Music. Art. Fashion. Often these run in the same company, but few manage quite the memorable spectacle created by David Bowie. He made everything an art form -- especially actual art forms -- and his visual creations on album covers, on stage, and even in real life, were the only things that couldn't be outshined by his musical talent. His one-of-a-kind voice, together with his immense talent and skill on a wide variety of musical instruments, had to be stellar so as not to be outdone by his mindboggling sense of style.
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David Bowie: The Chameleon
Some megastars manage to make a career span decades, remaining much the same both in terms of physical appearance and in musical style. Frank Sinatra, for instance, was always the heartthrob crooner, and though was adept at keeping pace with the styles of the times, he kept basically the same image for over his 60-year musical career. BB King has always been the soulish bluesman. The Rolling Stones have always been bodacious rockers.
Other stars, especially musicians, manage to reinvent themselves over and over. These folks aren't following the styles of the times; they're creating them. Madonna incarnated as dumb blonde, Geisha girl, missionary, dominatrix, and boy toy, often in rapid succession. Eric Clapton has undergone more style changes than a Shakespearean actor in his 55 years in music -- looking, at some point or another, like everything from an artsy professor to a homeless man. This is the tribe David Bowie belongs to. In fact, he took the "musical chameleon" thing to entirely new heights. Mars, to be exact.
David Bowie: The History
Breaking on the scene officially as Ziggy Stardust with the album Space Oddity (1969), which was his first big break on the charts. It reached #5 on the UK charts, though by then he'd already released 5 singles and an album (David Bowie). He quickly put out two more albums before his next big break with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which also reached the #5 slot in 1972. Only after the success of Ziggy Stardust did sales of his previous album, Hunky Dory, pick up. It eventually reached #3 on the UK charts.
His self-titled debut album was re-released after that, using the title Space Oddity and a photo of Bowie looking very Ziggy-esque. After that, Bowie albums and singles ranking well on the charts was practically a given.
Bowie borrowed from a wide variety of musical influences to develop his unique brand, which most music historians consider to be the womb of Glam Rock (along with marc Bolan, of course). His musical heritage included R&B; Pop Rock; the Rock and Roll of Elvis, The Platters, and Fats Domino (he was particularly moved by Little Richard's Tutti Frutti); Soul Music (especially Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye); and crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bryan Ferry. He was also heavily influenced by Modern Jazz, and the budding Punk Rock scene, which, at that time, was deeply steeped in the culture of New York transvestites. That's most likely where the "glam" came from -- the drag queens that helped popularize punk music. With Bowie's help, these hidden backroom styles and sounds gained an air of legitimacy. According to music historian and biographer James Perone, Bowie, "brought sophistication to rock music."
David Bowie: The Man
Was Bowie, himself, gay? Bisexual? Straight, with a twist? Bowie's love life speaks for itself, though he was always cryptic about the issue, at times calling his bisexual tendencies to be one of his greatest gifts, at other times, denying it altogether. His dating life consisted mainly of women, with the occasional gent in the mix, and he did have two long-term marriages with women. He was married to Angie Bowie from 1970 to 1980, though the actual relationship ended much earlier, and he lived with girlfriend Ava Cherry from 1972 to 1975. He didn't remarry until 1992, but that marriage to entrepreneur, actress, model, and philanthropist, Iman, lasted until his death in 2016. Iman is perhaps most known for her contributions to the industry of ethnic cosmetics. Iman means "faith" in Arabic; she is Somali-American.
While it's been widely rumored (and even occasionally "reported") that Bowie and good pal Mick Jagger were, ahem, much more than friends, Bowie's long-time girlfriend, Ava Cherry, denies it entirely. She blames the story on Angie Bowie's anger after their breakup. Angie might have said some things that weren't entirely true. Cherry maintains that if Bowie and Jagger were anything more than friends, she never saw it or knew about it, unlikely since she spent a large amount of time with both Jagger and Bowie over a three-year span. There were men, most definitely, but Jagger wasn't likely one of them. Mick Ronson, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed were all rumored to have been Bowie lovers at some point, but most of Bowie's supposed "gay hookups" deny the allegations.
Bowie also had his share of trouble with drugs. Toward the end of his relationship with Ava Cherry (circa 1975), he discovered that a few million dollars was missing from his coffers, due to improprieties by a business manger. Then girlfriend Cherry believed this was at least partially to blame for sending him into a spiral of drug abuse that reportedly worried even his druggie cohorts. It wasn't until the mid-1980's that Bowie kicked the habit for good, after being granted custody of his son, Zowie, following his divorce. Allegedly, Angie Bowie has neither seen nor spoken to her son since. Zowie now goes by the name Duncan Jones and is a 46-year-old movie director.
The senior Bowie's supposedly different-colored eyes actually had nothing to do with genetics, or even being a real-life man from outer space. A school pal and he got into a fight (over a girl), in which the friend punched Bowie hard in the eye. It took multiple surgeries to repair, and the eye was permanently damaged, leaving one pupil blown and that eye appearing a different color than the other. The friend, George Underwood, remained a friend, and there were no lingering hard feelings about the incident. In fact, Bowie later thanked him for such unique looks, which, at least partially, helped catapult him to success, adding an aura of weirdness to his larger-than-life character.
According to his teachers, Bowie exhibited extraordinary musical talent and dance skills as a British lad, as early as elementary school. Aside from his stellar vocal talent, Bowie skillfully played the saxophone, guitar, keyboards, percussion, harmonica, violin, viola, cello, and a few others. Bowie also spent his time in school studying art and design, which showed up vividly in his album art, amazingly visual live performances, fashion sense, and other artistic endeavors. Dabbling a bit in artwork, he even used one of his own self-portraits for the cover of the album Outside.
David Bowie: Musical & Theatrical Contributions
Bowie was (along with fellow artists The Beatles and The Rolling Stones) sometimes tagged with the term "plastic soul". Plastic Soul is the term black musical artists sometimes used to tag white musicians who worked in the art form of Soul Music. Paul McCartney and Bowie gladly embraced the term, and Bowie proudly applied it to his 1975 album Young Americans.
His contributions to the industry were significant across genres. Acts like Nirvana, Duran Duran, Smashing Pumpkins, Ozzy Osborne, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, and even Lady Gaga all exhibit signs of Bowie's contribution to the world of music.
Bowie's acting career wasn't shabby, either. He began acting as a mime, and eventually went on to work both avant-garde theater, Broadway theater, film, rock musicals, voice acting, and even television. Some of his most notable acting credits include The Man Who Fell to Earth (his persona as spaceman was more or less a constant throughout his career), Zoolander, Labyrinth, and The Last Temptation of Christ. He was offered the role of a James Bond villain in A View to a Kill, but declined.
His career spanned five full decades, garnering no shortage of critical acclaim. It is estimated that his album sales total more than 140 million, landing him a spot on the list of best-selling musical artists in the world. In the US, he took 5 platinum and 9 gold certifications; in the UK he received 9 platinum album certifications, 11 gold, 8 silver, and 11 albums that reached the #1 spot on UK charts. In 1996, he received his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
To the shock and horror of Bowie fans and music lovers around the world, he succumbed to his 18-month battle with liver cancer on January 10, 2016. It was just two days after the release of his final album, Blackstar. The album was released on his 69th birthday, January 8, 2016.