12 January 2016

David Bowie (1947-2016)

What a shock! David Bowie is dead. The English musician and actor was a major pop star for over four decades. During the 1970s, he was a magnificent innovator, we love his album Changes. With various stage and film roles, he showed to be a fine actor too. Bowie died of cancer, 69 years young.

David Bowie (1947-2016)
British postcard by Underground, no. U525. Ziggie.

David Bowie
American postcard by Fotofolio, no. P 254. Photo: Terry O'Neill, 1975.

David Bowie (1947-2016)
British postcard in the British Film Year Series. Photo: David James / Thorn EMI. Publicity still for The Man who Fell to the Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976).

David Bowie (1947-2016)
American postcard by Fotofolio, New York, NY., no. GG 21. Photo: Greg Gorman, 1987.

David Bowie (1947-2016)
Dutch postcard by Art Unlimited, Amsterdam, no. 010a. Photo: Claude Vanheye.

Flamboyant, Androgynous Alter Ego

David Bowie was born as David Robert Haywood Jones in Brixton, London in 1947. His mother, Margaret Mary ‘Peggy’ née Burns, worked as a cinema usherette, while his father, Haywood Stenton ‘John’ Jones, was a promotions officer for Barnardo's. David's interest in music was stimulated when his father brought home a collection of American 45’s by artists including The Platters, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley and Little Richard. He studied art, music, and design, including layout and typesetting. After Terry Burns, his half-brother, introduced him to modern jazz, his enthusiasm for players like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane led his mother to give him a plastic alto saxophone in 1961.

A year later, the 15-years old Davy Jones formed his first band The Konrads, playing guitar-based rock & roll at local youth gatherings and weddings. Several bands followed, without success. To prevent confusion with Davy Jones, the lead singer of The Monkees, he renamed himself after the 19th century American frontiersman Jim Bowie and the knife he had popularised. David Bowie studied dramatic arts under dancer Lindsay Kemp, from avant-garde theatre and mime to commedia dell'arte. Bowie became immersed in the creation of personae to present to the world. Kemp gave him the role of Cloud in his theatrical production Pierrot in Turquoise (1967).

In the black-and-white short The Image (Michael Armstrong, 1969), Bowie played a ghostly boy who emerges from a troubled artist's (Michael Byrne) painting to haunt him. Bowie also made a brief appearance in The Virgin Soldiers (John Dexter, 1969). In April 1969, he met Angela Barnett (also known as Angie Bowie) and they would marry within a year. Her impact on him was immediate, and her involvement in his career far-reaching. In 1971, they had a son, later film director Duncan Jones, also known as Zowie Bowie.

David Bowie first caught the eye and ear of the public in July 1969, when his song Space Oddity reached the top five of the UK Singles Chart. It was released at the time of the moon landing. Despite the fact that the literal meaning of the lyrics relates to an astronaut who is lost in space, this song was used by the BBC in their coverage of the moon landing, and this helped it become such a success. After a three-year period of experimentation he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era with the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, spearheaded by the hit single Starman and the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, a concept album about a space-age rock star.

The relatively short-lived Ziggy persona proved merely one facet of a career marked by continual reinvention, musical innovation and striking visual presentation. In 1975, Bowie achieved his first major American crossover success with the number-one single Fame and the hit album Young Americans, which the singer characterised as ‘plastic soul’. The sound constituted a radical shift in style that initially alienated many of his UK devotees. He then confounded the expectations of both his record label and his American audiences by recording the minimalist album Low (1977) — the first of three collaborations with Brian Eno over the next two years. The so-called Berlin Trilogy albums (Low, Heroes and Lodger) all reached the UK top five and received lasting critical praise.

David Bowie (1947-2016)
British postcard by Cult Images Ltd., Enfield, Middlesex, no. PC 108. Photo: Ray Stevenson. Beckenham '69.

David Bowie
French postcard by Ebullitions, no. 8.

David Bowie
German postcard by O & P Agi-Sydney, Stauffenberg, no. CP 770.

David Bowie (1947-2016)
British postcard by Pyramid, Leicester, no. PC 8030. Photo: Bowie as Ziggie Stardust, live.

David Bowie (1947-2016)
French postcard by Humour à la Carte, Paris, no. 3401. Photo: J.L. Rancurel. David Bowie at the Pavillon de Paris, 1976.


In 1976 David Bowie earned acclaim for his first major film role. In The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976) he played an unhappy alien from a dying planet who becomes a famous industrialist and pop star as he tries to find a way home. Mark Deming at AllMovie: “While Bowie doesn't come off as a terribly skilled actor, he's highly effective as an alien presence (and his character's jittery paranoia got an unexpected boost from Bowie's well-documented cocaine abuse in this period), and he manages to radiate a human sense of sadness and loss while maintaining a cold, unearthly emotional distance.”

His performance helped the film become a modest box-office success. His next film, the Anglo-German co-production Schöner Gigolo, Armer Gigolo/Just a Gigolo (David Hemmings, 1979), saw Bowie in the lead role as Prussian officer Paul von Przygodski, who, returning from World War I, is discovered by a Baroness (Marlene Dietrich in her final screen performance) and put into her gigolo stable. However the critics were negative and the Sunday Mirror considered Bowie ‘completely miscast’.

In this period, his commercial success as a recording artist was also uneven. Towards the end of the 1970s, Bowie finally kicked his drug habit and had smash hits with the single Ashes to Ashes (1980), its parent album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), and the single Under Pressure (1981), a collaboration with Queen. On Broadway he earned high praise for his expressive performance in The Elephant Man. He played the part 157 times between 1980 and 1981.

Bowie did a cameo performance as himself in a concert sequence in the German film Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (Ulrich Edel, 1981). The soundtrack of the film about a young girl's drug addiction in West-Berlin featured much material from his Berlin Trilogy albums. Bowie then starred as a vampire in The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983), with Catherine Deneuve.

That same year, he played Major Jack Celliers, a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima, 1983), based on Laurens van der Post's novel The Seed and the Sower. Bowie also had a cameo in the pirate comedy Yellowbeard (Mel Damski, 1983) created by Monty Python members. In 1983, he also reached a new commercial peak with the album Let's Dance, which yielded several hit singles. The tour which followed, Serious Moonlight, was his most successful ever.

David Bowie
French postcard by Underground, no. U 182. Photo: publicity still for The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976).

David Bowie (1947-2016)
French postcard by Euro Images, St. Jean de Veudas, no. CP 57. Photo: publicity still for Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo/Just a Gigolo (David Hemmings, 1978).

David Bowie
French Postcard by Les Editions Gil in the série chanteurs, no. 76. Publicity still for Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983).

David Bowie (1947-2016)
British postcard. Photo: publicity still for The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983).

David Bowie (1947-2016)
French postcard by Editions Humour à la Carte, Paris, no. ST-127. Photo: publicity still for Absolute Beginners (Julien Temple, 1986).

The Next Day

David Bowie declined to play the villain Max Zorin in the James Bond film A View to a Kill (John Glen, 1985), but accepted a small part as Colin, the hitman in the comedy-thriller Into the Night (John Landis, 1985). He also played a small part in Absolute Beginners (Julien Temple, 1986), a rock musical featuring Bowie's music.

About his role as the Goblin King in the dark fantasy Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986), Andrea LeVasseur writes at AllMovie: “The actor most notable is David Bowie as the villain Jareth, whose glam rock wig and revealing tights give a nod to his former alter ego Ziggy Stardust. He is quite possibly the high point of the film, contributing to songwriting and creating an alluring figure in Jareth that rightfully could be borne of a young girl's imagination.” Two years later he played Pontius Pilate in the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988).

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, David Bowie continued to experiment with musical styles, including blue-eyed soul, industrial, adult contemporary, and jungle. He also continued to act in films. He portrayed a disgruntled restaurant employee opposite Rosanna Arquette in The Linguini Incident (Richard Shephard, 1991), and the mysterious FBI agent Phillip Jeffries in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (David Lynch, 1992). He took a small but pivotal role as Andy Warhol in the biopic Basquiat (Julian Schnabel, 1996), and co-starred in the spaghetti western Il Mio West/Gunslinger's Revenge (Giovanni Veronesi, 1998) as the most feared gunfighter in the region.

Bowie played the ageing gangster Bernie in Everybody Loves Sunshine (Andrew Goth, 1999), and appeared in the TV horror serial of The Hunger. In Mr. Rice's Secret (2000), he played the title role as the neighbour of a terminally ill twelve-year-old, and appeared as himself in Zoolander (Ben Stiller, 2001). He portrayed physicist Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006), about the bitter rivalry between two magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) in the late 19th century. In August (Austin Chick, 2008), he played a supporting role as Ogilvie, alongside Josh Hartnett.

Bowie did not tour since the 2003–2004 Reality Tour and did not perform live since 2006. In 2013, he returned with the studio album The Next Day — his first in ten years. The album was produced by Bowie's longtime collaborator Tony Visconti. The music video of the track The Stars (Are Out Tonight) starred Tilda Swinton as Bowie's wife, and also featured young models Saskia de Brauw, Andrej Pejic, and Iselin Steiro. Tim Blanks at Style File Blog: "This particular offering toys with the androgyny, the bravado, the decadence, the desire that turns an ordinary human being into a raving fan. " The video was directed by Floria Sigismondi, who was also behind the videos for Bowie's Little Wonder (1996) and Dead Man Walking (1997).

On 8 January 2016, the date of David Bowie's 69th birthday, his final studio album Blackstar was released; he died two days later. Throughout his career, Bowie has sold an estimated 140 million albums. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him 39th on their list of the ‘100 Greatest Artists of All Time’, and 23rd on their list of the best singers of all time. Since 1992 Bowie was married to Somali-American model Iman. They had one daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones (2000).

Official video for David Bowie Space Oddity. Source: David Bowie (YouTube).

Trailer The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Source: LionsgateVOD (YouTube).

Trailer Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983). Source: kasoooo (YouTube).

Trailer The Hunger (1983). Source: 28march2008 (YouTube).

Trailer Labyrinth (1986). Source: SonyPicsHomeEntWorld (YouTube).

Sources: Mark Deming (AllMovie), Andrea LeVasseur (AllMovie), Dara O’Kearney (IMDb), Tim Blanks (Style File Blog), AllMovie, Wikipedia, and IMDb.


Jim said...

I was a little surprised that you did not mention Mr. Bowie's formation of the band Tin Machine in 1988; this band was significant in that two of the members were Soupy Sales' sons, Tony Sales on bass, and Hunt Sales on drums.

Paul van Yperen said...

Thanks for the addition!