David Bowie was born David Jones on 8th January 1947 in Brixton, South London. The son of a Kentish mother and a Yorkshireman father, he reportedly adopted his stage name in the mid-1960s to avoid confusion with Davy Jones, lead singer of the emerging Monkees. He took the name Bowie from the iconic American frontiersman and his eponymous knife.
He formed his first band, The Konrads, aged just 15, playing at local weddings and youth events. Upon leaving school he announced his intention to become a pop star and managed to find a manager, but his first single, “Liza Jane”, made no real impact. After a few more unsuccessful releases with a variety of bands, his eponymous debut album in 1967 had a similar reception.
Later that year, however, he began to take an interest in developing alternative personae and ventured into the folk/psychedelic rock scene. 1969’s Space Oddity (originally also eponymous but re-released under the name of the lead single to reduce confusion). The single itself reached the UK top 5 and Bowie’s first taste of success spurred him on to greater things. The Man Who Sold the World, more heavily psychedelic, and Hunky Dory in 1970 and ’71 respectively met with increasing acclaim and triumph. His breakthrough was established with Ziggy Stardust…the following year and the Bowie we know and love was to remain in the charts through the ‘70s and ‘80s with highlights including “Heroes” and Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. After releasing a couple of albums with his new hard rock band Tin Machine (1989 & 1999) Bowie experimented with electronic music through the ‘90s before increasing health problems (including a 2004 heart attack) led to something of a withdrawal from public life. In addition to his music, Bowie was also known for acting roles such as the lead in 1976’s The Man Who Fell to Earth and famously a creepy Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986).
David Bowie died of cancer on the 11th of January just two days after the release of Blackstar, his 25th studio album. He had been diagnosed 18 months earlier. He is survived by his second wife, Somali-American model Iman and his two children, film director Duncan “Zowie” Jones (born 1971 to his first wife Angie) and Alexandria Zahra Jones (2000).
I’m not going to claim super-fandom or anything of the like, nor do I believe that his passing leaves a huge hole in the industry today (Blackstar was just his second release since 2003). Bowie’s legacy has been his greatest contribution to music for the last couple of decades at least and today’s sad news does nothing to change that. He single-handedly brought about an industry-wide shift in the early-to-mid-‘70s with the likes of Ziggy Stardust… and Diamond Dogs and continued to alter his style, genre and even persona both ahead of and in response to the changing times. On a personal level I will mostly remember the Bowie of the ‘70s – “Changes” and “Oh! You Pretty Things” from Hunky Dory and “Ziggy Stardust” are among my favourite tracks. But David Bowie was many things to many, many people. He was an extremely talented man and he will be missed.
RIP David Bowie 1947-2016