World mourns David Bowie’s unexpected death

Bowie resided outside mainstream music, influenced many

Sharlene Celeskey, Contemporary Arts Editor

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Strobe lights violently flashed in the small theater, the introduction from “A Clockwork Orange” blasted through speakers, four men in glittering costumes ran onto a round stage in the middle of the venue and started a blistering, hard rocking “Hang on to Yourself.” The front man and guitarist looked painfully thin in his brightly patterned jumpsuit, but he performed with energy.

Then there was that short, bright red hair that looked like the top of a bottlebrush. Within five minutes of the whirlwind performance of “The Spiders from Mars,” I knew that the ‘70s had finally arrived.

The date was Nov. 5, 1972, and I had been waiting for the hippie music, the long extended self-indulgent instrumental solos, the long hair and bellbottomed jeans to fade out, for the ‘60s to make their exit. David Bowie eradicated the ‘60s that night, and a new era of rock and roll began. David Bowie’s image immediately replaced led my Zeppelin and Doors posters, and all five of his albums were sitting in my record collection within a week.

 

Fast-forward 24 years. Music lovers and fans eagerly awaited David Bowie’s new album, which was released on his 69th birthday, Jan. 8, 2016. Music critics raved about this jazz inspired album that sounded different from his previous work. Two extraordinary videos, “Black Star” and “Lazarus,” came out before the album and bewildered everyone. Bowie was all over the news when his album dropped, but the world was not prepared for what happened two days after his birthday.

David Bowie’s website announced his death, and then Bowie’s son, director Duncan Jones, confirmed it on Twitter. Immediately a post appeared on his official Facebook page confirming the news. Instantly, his death was headline news. Waves of shock went out across the world as his friends, fans and the music industry reacted. CNN immediately changed their news programs and ran a special report on him.

Bowie’s music, style and persona resided outside the mainstream of music as he continually thought outside the box. Fans were devoted to him because early on he demonstrated it was OK to be different. Jan. 10th marked more than the death of a rock star. It was the death of the true artist. Fans and fellow musicians went into deep mourning because they knew that it was unlikely that there would ever be such an extraordinary creative force in music again.

The Early Years

British rocker, David Bowie seemed to suddenly appear as he flamboyantly arrived on the music scene in 1972. The 25-year-old had been in bands and a solo artist for over 10 years. He joined the Konrads in 1962 and meandered through the London music scene trying to find his own niche. He studied mime and had bit parts as an actor. He released his first album, “David Bowie” in 1967 and saw his first hit, “A Space Oddity,“ in 1969 from a second album called “David Bowie” (Renamed, “Space Oddity”). He shocked the public when he appeared with long hair and in a dress (a long coat dress) on the cover of “The Man Who Sold the World” the next year. The songs were dark and harsh and done in a hard rock music style and were a departure from his earlier softer style. The following year, a blonde Marlene-Dietrich-looking Bowie appeared on the cover of “Hunky Dory” and sang in a variety of musical styles about Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan and ambiguous sexuality.

Ziggy Stardust

When Bowie released his fifth album, “Ziggy Stardust,” in June 1972, his popularity shortly skyrocketed and he was on his way to becoming a definite musical force of the ‘70s. It was a hard pulsating rock album with an alien theme about a self-destructive musician that was Bowie’s alter ego and stage character. British teenagers stated in Hamish Hamilton’s 2013 documentary, “David Bowie Is Happening Now,” their lives changed as they witnessed Bowie’s performance of “Starman” on “Tops of the Pops” on July 5th. He appeared on TV in his brightly colored jumpsuit, shiny red lace up boots and orange hair with his band, “The Spiders from Mars.” Bowie’s bold way of flaunting his bisexuality as he affectionately put his arm around his guitarist, Mick Ronson, shocked and alienated adults but resonated with young people.

His Ziggy Stardust tour had both hits and misses in the United States when Bowie arrived in the U.S. that fall. A pale and very thin Bowie appeared on the Nov. 10th issue of Rolling Stone and the magazine stated he was gay and married. Big cities embraced him, but cities like Phoenix brought out only artists, curiosity seekers and the avant-garde.

 Ziggy evolves

Soon Ziggy gave way to the eyebrowless Aladdin Sane with a red and blue lightning bolt painted on his face. After his Japan tour, Bowie returned home with vividly colored Kabuki makeup and a wardrobe of costumes designed by young Japanese designer, Kansai Yamamoto. His 1973 “Aladdin Sane” album continued the rock and roll style and included an alien themed song, “Drive-In Saturday.” A second album recorded the same year featured ‘60s model Twiggy and Bowie in glamorous makeup. It was among his favorite album covers from the 60’s.

Then Bowie shocked the world again in July 1973 during the last night of the Aladdin Sane tour in London. Bowie killed off Ziggy Stardust when he announced during the encore it was the last night that he and the Spiders from Mars would ever play. He left fans in a whirlwind wondering what was in Bowie’s future.

Later in October, he resurrected Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars for a series of concerts filmed at London’s Marquee Club. The “1980 Floor Show“ aired in November on the Midnight Special in the United States, only. Bowie played his new song, “1984/Dodo,” from his upcoming “Diamond Dogs” album as he appeared in an oversized, stylized metallic bodysuit by Yamamoto. The remaining songs were new covers like, “I Got You Babe” (performed with Marianne Faithfull in a white satin nun’s habit), and songs from “Pinups” and “Aladdin Sane.”

He was very dramatic as he performed in cabaret style, backed by a trio of backup singers called the Astronettes. His costumes were extravagant, glamorous and ranged from a black spider web body suit with 3-D gold hands around the chest to a red patent leather body suit, with thigh high black stiletto boots and a feather and sequined bodice.

Bowie worked at a frenzied pace in the ‘70s, churning out 10 studio albums, an album of ‘60’s covers and two double live albums. His 1974 “Diamond Dogs” proved to a more dramatic story album influenced by George Orwell’s “1984.” He created his own character, “Halloween Jack,” and placed him in a post-apocalyptic world. Songs like “Rebel, Rebel” were harder rock; Bowie was creating a new funkier style that was apparent in, “1984.” As the tour, which began in June, progressed, the show had more emphasis on his new style, which was highly influenced by Philadelphia soul.

Cocaine and new sounds

Bowie dubbed his “Young Americans” album “Plastic Soul.” Released in 1975, it earned him his first No. 1 U.S. hit, “Fame,” which he wrote with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar. As Bowie’s popularity grew, so did his cocaine habit.

When British director Nicholas Roeg offered him the role of alien Thomas Jerome Newton in “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” he gladly accepted. Although the film was confusing, Bowie’s performance as an alien trying to go home was perfect and received critical acclaim.

After the film wrapped, he started “Station to Station” and a new alter ego, “The Thin White Duke.” The title track runs for 10 minutes and begins with a train sound as industrial and electronic sounds creep in. The first hit from the album was the disco influenced, “Golden Years.” This highly acclaimed album was the beginning of his shift to more experimental music. Although Bowie was at a low point in his life, paranoid and highly addicted to cocaine, it did not hurt his artistic output. His severe look of the back blonde hair, classic white shirts and black tailored pants and vest gave him a European aristocratic air. All theatrics were gone for the “Isolar” tour as the music became the major focus. During the tour, Bowie asked U.S. punk musician Iggy Pop, whose album “Raw Power“ he produced in 1972, to accompany him to Europe.

The Berlin Trilogy

After the tour, Bowie co-wrote and produced Iggy’s album, “The Idiot.” Their song, “China Girl,” would later turn up on David Bowie’s “Let Dance” album in 1983. After the album was finished, Bowie went on tour with Iggy as his keyboardist.

Bowie also worked on his own album, “Low,” which showed a split personality as the artist tried to shake his cocaine habit. The first side began with innovative songs like: ”Be My Wife,” “Speed of Life,” and “Always Driving in the Same Car.” The second side is instrumental and influenced by German electronic bands. Experimental musician and synthesizer wizard, Brian Eno, worked with Bowie on the second side. It was the first of his Berlin Trilogy.

Bowie and Iggy were now residing in Berlin and began work on Iggy’s album, “Lust for Life.” Bowie wrote many of the songs on the album and co-produced it. Then he began work on his second Berlin album, “Heroes.” Not as experimental as “Low,” the album still has German electronica influences and the instrumental “V-2 Schneider” was written about Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider.

One of Bowie’s most popular songs from the album was, “Heroes.” Eno worked with Bowie and brought progressive rock guitarist Robert Fripp in to help. The album deals with dark themes like mood swings in “Beauty and the Beast,” but it is more positive that “Low.” Bowie returned to his natural brown hair color, adopted a down-to-earth lifestyle, and took on another acting role in the British film “Just A Gigolo,” shot in Berlin. He went back on tour (Isolar II) in 1988 to showcase songs from both, “Low,” and “Heroes.” Again this was a stripped down tour with only columns of white lights in the background. He performed as himself and put all the emphasis on the music. He wore an atypical wardrobe of baggy but stylish clothes by Natasha Korniloff.   The well received tour was his highest attended yet as his fan base had grown.

The 1979 “Lodger,” completed the Berlin Trilogy and was still a collaboration between Bowie and Eno. The first side was still experimental while the second side contained songs with a world music feel. The “Boys Keep Swinging” video was upbeat and featured Bowie dressed as three cross-dressers. “Move On,” which was Bowie’s earlier song, “All the Young Dudes,” was recorded backwards.

The End of the Golden Age

Bowie started off the ‘80s with a nod to his past while looking towards a new decade of pop. Following the failure of “Lodger,” Bowie used less experimentation in his 1980’s “Scary Monsters.” Bowie acknowledged the coming of new wave music in the video as he dressed in a glittery Pierrot costume and walked with costumed kids from a trendy London club. He also brought back Major Tom from 1969’s “Space Oddity” in a new song, “Ashes to Ashes.” Major Tom is now a mature disillusioned drug addict. “Scary Monsters” concluded the decade of Bowie’s greatest work. Then he took on the role of Joseph (John) Merrick in the stage production of “The Elephant Man,” which eventually appeared on Broadway. Bowie played Merrick’s character with no makeup, which forced him to show his deformities through expressive body language. He received positive reviews for his portrayal.

Pop Music

The ‘80s started on a positive note for Bowie, and his popularity grew immensely but this was not his most artistically creative decade. He played stadiums and scored his second No. 1 U.S. hit with “Let’s Dance.” He starred as a vampire in “The Hunger,” a rebellious prisoner of WWII in “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,” and portrayed the Goblin King Jareth in “Labyrinth.”

His popularity soared, aided by MTV; since he was a visual artist, he was a perfect fit. Bowie set out to make a hit album and found the perfect partner in Chic member Nile Rodgers. Their collaboration bore the 1983 album “Let’s Dance.” Talented guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughn, also worked on the album.

Full of dance pop songs it was popular with new wave and mainstream crowds. His Serious Moonlight tour that year was his largest ever and exceeded attendance expectations as it played sold out arenas worldwide. A tanned Bowie with bleached platinum hair and colorful suits with big shoulder pads looked more wholesome and mainstream than he had before.

The next year he put out “Tonight,” which did not match the previous album in song quality and received poor reviews. Bowie released a mini film, which he collaborated with British director Julien Temple, for the song “Blue Jean.” It featured a performer called Lord Byron dressed in Turkish garb.

His last pop album of the ‘80s, “Never Let Me Down,” sold well but again was a disappointment to critics and some fans. Despite the hits it was devoid of creative energy. The Glass Spider tour that followed was the most elaborate production of his career and was choreographed by Toni Basil who had a hit in the ‘80s with “Mickey.” Bowie later disliked the album but included a reworked version of his “Time Will Crawl” in his compilation, “iSelect.” The tour was successful but it was overblown and more like a Broadway play than a rock show. He later dismissed the last two albums of the ‘80s, calling them his Phil Collins years on the “Jonathan Ross Show” on BBC One in July 5, 2002.

Just part of the Band

After the extravagant Glass Spider Tour, 41-year- old Bowie drastically changed direction and put together the electronic rock band, “Tin Machine.” The band included guitarist Gabriel Reeves and brothers Tony and Hunt Sales, who previously worked with Iggy Pop. The band gave him a chance to leave behind the pop world he felt uncomfortable in. No longer the star, he was part of a foursome and could play the music he wanted to.

Their first album, “Tin Machine,” released in 1989 sold well initially. When their second album was released in 1991, it did not do as well. The music was still experimental but with more R & B. When Tin Machine went on tour, they played mostly smaller venues and select cities. Most fans did not like the idea of Bowie, the band member, instead of the star. Tin Machine was not the most successful endeavor for Bowie but gave him time to explore what he wanted to do for himself.

Shortly after, Tin Machine dissolved. Bowe returned to working solo and experimenting with new sounds and styles while often reaching back to his own Spider guitarist on “I Feel Free,” Mick Ronson. The album called “Black Tie, White Noise” contained personal songs like “The Wedding” and “Pallas Athena,” written for his recent wedding to supermodel Iman, and “Jump They Said” about his schizophrenic brother who committed suicide. His style included a combination of the new wave of R&B, hip-hop and house music, and most critics gave it positive reviews while the album sold well,

His next album was a musical soundtrack for a British TV program,
“Buddha of Suburbia,” and featured music similar to his electronic period. He went back to his past of experimental music, dystopian world view, and working with Eno for his 1995 release, “Outside.”

The album was generally well received with three hit singles: the bleak “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson,” “Strangers When We Meet,” and the catchy, “Hello Spaceboy.” Bowie returned to telling a story with this album, and the theme focused around outsider art at the end of the millennium.  He toured that year, performing on a bare bones stage where music was the focus as well as his new songs. His look on this tour featured sleeveless shirts and pants covered with paint.

Bowie finished the ‘90s with two more electronic and avant-garde albums: “Earthling,” was released in 1998 and “The Hours” released in 1999. The album cover of “Earthling” showed Bowie in a stunning coat jacket cover in a union jack design made of shredded material. Bowie designed it with Alexander McQueen. This electronic music had a more industrial sound and the album received mixed reviews. “I’m Afraid of Americans,” one of the singles, had a harsher aggressive sound with an intense heart pounding video.

A more relaxed album, “The Hours,” contained some of the music that was used for the video game, “Omikron.” The album features the beautiful haunting “Thursday’s Child.” The album was calmer in comparison to the rabid pace of “Earthling” and only made it to 47 in the U.S. charts and earned mixed reviews.

The New millennium

Bowie began the new millennium with “Heathen” in 2002 and “Reality” in 2003. “Heathen” was one of his most popular albums and highest rated since the ‘80s. The album dealt with feelings of angst and panic in society, a reoccurring theme of Bowie’s. “Reality, “released a year later followed a more traditional album format. The album received good reviews and the next year Bowie toured in support of it. He continued to use the bare stage and highlight his music, which included new tunes but also numerous songs from his decades of hits. Towards the end of the tour in Germany, Bowie experienced chest pains and had emergency angioplasty for a blocked artery. He cancelled the remaining dates and gave up touring for good and only performed several more times in public.

He put out no new music since “Reality,” in 2003. The world was stunned when Bowie released the video of a new song “Where Are We Now” on Jan. 8, 2013, his 66th birthday. It was announced on that a new album that “The Next Day” would soon follow. When it was released, it went to No. 1 in the U.K. and many countries while charting at No. 2 in the U.S. Reviews were positive and fans loved the record.

The songs were solid, varied in style and were reminiscent of different songs over his career. Bowie had won critics and fans over by reaching back into his past for inspiration and it worked. He adamantly denied that he would ever tour again. He did no interviews for the record and was barely seen out in public.

The world heard from Bowie again the next year when he released a new song, “Sue” (“Or in a Season of Crime”) on his compilation album, “Nothing Has Changed,” in November. It was also released as a digital download and a 10-inch single backed with “A Pity She’s Whore.” Both new songs have a jazzy and art rock feel to them.

Bowie co-wrote the musical “Lazarus” that debuted off Broadway on Dec. 7. It was based on Walter Tevis’ novel, “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” (Bowie stared in the 1976 film version.) He wrote new songs and reworked old ones for the project and appeared at the opening night of his play.

On Nov. 19, 2015, Bowie’s new single, “Blackstar,” was released from his new upcoming album by the same name. A 10-minute companion mini film followed. The song continued with the jazz influenced art rock sound of his 2014 singles. “Blackstar” was also the first video released for the new album that would come out on Bowie’s 69th birthday on Jan. 8. The song is just under 10 minutes long and switches from a very experimental jazz sound to a more melodic sound and back again.

The video is a surreal mini movie with so much symbolism you find something new each time you watch it. The initial viewing is overwhelming and when it is done, you say, “WOW, what did I just view? Do the bones and skull of an astronaut symbolize Major Tom?” The trio shaking uncontrollably uses similar moves found in the ‘70s Fashion video. How did the highly decorative skull end up in the dead astronaut’s helmet? The video is very creative, complex and beautifully shot.

The day before the album was to be released, a second video, “Lazarus,” debuted on Jan. 7. This video that shows Bowie lying in a hospital bed is as disturbing as “Blackstar.” You wonder who is the menacing, haunting woman under the bed. Death? Even more upsetting is the frailty of Bowie.

When the album is released, it is an instant hit and within a week it will chart at No. 1 around the world, giving Bowie his first No. 1 album in the U.S. “Blackstar,” the album, is very different from any album he has done before. It is experimental as were so many others, but this is a new sound going beyond jazz and art rock. It is definitely an album you have to listen to several times. But once you listen to songs like “Blackstar” and “Lazarus,” they play over and over in your head since they are so haunting. Two songs, “Sue” and “Pity She’s a Whore,” had already been released. “Dollar Days” sounds mournful with beautiful saxophone parts, one of the best tracks on the album. The saxophone takes over the song, “I Can’t Give Anything” as it weaves in and out of repetitive beats.

His new album, “Blackstar,” was released on his 69th birthday in January 2016. The public, the media and music industry were excited about his videos and analyzed the new work. The day the album came out, two new photos surfaced, and Bowie was elegantly dressed as always in a perfectly tailored suit and black hat. Two days later, the world learned he had passed away from cancer.

Immediately, the sales of “Blackstar” surged, and the “Lazarus” video jumped to a million views, and as of Feb. 16, to 30 million. Now both took on new meaning. Actually, the entire album does and you have to listen closely to every word to find the clues that he sings about dying. Ever the artist, Bowie left this world as the true artist he was, working while he was dying to leave us his parting music; and what better way to tell us than in a video. This is why the man can never be replaced in the music world.

This year’s Grammy Show honored Bowie by scheduling a tribute to him. Oddly, he only won one Grammy and was given A Lifetime Achievement Grammy. Lady Gaga who is highly influence by him was scheduled to perform a medley of his songs. Although Gaga is an accomplished and versatile singer, her performance was a miss as it totally failed to capture the artistry of the man. Bowie was first and foremost an artist and not a rock star or performer. He always carefully planned out everything he did. This Grammy fiasco featured over-the-top visuals, state of the art lighting, acrobatic dancers, Gaga dressed in a cheap glitter outfit, and it failed to capture Bowie’s essence. Why was she trying to sing like a man when she naturally has a beautiful voice? Her performance divided Bowie fans as they argued bitterly in social media sites, and even his son Duncan Bowie twittered an unfavorable comment. The tribute only made Bowie’s passing more painful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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World mourns David Bowie’s unexpected death