David Bowie:
65 Golden Years

“I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, ‘Fuck that. I want to be superhuman.’ ”

No words could have better described David Bowie’s ascension as a musician. This is fitting because they were said by, well, David Bowie. During the ’70s, when rock was too scared to be anything but itself, David Bowie changed the landscape by daring to be anything but himself.

From the constant musical reinvention to rejecting the norms society and music put on him (exploring the ideas of sexuality and transvestism) in order to push his own musical growth, David Bowie has always been ahead of the curve by simply creating his own (intentional) wave. So to commemorate his birthday—which was last Sunday—we thought it a good idea to look into what has made David Jones into David Bowie and a beacon from which all future musicians could learn.

From a young age, Bowie had shown a particular single-mindedness that would become one of his best and worst qualities. With a penchant for dance beyond his years (and a reputation for brawling that preceded those years), he was searching for direction. Along came Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” about which he was quoted as saying, “I had heard God.” With that, he would take up instruments and record collecting within the year. He soon took up piano, began playing covers and had his first band, the Konrads, by the time he was 15.

 “It’s odd but even when I was a kid, I would write about “old and other times” as though I had a lot of years behind me.”

Soon he would proclaim to his parents that he would be a pop star and make overtures to people for record deals and chances, bouncing from band to band, manager to manager, cultivating his unique sound and his everyday life, creating a modern-day Bohemia around him to the point it seemed like a circus.

Though the creative juices were flowing, money and success weren’t. So Bowie took to other work, trying his hand at commercials with limited success. Then, on a lark, he decided to make a short film, entitled Love You til Tuesday, that was designed to showcase his talents. One of the extra tracks he created for it was called “Space Oddity,” which originally was thought to be too gimmicky to be a hit song, was released and recorded again later in the year to coincide with the moon landing. And with that, a star was finally born.

Though the subsequent album he released after the moon landing didn’t have immediate commercial success, the albums were just starting to show the David Bowie we all have gotten to know. Space Oddity touched on philosophical post-hippie lyrics of peace, love and morality, while its acoustic folk rock was occasionally fortified by harder rock. The Man Who Sold The World and Honky Dory brought the glam rock sound and during that time, Bowie created something that would change his life and music forever.

During his world-wide tour in 1971, Bowie spent time obsessing over two of America’s leading proto-punk musicians (Iggy Pop and Lou Reed) and decided that melding them together would create the greatest music personality of all time. So he fused their personas and music together to create the ultimate pop icon: Ziggy Stardust.

With his new found persona, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released to the masses in 1972, and with it came the commercial success and following Bowie had dreamed of. One of the early manifestations of the “concept album”, this record is about a man who is the human manifestation of an alien being attempting to present humanity with a message of hope in the last five years of its existence.

This offbeat persona fueled his over-the-top stage shows that attained him so much success, he had SIX albums charting in 1973. But just as soon as the world came to love Ziggy Stardust, Bowie was busy planning music for the post-apocalyptic world.

Now living in the United States and chock full of fresh ideas yet again, Bowie soon decided to create an album based on George Orwell’s 1984, and had already had left Ziggy in the dust (possible pun intended). Musically he pushed himself further by delving into the realms of soul and funk with subsequent albums.

The persona the Thin White Duke was soon born out his album Station to Station, an amalgamation of his obsession of a character that he had played in the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth. Because of this persona, he was the first white artist to ever be on the TV show Soul Train.

But achieving success with those things was not enough for this man, who once again transformed himself and his music in the late ’70s by trying a minimalist and ambient approach. He took up painting and began urging his sound to focus more on the artistry of music. He began working with the likes of John Lennon and Brian Eno to cultivate his sound and songwriting, and the results paid off.

His Berlin Trilogy (the albums Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger) showed the fruits of his labor, taking a more artsy and stripped-down sound and touching on personal problems, anti-war sentiments, and other serious issues he had encountered during his travels. However, clashes over his sound and direction with Eno and others led him to believe that it was time to rethink his musical position yet again.

“I’m an instant star. Just add water and stir.”

Subsequent decades would see constant reinvention. The ’80s saw him touch on dance, rock, punk, pop, and even hard rock with the band Tin Machine. Collaborations with artists such as Tina Turner, Queen, Mich Jagger, and Iggy Pop (among others) in addition to releasing four albums throughout the decade solidified has status as a megastar.

With stage shows that were actually panned for being too over the top and music that seemed to change from art rock to dance to glam and even pop , his albums were starting to showcase his abilities as a playwright and hit maker. Let’s Dance somehow found a way to take blues-rock to the dance floor, while Never Let Me Down and Tonight brought Bowie back to his rock and pop roots, serving as stopgaps to yet another reinvention. Aware of the dissatisfaction of his latest works, Bowie started playing with Tin Machine in order to revitalize himself and his career. After a few years, two albums and subsequent touring David Bowie had once again found himself ready for another musical genesis.

The ’90s saw him dive deep into electronica. With industrial, drum and bass, rock, and experimental undertones, Bowie’s approach remained as varied as ever. Black Tie White Noise was his first foray in the ’90s, and spoke about his new found marriage and family. Outside and Earthling saw his electronic evolution come full circle, taking the great concepts from some of his best albums and fusing them with his new sounds to create some of the most interesting work of his career.

‘Hours…’ was music originally created for a video game that was expanded to its own album. After that, the new millenium saw him make his comeback into rock with Heathen. The album dealt with his impressions on the 9/11 attacks, as well the mounting anxiety he’s felt about the situation in America. Though that album marked the end of his electronic era, it has brought us to the most current iteration of David Bowie. Though heart problems have caused his output to dwindle in this most recent decade, he still plays the occasional live show and assists in the studio on albums for others, in addition to other art and music projects.

Bowie’s career underscores the notion that reflection and reinvention are not just necessities, but the source of all artistic invention. Golden years, indeed.

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