Also Credited As:David Robert Jones, Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke
|Actor, Producer, Music, Engineering, Electrical & Grips, Other|
|January 8, 1947|
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He was born David Jones on Jan. 8, 1947 in London, England, the son of a charity promotions officer and a cinema usherette. He took up playing the saxophone at 13 and sang in the Burnt Ash Junior School choir. The young Bowie was heavily influenced by the records his father played at home, which were mostly American artists like Fats Domino, Elvis Presley and Little Richard. While attending Bromley Technical High School, a classmate permanently paralyzed Bowie's left pupil after punching him in a fight over a girl. The damage left the future star with faulty depth perception and a permanently dilated pupil. Ironically, Bowie remained good friends with the perpetrator, George Underwood, who went on to create the artwork for the singer's early albums. Bowie formed his first band at 15 called the Konrads. The group often performed at local gatherings and weddings until Bowie left the band to join another group, the King Bees. With the lack of any commercial success, an unhappy Bowie left the band less than a month later. He formed or joined various groups, from the Manish Boys to Davey Jones and the Lower Third, before pursuing a solo recording career. To avoid confusion with the Monkees' Davy Jones, he adopted the stage name David Bowie (inspired by the 19th Century fixed-blade knife) and signed with Deram Records.
Bowie released his self-titled debut album in 1967, a collection of pop and folk rock songs that bore little resemblance to the type of music he released later in his career. Bowie's singer-songwriter approach failed to grab listeners' attention, not to mention the record was released in the U.K. the same day as The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." That same year, Bowie spent a few weeks at a Scottish monastery, and then apprenticed in dancer Lindsay Kemp's avant-garde theater and mime group. He formed his own troupe called Feathers in 1968 before establishing the experimental Beckenham Arts Lab a year later. To fund his artistic endeavor, Bowie signed with Philips/Mercury and released the psychedelic folk track, "Space Oddity." The song originally appeared in Bowie's promotional film "Love You till Tuesday" (1969), but was released as a single to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon landing. "Space Oddity" told the story of a fictional astronaut named Major Tom who departs from Earth to journey beyond the stars. Many interpreted Major Tom as a metaphor for Bowie's artistic evolution, while others thought it was a hallucinogenic trip in musical form. Major Tom reappeared in other Bowie songs throughout his career, namely "Ashes to Ashes" (1980) and "Hallo Spaceboy" (1995). The album Space Oddity was a hit in the U.K., but failed to make waves in the U.S. - where it was released as Man of Words, Man of Music. The album finally reached No. 15 stateside when it was re-released in 1973.
Bowie's musical style took on a heavier rock sound with Space Oddity and his third album, The Man Who Sold the World. The album was the first time Bowie recorded with the backing band, which was later renamed the "Spiders from Mars." The songs were also a far departure from Bowie's folk-tinged debut and into a heavier metal sound, laced with lyrics about insanity (the song "All the Madmen" was reportedly inspired by the singer's institutionalized brother Terry), violence, and Vietnam War commentary. The album's U.K. cover art featured Bowie in a reclining position and wearing a dress, an early indication of his fascination with androgyny. Critics also regarded the release of The Man Who Sold the World as the birth of "glam rock," a genre that also included Bowie's friend, former band member, and artistic rival Marc Bolan - who fronted the band T. Rex. The early 1970s saw a rise in popularity for glam rock stars like Bowie and Bolan, typified by their outrageous stage costumes, gender-bending personalities, and guitar-driven music. Around the same time, two American proto-punk artists - Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground's Lou Reed - inspired Bowie to come up with the concept of "the ultimate pop idol," which became the blueprint for a character he created named Ziggy Stardust.
In 1972, Bowie released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, an artfully crafted concept album that TIME magazine chose as one of the 100 Best Albums of All Time. The record's futuristic theme told the story of a doomed Messiah-like rock star named Ziggy Stardust, a human-like alien who dreams of a savior named Starman, who was also Earth's last hope. Onstage, Bowie embodied the Ziggy Stardust character. From his striking fiery red hair, to his futuristic jumpsuits, to his sparkly platform boots, he emerged as a bona fide rock star. The album's success paved the way Bowie's subsequent releases, including Aladdin Sane (1973), Pin Ups (1973), and Diamond Dogs (1974), all dealing with themes of post-apocalyptic worlds, gender-bending anti-heroes, and mankind's self-destruction. Midway through an American tour, Bowie visited Philadelphia's Sigma Sound Studios and began working on songs for his next album. The sessions resulted in the album Young Americans (1975), Bowie's departure from his glam rock phase and into his soulful Thin White Duke era. Dressed in baggy Oxford trousers, hair trimmed, and sans makeup, Bowie worked with a new band that included future R&B hitmaker Luther Vandross singing back-up vocals and co-writing tracks with him. The album also included the single "Fame," co-written with Carlos Alomar and John Lennon, which became Bowie's first No. 1 single in the U.S.
Bowie's success in America led him to move to Los Angeles to explore new artistic ventures. He made his acting debut in 1976, starring in Nicolas Roeg's "The Man Who Fell to Earth" as an extraterrestrial being who crash lands on Earth, hoping to find a way to transport water to his drought-ridden planet of Anthea. Even though there was no official film soundtrack because of contractual disputes with the studio, Bowie's 10th album Station to Station (1976) and his Thin White Duke persona bared a striking resemblance visually and musically to his character in "The Man Who Fell to Earth." Bowie moved to Europe that same year and battled his ongoing drug addiction. His taste in music also shifted once again, leaving behind the soul and funk of his Philadelphia years, moving into the ambient and electronic sounds of Berlin, Germany. Bowie recorded some of his most prolific work in the late 1970's with producer Brian Eno, collectively called the Berlin Trilogy (1977-79). Even though the three albums - Low, Heroes, and Lodgers - were not commercially successful, many regarded them as influencing various music genres, including New Wave, electronic and industrial.
The 1980s brought Bowie to the forefront of mainstream music with the hit Queen/Freddie Mercury collaboration "Under Pressure" and the 1983 smash album, Let's Dance, which yielded the Top 20 singles "Let's Dance," "China Girl," and "Modern Love." Co-produced by Nile Rodgers and Stevie Ray Vaughn, the album turned Bowie into a pop star, fueled by his avant-garde and stylish music videos receiving heavy rotation on MTV. Bowie further padded his acting résumé by playing a 150-year-old vampire in "The Hunger" (1983) opposite Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, delivering a scene-stealing performance as an evil goblin king in the fantasy adventure "Labyrinth" (1986), and portraying Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988). Bowie was also a featured performer at the history-making benefit concert Live Aid, where his duet with Mick Jagger, a cover of Martha and the Vandellas' 1964 hit "Dancing in the Street," was released as a music video and single. Bowie ended the decade by forming Tin Machine, his first group since recording as a solo artist in the early '70s. Intended as a "back-to-basics" project for the rocker, Tin Machine's debut album earned positive reviews for its stripped down rock format and insightful lyrics.
Bowie's sexual orientation was a topic of debate for most of his career, but Bowie declared himself bisexual during a 1972 interview with Melody Maker magazine. He revealed 11 years later to Rolling Stone that publicly revealing his bisexuality was the biggest mistake he ever made. Still, Bowie's personal life made headlines in the early 1990s when he married supermodel and actress, Iman. A mutual friend introduced the British rocker to the Somali-born beauty, whom he married in 1992. That same year, Bowie played a mysterious FBI agent in David Lynch's noir drama "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me." The decade saw more transformations in Bowie's musical style - fusing soul, jazz and hip-hop in the album Black Tie White Noise (1993), moving on to industrial sounds with Outside (1995), and championing electronic music with Earthling (1997). Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Bowie released the Space Oddity EP (2009) a multi-track recording of his landmark song that allowed fans to make their own versions and remixes.