David Robert Jones was born in Brixton on January 8th, 1947. At age thirteen, inspired by the jazz of the West End, he picked up the saxophone and called up Ronnie Ross for lessons. Early bands he played with The Konrads
, The King Bees
, The Manish Boys
and The Lower Third
- provided him with an introduction into the showy world of pop and mod, and by 1966 he was David Bowie, with long hair and aspirations of stardom rustling about his head. Kenneth Pitt signed on as his manager, and his career began with a handful of mostly forgotten singles but a head full of ideas. It wasn't until 1969 that the splash down into the charts would begin, with the legendary Space Oddity
(which peaked at Number Five in the UK). Amidst his musical wanderings in the late 60's, he experimented with mixed media, cinema, mime, Tibetan Buddhism, acting and love. The album, originally titled David Bowie
, then subsequently Man of Words, Man of Music
, pays homage to all the influences of the London artistic scene, and shows the early song-writing talent that was yet to yield some of rock and roll's finest works, even if it would take the rest of the world a few years to catch up with him.The Man Who Sold The World
, Bowie's first album recorded as an entity in itself, and marks the first definitive creative stretch for the listener. Mick Ronson's guitars are often referred to as the birth point of heavy metal, and certainly the auspicious beginnings of glam rock can be traced back here. Released by Mercury in April 1971, to minimal fanfare, Bowie took his first trip to the United States to promote it that Spring. In May of the same year, Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones was born to David and his then wife, Angela.
RCA was the next label to sign Bowie, and after a trip to America to complete the legalities, he returned to London to record two albums nearly back to back. Hunky Dory
was built from a six-song demo that had enticed the label to sing him and features "Changes" and "Life On Mars?". Almost immediately, it was followed up by the instant classic, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Bowie began to get a glimpse of the power of the pop in 1972. Previewed in London that Spring, his rock and roll creation, Ziggy Stardust
, put on one of the most spectacular and innovative live shows to date, and the craze that followed was the beginnings of his superstar myth. The summer of 1972 was also a busy one for him in the studio, as he produced albums for Lou Reed (Transformer
) and Mott the Hoople (All The Young Dudes
, for which he wrote the hit title track). The US Ziggy
tour began in September playing sold out shows full of theatrically-inspired Japanese costumes, snarling guitars, courtesy of Mick Ronson, and a bold, daring approach to performance that propelled the audience into a rock-and-roll fervor. He abruptly put his own creation to rest on June 3, 1973 with, the pronouncement, "of all the shows on the tour this one will stay with us for the longest because not only is this the last show of the tour, but it is the last show we will ever do." This surprised everyone in the house-not least the members of his band.
Amidst the Ziggy
fever, Aladdin Sane
was released in April 1973, inspired by his experiences in America while touring. After putting the Stardust
Show to bed, he traveled to France to begin work on his next albums. Pin-Ups
was the last time that Bowie would record an album with Mick Ronson on guitar and Ken Scott at the production helm. His tribute to the artists that he admired in the London years of 64-67 was released in October 1973. In April of 1973, his proto-Blade Runner project, Diamond Dogs
debuted, full of tension and angst standing in stark contrast to the disco music that was beginning to crowd the airwaves. In the summer of 1974 he undertook his greatest US tour yet, with an enormous set and choreographed tableaus. The double album, David Live
, was recorded in Philadelphia's Tower Theatre, and serves as a souvenir of this tour.
The two previous albums showed hints of Bowie's interest in the music he heard in America. The most direct result of this fascination is the rhythmic, soul-laden Young Americans
, released in 1975. A collaboration with John Lennon on "Fame" came out of an impromptu session at Electric Ladyland in New York, and was a last minute addition to the LP. It resulted in Bowie's first ever number-one single in the US. Not long after the album came out he moved to Los Angeles, and starred in the science fiction film, The Man Who Fell To Earth
. After completion of filming, he almost immediately returned to the studio for the recording of Station to Station
, a travelogue of sorts. The White Light
tour followed, this time an electronica-driven line-up, played out with Brecht-inspired theatricality. A compilation of hits, ChangesOneBowie
was released by RCA in May 1976. Never one to stay in one place too long, shortly after his tour finished, he relocated to the Schoneberg section of Berlin.Low
were recorded during Bowie's sojourn in East Germany where collaborators Brian Eno, Tony Visconti, and he adopted new approaches to the song-writing process. Surrealism and experimentation were the themes of the day, and the incorporation of cut-and-paste techniques into unique instrumentation birthed what are now heralded as luminary ambient soundscapes. Released in 1977, Low
confused RCA, and though the masses weren't quite sure what to make of the effort, the single "Sound and Vision" eventually hit Number Two on the British charts. Friend Iggy Pop
was in Berlin at the time as well and Bowie took time out of recording to produce and collaborate with him on The Idiot
and later Lust for Life. He also overcame his long-publicized fear of flying to accompany Pop
on tour as pianist that summer.
The second in his three-album triptych, Heroes
, prominently featured Robert Fripp on guitar, and a more optimistic outlook. One of his greatest singles, "Heroes", recounts a romantic liaison between lovers near the Berlin Wall. His next foray into film occurred in Just A Gigolo
. March of 1978 found him on tour again, and during a May break he narrated Peter and the Wolf
with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the first of many children's projects he was consistently to support over the years (now out of print, the result was a collectible green-vinyl album). Stage
was released in September 1978, culled from his recent tour of the States, and featured live material from his "Berlin" period. A re-location to Switzerland was to follow, abandoned frequently due to his ever developing love affair with the exotic Indonesia, Africa and the Far East. Recorded in France, Lodger
was released in May 1979, and by the end of the year he was again in the studio. Rehearsals also began for his Broadway debut, in the part of The Elephant Man
, which opened in September 1980 to rave reviews.
In the same month, the Scary Monsters and Super Creeps
album was released. After this period, he distinctly dropped out of the public eye for a while, while remaining involved with various film and movie projects. Another greatest hits compilation, ChangesTwoBowie
, came out in 1982. Officially signed to EMI in 1983, Bowie's Let's Dance
followed along with the world-encompassing Serious Moonlight
tour. In October, RCA released the Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
album, capturing the energy of Ziggy and the Spiders during their last show. Shortly thereafter, the movie, originally filmed in 1973, was finally released as well.
During this period Bowie reinvented himself once again. Let's Dance
, produced by Chic
-mastermind Nile Rogers, was perhaps the most straightforward album of his career. A collection of elegantly produced, impeccably sung dance floor numbers including the Motown-styled "Modern Love", the darkly romantic "China Girl" (first cut with Iggy Pop
in Berlin) and a remake of the movie theme "Cat People". All of the above would be substantial radio hits, as was the glossy and romantic title track. The upbeat romantic theme extended to his next album, Tonight
(1984), though the single "Loving The Alien" drew a prophetic scenario on the Islam/Christian tensions.
A moving appearance at Live Aid
(where he dedicated "Heroes" to his young son), a duet single with Mick Jagger, and the heavily theatrical Glass Spider
tour (with lead guitar by Peter Frampton) all kept Bowie's popularity and mass acceptance going into the 80s. However, his creative drive had slowed somewhat. Then 1988 brought the biggest surprise of all: He'd formed a new band, Tin Machine
, with the Sales Brothers (Hunt and Tony, sons of Soupy) and the hot guitar find from Boston
, Reeves Gabrels. He was adamant that this would be a full-time band, not a superstar solo project. On their two million-selling albums (plus a limited edition live disc), Tin Machine proved their mettle as a modern alternative live act, with a stripped down guitar sound, all new material and a few real surprises (a Pixies'
cover!). Some fans loved it, others were confused and Tin Machine
was on hiatus by 1982. Meanwhile, Bowie supported the 1989 release of Rykodisc's boxed set, Sound and Vision
, with his first full-fledged Greatest Hits
tour, recruiting long-time collaborator Adrian Belew to play lead guitar. At many of the gigs, fans were allowed to pick the songs via phone poll.
Bowie revisited solo projects with the release of Black Tie White Noise
in 1993, in addition to one of rock's first the CD-ROMs entitled "Jump". With Nile Rogers again producing, the album came close to summing up every period of Bowie, with the opening instrumental "The Wedding" (inspired by Bowie's own marriage to model Iman) offering a dance and house inspired, brighter toned return to the sound of Low, the single "Jump They Say" harking back to funkier times, and the old Cream
tune "I Feel Free", marking a long-awaited reunion with Ziggy-era partner Mick Ronson. Reaching Number One in the UK album charts, Black Tie White Noise
reassured fans that Bowie's creative curiosity was by no means exhausted.
By 1994, Bowie and Eno were again collaborating in the studio. The result was the concept album, Outside
. This complex project touches on the increasing obsession with the human body as art and the paganization of western society. With its package-arts broken down style, its haunted sound of ruin and its non-linear story line of art, murder and technology, it predates evocatively the new sensibility of movies, such as Seven
and the TV shows, The X-Files
. As benefits the multi-frenic nature of Outsider
art and emotion, Bowie sings in any number of voices: one minute, the melodramatic crooner, another, the stylized Londoner; another, the quiet, intimate recluse of the Berlin years. Or he is vari-speeded between the albums seven characters: on one song a fourteen-year-old girl, on another a sleazy 78-year-old, on another a 46-year- old Tyrannical Futurist. It is only now, when he has reached his own mid-life, that Bowie can make music that can encompass the point of young, middle-aged, and old.
Switching styles and moods effortlessly, Bowie embarked on a confrontational tour in 1996 around the US with Nine Inch Nails
and performing acoustically with Neil Young and Pearl Jam
at the Bridge Benefit Concert in San Francisco. He had a triumphant summer headlining Roskilde and Phoenix Festival and his electric performance at the VH-1 Fashion Awards where his new single, "Little Wonder", was the talk of New York. Then there was the new album, Earthling
- all very direct, hard hitting and to the point. The album arose out of the dynamic achieved and harnessed by the end of that summer's tour. The record features the avant garde drum 'n' bass extravaganza and top 20 hit in the UK, "Little Wonder" and the crushing "Dead Man Walking", a reflection on getting older.
The next year (1997) was to see a controversial collaboration with Eno in the shape of the "I'm Afraid of Americans" single. This track, complete with spontaneous Dom and Nic video that saw David and Trent Reznor chasing through the streets of Greenwich Village, hung around the US. Charts for three months or so, finishing the project on a real high. Despite the title, Bowie's American influence seemed to be growing space. He's been cited as guiding star by Smashing Pumpkins
, Marilyn Manson
and Nine Inch Nails
, amongst others. He even reached into American film; the movie "Basquiat", co-starring Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper saw him playing the character he immortalized in his 1972 song-Andy Warhol. The film's director was America's pre-eminent painter Julian Schnabel.
Already highly acclaimed in the fields of art and music, David has been turning his hand to mastering the information superhighway. The launch of BowieNet
) in 1998 was the world's first artist-created Internet service provider. As the first artist to make a single, "Telling Lies", available exclusively through the Internet, David has remained at the cutting edge of technology and artistic endeavor, and willingly utilizes the most up-to-date technology. BowieNet
offers full-uncensored access to the Internet, news, sport, finance and the very best music and entertainment coverage. For Bowie fans, and indeed all music fans, BowieNet
provides previously unreleased material, videos and photos, gig reviews from all musical genres. And is if that was not enough, BowieNet also gives you real-time chat and cybercasts (both live and archived) from David himself and a host of other stars. So far BowieNet
chats have been conducted with the likes of Ronan Keating, Ronnie Spector, Eddie Izzard, Placebo
and Boy George
and many others.
With his continuing work on his now highly acclaimed BowieNet
website (nominated for the 1999 WIRED
Awards for Best Entertainment Site of the Year), David found time in 1999 to work on a film, "Exhuming Mr. Rice", (retitled to "Mr. Rice's Secret"), in which David plays the title role. The David Bowie Radio Network
(on the Rolling Stone Radio website) runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The radio's playlist includes 54 tracks, all personally picked and introduced by David. In May of 1999, David received an honorary doctorate in music from Berkley College, Boston. This prestigious doctorate has, in the past, also been received by BB King, Sting, James Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones.
The growing relationship between David and Placebo
flourished further in 1999. At the annual Brit Awards ceremony David joined the band for a performance of the Marc Bolan classic, "Twentieth Century Boy". The performance went down so well with the public that the Mirror
newspaper began a mini campaign for the track to be released as a single and it was not long before the two artists were to hook up again. This time it was in New York where David was to join the band on stage at their headlining concert at The Irving Plaza. This time, much to the delight of the audience, Bowie was not only to perform "Twentieth Century Boy" with the band but also a rendition of the Placebo
track, "Without You I'm Nothing".
July was to see David be voted as the biggest music star of the 20th century, beating Mick Jagger and Noel Gallagher, by readers of the Sun
newspaper. In the same month David was voted the sixth Greatest Star of The Century by Q
magazine and its readers. In this poll David was the third highest-ranking star who is still alive.
October 1999 saw the release of a brand new studio album, Hours...
, which was David's twenty-third solo album and harks a return to the sounds of the Hunky Dory
days. Written solely with long time collaborator Reeves Gabrels over the last year, hours... could be described as one of David's most autobiographical records to date. Tracks include "Thursday's Child", "Survive" and "The Dreamers". The themes of loss and regret throughout the album are likely to strike hearts universally. This album deals more with real life opposed to imagery and fantasy.
Written and recorded in Bermuda, hours . . . speaks from the point of view of an older guy taking stock of his life. Bowie says, "I wanted to capture a kind of universal angst felt by many people of my age. You could say that I am attempting to write some songs for my generation."
, David enjoyed a period out of the public eye peppered with the odd show and the honor of being voted the most influential artist of all time by the UK's tastemaker tome, the NME. During this time another life-changing event took place, the birth of David and Iman's first child, Alexandria Zahra Jones.
Bowie took this time to savor fatherhood but also used the time to write a series of new songs. This led to a much-heralded reunion with Tony Visconti, which in turn resulted in a new album, Heathen
, and a change of outlook towards the music industry. In addition, he set up his own label, Iso Records, which has now linked up with Columbia Records to release what is probably the most eagerly awaited album of his career.
Bowie and Visconti set about compiling what you might call a location report, just outside of Woodstock in New York state. So taken was he with the setting, that David didn't come back to New York again until the record was complete, living in the grounds with his family and eating in a communal dining room. A famously early riser, he put that to good use as Heathen
began to come sharply into focus.
Bowie's old friend Pete Townsend's contribution to the album, playing lead guitar on "Slow Burn", was not his first with Bowie, as listeners to Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
will remember. Foo Fighters'
Dave Grohl took the lead on the Neil Young cover, "I've Been Waiting for You." For a further surprise, there's more Bowie instrumentation on Heathen than anything in memory-drums on the Pixies' cover, "Cactus", in addition to nearly all the synth work and some of the piano.
The stark reality about Reality
- David Bowie's stunning and vital new album - is that there really isn't any concept. And according to Reality's
legendary creator, there ultimately may not be any reality either.
, Bowie has taken a low concept to new heights. The vivid, wildly impressive result - released September 16, 2003 on ISO/Columbia - is one of the most powerful sets of songs in Bowie's illustrious body of work. Coming from the creative pioneer who brought rock music a newfound narrative drama and depth with 1972's classic, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the premise for Reality
- Bowie's 26th album - couldn't have been more straightforward.
The potent, eclectic group of songs Bowie delivers on Reality
can be heard as being in the distinguished tradition of some past Bowie classics. Imagine 1971's Hunky Dory
reflecting on these significantly less hunky dory times, or 1980's Scary Monsters
with scarier monsters and more super creeps. Still, even if there are echoes of Bowie's glorious past here and there, Reality
is - in its timely subject matter and its tremendous scope - ultimately very much an album in the present tense.
Yet, for all this post-modern ambiguity, it's still hard not to recognize Reality's
bold sound and vision for what it really is. Smart, sharp and intense, Reality
offers a gritty soundscape that's everything we've come to expect from this man who England's famed music publication NME voted in 1999 the most influential artist of all time. From the time "Space Oddity" first introduced Bowie to American audiences through recent triumphs like 1995's Outside
and 2002's million-selling, critically acclaimed Heathen
, which had fifteen Top-Fifteen chart debuts worldwide, including the U.S., Bowie has set the standard for ongoing adventurousness and artistry in popular music.
At a stage of his life when so many of his famed colleagues and fellow travelers have turned toward mere nostalgia, Bowie remains steadfastly focused on the here and now. Though the narrator of Reality's
infectious track "Never Get Old" is no doubt misguided in his pledge to bypass the aging process entirely, Bowie does seem to have tapped into some fountain of creative youth, sounding as engaged and inspired as ever.