as the day David Bowie sadly passed away. This musical icon is not only a name that time will never forget, but as the 5th anniversary of his death approaches, we thought we would break down some of our favourite iconic Bowie moments and why this incredible musician still means so much to so many.
Bowie’s Early Years
David Bowie was born David Robert Jones on 8 January 1947 in Brixton. His interest in music was always present and in 1953, was sparked when his father brought home a collection of American artists including the Teenagers, the Platters, Elvis Presley (who shared Bowie’s birthday), and Little Richard. Upon listening to Little Richard’s song “Tutti Frutti”, Bowie would later say that that was when he first “heard God”.
Finding His Sound
Whilst everyone perhaps best knows Bowie for his iconic characters, one that is often brushed aside was one of his earliest releases in 1967 ‘The Laughing Gnome’, Bowie’s attempt at creating a novelty childs entertainment song. The song not only failed to chart (unsurprisingly), but also has been linked to the failure of his debut self-titled album that was released 6 weeks later.
Just because his debut flopped however, that didn’t top Bowie’s artistic expression. He studied dramatic arts and became a talented mimist and involved in the avant-garde theatre movement.
His first hit however came off the back of the Apollo 11 launch with ‘Space Oddity’. The song not only brilliantly tells the story of an astronaut looking down from space questioning the universe but actually was a terrifying wake up call for Bowie as he became increasingly worried that he would remain a ‘one hit wonder’. His second album also held the self-titled name David Bowie, resulting in buyer confusion and like the first…flopped.
Things began to come together with Bowie’s third album, The Man Who Sold The World in 1970. Characterised by the heavy rock sound of his new backing band, it was a marked departure from the acoustic guitar and folk rock style established by ‘Space Oddity’.
It was also around this time that Bowie began to experiment with his androgynous appearance, the original cover of the UK version unveiled two months later depicted the singer wearing a dress. Bowie would continue to wear the dress during various interviews and in the street. The provocative nature of Bowie’s image at the time was met with mixed response and supposedly on one occasion led to one pedestrian producing a gun on Bowie, but that never stopped him!
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust
When you hear the phrase ‘out of this world’ the first image that comes to many is Ziggy Stardust. Bowie’s creation of melding of the persona of Iggy Pop with the music of Lou Reed, in his attempt to create “the ultimate pop idol”. Bowie launched Ziggy Stardust on 10th February 1972 in Kingston upon Thames and the rest as they say was history…
…The show was hugely popular, catapulting him to stardom as he toured the UK over the next six months and creating what could only be described as the “Cult of Bowie” that was a space to celebrate the unique and individuality that so many were looking for. Many have said that Bowie’s influence on self expression has lasted longer and has been more creative than perhaps almost any other force within any pop fandom.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was an instant hit and following the release of ‘Starman’ as a single in April 1972 before the album’s June release skyrocketed it to number 1. The album, which remained in the charts for two years.
Experimentation and Acting
Bowie was never afraid to expand his artistic expression and this is perhaps best shown in not only his experimental music and swift adaptation of genres, but also through his acting career with iconic characters such as Jareth The Goblin King in Labyrinth or perhaps the incredible collaboration with Queen in 1981s ‘Under Pressure’.
Something that few people also appreciate is Bowie’s art. He was a keen painter and throughout the 90s continued to develop his craft. One of Bowie’s paintings sold at auction in late 1990 for $500. The cover for his 1995 album Outside is also close-up of a self-portrait (from a series of five) he painted that same year.
The Final Years
Released on his 69th birthday, Blackstar was Bowie’s final release during his life and was met with critical acclaim that was only enhanced further by his death just 2 days later. Producer Tony Visconti revealed that Bowie had planned the album to be his swan song, and act as a “parting gift” for his fans before his death from liver cancer.
Most of the lyrics on the album seem to revolve around his impending death, but Bowie had also been planning a post-Blackstar album, and had written and recorded demo versions of five songs in his final weeks, suggesting that Bowie believed he had a few months left.
Bowie’s death caused shockwaves around the world and thousands gathered for candlelit vigils in his name. Rockstars come and go, but few did what Bowie achieved, bringing outlandish expression and creativity into the mainstream. His music and personas still act as an incredible source of inspiration for self expression, inclusion and the wonderful powers that music can bring to the world. 5 years on, we still celebrate his incredible life with music lovers across the world.