Glam Rock Inventor and Innovator: the Androgynous, Eclectic World of David Bowie
The world of Glam Rock music lost its principle originator and pioneer when David Bowie died on January 10, 2016, leaving behind hundreds -if not hundreds of thousands- of imitators and purveyors of his extraordinary sound and style, an eclectic Rock N Roll vision. Bowie’s music was a fusion of Warhol art decadence, Campbell’s-soup-meets Mao Zhe Dong; intergalactic sexual encounters with an alien that oddly, bore a strong resemblance to Bowie himself; drug-induced disappointments adding to an addictive despair: “Major Tom’s a junkie”! and of course, Androgynous style that brought about the metrosexual power-chord rock star, Pretty Boy revolution. There is no higher honor in the realm of rock music than to be called revolutionary and Bowie was that. The planet was shocked to its seismic core when Bowie’s alter-ego “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” sang “Suffragete City” and “Rebel Rebel”. Anyone who had the excellent fortune to be a teen ager in the 1970s will never forget the opening guitar chords and lyrics of “Rebel Rebel”: it is part of our radical, subversive DNA.
You’ve got your mother in a whirl
She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl
Hey Babe, your hair’s alright
Hey Babe, let’s go out tonight
You like me and I like it all
We like dancing and we look divine
You love bands when they’re playing hard
You want more and you want it fast
They put you down, they say I’m wrong
You tacky thing
You put them on.
Rebel Rebel you’ve torn your dress
Rebel Rebel your face is a mess
Rebel Rebel how could they know
Hot tramp, I love you so.
( “Rebel Rebel” Lyrics courtesy of Diamond Dogs May 1974 on RCA records Producer David Bowie)
David Bowie was born in Brixton (South London) England as David Robert Jones. He was a songwriter, singer, record producer, actor and painter whose artistic career spanned four decades. (see Wikipedia). Bowie changed his name to the recognizable name of a knife in order to avoid being confused with David “Davy” Jones of the bubblegum group, The Monkees. Bowie took up the saxophone and began leading various bands in the 1960s as a teenager without success. During a physical altercation, his left eye was permanently damaged. (New York Times, “David Bowie Dies at 69: Chameleon in Music, Art and Fashion Jan.10th, 2016) Bowie went onto become the architect of glamour rock -the style of rock music that originated in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s and performed by musicians who wore outrageous clothes, makeup, hairstyles, many times with platform-soled boots and glitter (see Wikipedia). Sexual orientation was often blurred, androgynous, “camp”. Other Glam Rock artists of that time included Marc Bolan and T-Rex, Sweet, Roxy Music, the Alice Cooper band, and New York Dolls, to name a few.
However, after being influenced by Lindsay Kemp-a British dancer and mime artist who formed his own dance troupe in the 60s, Bowie “experimented with mixed media, cinema, mime, Tibetan Buddhism, acting and love.The album, originally titled David Bowie, then Man of Words, Man of Music, pays homage to all the influences of the London artistic scene. It shows the early song-writing talent that was yet to yield some of Rock-n-Rolls finest work, even if it would take the world a few years to catch up with him.” (http://www.davidbowie.com/bio)
Hey man oh leave me alone, you know
Hey man oh Henry, get off the phone I gotta
Hey man I gotta straighten my face
This mellow thighed chick just put my spine out of place
Hey man schooldays insane
Hey man my work’s down the drain
Hey man she’s total blam-blam
She said she had to squeeze it but she….then she…
Oh don’t lean on me man, cause you can’t afford the ticket
I’m back on Suffragette City
Oh don’t lean on me man,
Cause you ain’t got time to check it
You know my Suffragette City
Is outta sight…she’s all right
(“Suffragette City” lyrics courtesy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust June 1972 on RCA records producers: Ken Scott, David Bowie)
“Space Oddity” was Bowie’s first five entry onto the UK Singles chart in 1969. Bowie later said that the song came to him after seeing Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey, that “I went stoned out of my mind to see the movie, and it really freaked me out, especially the trip passage.” The song coincided with the Apollo 11 moon landing in the U.S. and added to sales of the song. (http://www.biography.com) David Buckley, Bowie’s biographer, said that David “challenged the core belief of rock music of its day” and “created perhaps the biggest cult of popular culture.” Ziggy Stardust was a glam, androgynous, emotionally disturbed (or distraught?) persona that characterized musical innovation. It broke all the molds of what popular music could be. Every teenager in the 1970s owned at least one of Bowie’s life-altering music albums, whether it was: Hunky Dory (1971), The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), Aladdin Sane (1973), Pin Ups (1973), Diamond Dogs (1974) or Young Americans (1975).Bowie was also a prolific cinema actor, appearing in 23 films, most notably The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Just a Gigolo (1976), The Hunger (1983), Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Zoolander (2001). David Bowie dressed in brazen,flagrant costuming, and told the mainstream press he was bi-sexual. Ziggy Stardust had become a counter-culture icon to the dismay of the “establishment” (as everyone over 30 was called back then) who saw him as ignoble and shocking.
Bowie moved to the U.S. in 1974, first staying in New York city, then settling in Los Angeles. Diamond Dogs was based on a post-apolcalyptic perception whereby George Orwell’s 1984 would be set to music. Bowie launched a Diamond Dogs tour which had high-budget stage productions, while the singer himself slid into cocaine addiction.
Young Americans (1975) was characterized by the singer as “plastic soul”, with Bowie’s distinctive baritone voice poured over soul and funk-infused tracks such as “Fame” (co-written with John Lennon), “Golden Years” and “Station to Station” as well as the title track. Hunky Dory (1971) featured two hits: the title track that was a tribute to Andy Warhol, Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan.(http://www.biography.com) The main hit from the album, “Changes”, communicated to the public what Bowie himself was and would always be about. A collaboration with Brian Eno in Berlin produced “Heroes”.
This was the era of the “Thin White Duke” -another persona, this one an extension of Thomas Newton, the extraterrestrial being he portrayed in “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. Bowie’s addiction to hard drugs such as cocaine led to the unravelling of his mental and physical state: physically he was pale and emaciated; mentally, his verbal interviews with the rock press at the time were incoherent. And then there was the “Victoria Station” incident, where Bowie waved to the crowd from an open-air vehicle in a gesture that was published in the NME (New Musical Express) as a Nazi salute, and the singer had also announced “Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader.” Later Bowie acknowledged “I was out of my mind, totally crazed. The main thing I was functioning on was mythology. I’d found King Arthur.” (see Wikipedia)
Note from GlamRock4Ever/Weblog author: In that this is a blog post on one of the top five legendary musicians of all time, it is part one,and in reality, all true Rock music fans could write their own book on the genius of David Bowie’s art and music. The next blog post continues in a couple days to cover Bowie’s career from 1990-2016. Although some famous rock mags rank David at “39th” “(Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Rock Artists), GlamRockStar puts Bowie at number 5 after The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Motown Artists. It is then after that: David Bowie, Michael Jackson. That is our list. Throughout Bowie’s career he sold 140 million record albums:
U.K. 9 Platinum 11 Gold 8 Silver
U.S. 5 Platinum 7 Gold
As the BBC Writer and music reporter Mark Savage put it: “David Bowie changed music forever. Throughout his career, he reinvented not just his sound, but his persona over and over again.” (BBC Music News “David Bowie: A Career that Shaped Pop January 11, 2016)
The entire planet is in mourning. Our hearts ache at the death of the Glittering Starman.