THE HIGHS AND LOW OF David Bowie

FAN­TAS­TIC VOY­AGE

Exclaim! - - FRONT PAGE - by stephen carlick

Yet be­hind Ziggy Star­dust, be­hindbe the Thin White Duke, be­hind David BowieBo even, wasn’t an al­li­ga­tor, a star­man or an alien, but David Robert Jones, a rest­less cre­ative soul who cre­ated work so fan­tas­ti­cal and in­spir­ing that it made us for­get he was a flawed, pas­sion­ate hu­man be­ing like us.

1947 to 1966

David Robert Jones is born on Jan­uary 8, 1947 in Brix­ton, UK. He’s ob­sessed with Amer­i­can cul­ture as a young man. Af­ter quit­ting school, David be­comes a de­signer at an ad agency. When he agrees to paint his man­ager’s of­fice, the other painter is a mu­si­cian named Marc Bolan; the two be­come fast friends. By 1966, David is work­ing with Ken­neth Pitt, his first de­voted man­ager. On Pitt’s ad­vice that there are too many David Joneses, he adopts a new name: David Bowie.

Pitt trav­els to New York to speak with Andy Warhol about rep­re­sent­ing his then-un­known new group, the Vel­vet Un­der­ground, and re­turns with an ac­etate of the un­re­leased The Vel­vet Un­der­ground & Nico. Bowie later writes that the al­bum “was sav­agely in­dif­fer­ent to my feel­ings. It didn’t care if I liked it or not. It was com­pletely pre­oc­cu­pied with a world un­seen by my sub­ur­ban eyes.”

1967 to 1970 Pitt signs a deal with Deram Records; Bowie's self-ti­tled de­but is re­leased with­out fan­fare. An em­ployee at Bowie’s pub­lish­ing firm gives David Bowie to 23-yearold mu­si­cian and pro­ducer Tony Vis­conti from New York. Vis­conti and Bowie start record­ing soon af­ter. In late 1967, Deram drops him. The end of a re­la­tion­ship in 1968 is cre­atively good for Bowie, and in­spires some of his best ma­te­rial yet, in­clud­ing a song that merges his sense of iso­la­tion with the space travel theme that Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has made ubiq­ui­tous. “Space Odd­ity” con­vinces Mer­cury Records to fi­nance the song’s record­ing, and the demo earns him a deal at the la­bel. He records a full stu­dio ver­sion fea­tur­ing a Mel­lotron part played by stu­dio key­boardist Rick Wake­man (later of Strawbs and Yes). Al­though the sin­gle rock­ets to num­ber 48 al­most im­me­di­ately, it lingers on the out­skirts of the charts.

In 1969, Bowie meets Mer­cury em­ployee Mary An­gela Bar­nett (aka Angie); she's smart, well-read and am­bi­tious. A new mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive makes “Space Odd­ity” a pri­or­ity; the sin­gle hits num­ber five and earns Bowie his first ap­pear­ance on Top of the Pops in Oc­to­ber.

Bowie’s se­cond self-ti­tled al­bum — a dark, psy­che­delic folk-rock suite that would fi­nally an­nounce him as a vi­tal new voice — is re­leased in Novem­ber 1969. (It will later be re-re­leased as Space Odd­ity.) Bowie and Angie wed in March of 1970. Around this time, drum­mer John Cam­bridge, who played on Bowie’s 1969 al­bum, con­vinces Mick Ron­son to join their band, the Hype.

When Bolan’s T. Rex take off, Bowie is de­pressed and jeal­ous; no longer feel­ing his man­ager ca­pa­ble of keep­ing up with the chang­ing cul­ture, David de­cides to part ways with Ken­neth Pitt. Bowie, Pitt and a lawyer named Tony De­fries meet in May, 1970 to fi­nal­ize the split; De­fries sees Bowie’s po­ten­tial, and as­sumes the man­ager role. Bowie will later ad­mit that Vis­conti and Ron­son shaped much of the sound of The Man Who Sold the World, Bowie’s hard­e­strock­ing record, in the stu­dio, but it’s Bowie’s lyrics about men­tal ill­ness and war that add the al­bum’s sense of dark­ness. It’s re­leased in Novem­ber, 1970.

1971 to 1972 In Jan­uary, 1971, Bowie em­barks on his first Amer­i­can press tour. The Man Who Sold the World isn’t ex­actly a hit, but Mer­cury is in­tent on in­tro­duc­ing Bowie to the right peo­ple. Back in Eng­land, Angie gives birth to Dun­can Zowie Hay­wood Jones. Bowie lays down a se­ries of demos at Lon­don’s Ra­dio Lux­em­bourg Stu­dios, in­clud­ing “Life on Mars?,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Hang On to Your­self,” “Moon­age Day­dream” and oth­ers that will ap­pear on his next two al­bums. Ron­son writes string ar­range­ments and many of his best are writ­ten, ac­cord­ing to his wife, “In the loo. With­out even a key­board. Only by ear.” The more pi­ano-based Hunky Dory is the sound of Bowie hit­ting his stride, and De­fries suc­cess­fully shops Hunky Dory to RCA in New York.

In Jan­uary 1972, Bowie sits for a piv­otal Melody Maker in­ter­view in which he drops a bomb­shell: “I’m gay and al­ways have been, even when I was David Jones.” The am­bi­gu­ity, given Bowie’s wife and son, is ir­re­sistible to the press, and the story is picked up widely.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Star­dust and the Spi­ders From Mars is re­leased in June 1972. Ziggy Star­dust, an anti-hero for a dystopian world, per­fectly em­bod­ies the deca­dent, de­bauched ’70s. The Ziggy Star­dust tour gar­ners rave re­views and Bowie re­turns to Top of the Pops to play “Star­man,” a per­for­mance that will in­spire the for­ma­tion of bands like Joy Divi­sion, Echo and the Bun­ny­men, the Smiths and Siouxsie and the Ban­shees.

By late Oc­to­ber, the Ziggy tour hits the Amer­i­can West coast; a record­ing of one of their suc­cess­ful Santa Mon­ica shows will be­come a fa­mous boot­leg.

1973 to 1974 In Jan­uary 1973, Bowie re­turns to Lon­don to be­gin record­ing the songs he’d writ­ten in Amer­ica, un­der im­mense pres­sure to fol­low up Ziggy Star­dust. A se­cond U.S. tour kicks off in Fe­bru­ary, end­ing in Hol­ly­wood in March. While in L.A., Bowie in­vites groupie Lori Mad­dox, then 13 years old, to have din­ner; af­ter­wards, they re­turn to the Bev­erly Hil­ton ho­tel. While Mad­dox claims “I was very aware of what was go­ing on,” the fact re­mains that she was 13 at the time.

Re­leased in April 1973, Aladdin Sane is per­haps even more ni­hilis­tic and glammy

Wswan e are still pro­cess­ing both david bowie’sbowie pass­ing and his el­e­gant swan song, black­star.

than its pre­de­ces­sor. Ten­sions are high when the Spi­ders re­turn to Eng­land from a tour in Ja­pan due to in­fre­quent and in­ad­e­quate pay­ment. Bowie takes their ask­ing for money as an in­sult and se­cretly makes a de­ci­sion to kill off Ziggy Star­dust and the Spi­ders from Mars. Only Ron­son knows; the rest of the band find out when Bowie tells a crowd, “Not only is it the last show of the tour, it's the last show we'll ever do.” Within the hour, fu­ture Sex Pis­tols gui­tarist Steve Jones is steal­ing their gear out of the back of the venue.

A week later, Bowie flies to France with Mick Ron­son to record Pin­ups, a record of cov­ers from the 1960s and ear­lier. By this point, Bowie has be­come ad­dicted to co­caine, a sub­stance that, in the early '70s, is ubiq­ui­tous. By the time Pin­ups is re­leased in Oc­to­ber 1973, Bowie has al­ready recorded new songs and is plan­ning a the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion of Ge­orge Or­well's novel 1984. When Bowie is de­nied the rights to the book, he re­fash­ions the songs into a loose nar­ra­tive about a dystopian fu­ture world called Hunger City, in which ni­hilis­tic, vi­o­lent teenagers run the streets. Bowie plans for a tour with an elab­o­rate stage setup that re­flects the themes of the forth­com­ing record, Di­a­mond Dogs.

RCA pro­vides a huge bud­get for the tour, his most ex­trav­a­gant yet; it fea­tures a the­atri­cal set of a city, com­plete with street­lights, tow­ers and a bridge that moves up and down. Bowie's man­age­ment com­pany, MainMan, fi­nan­cially drained from the limos, stu­dio time, ex­pense ac­counts and co­caine, needs money, so he rushes out a sin­gle, “Rebel Rebel,” in Fe­bru­ary. Di­a­mond Dogs, Bowie's dark­est al­bum yet and his last to flirt with glam rock, is re­leased in May, 1974. The Di­a­mond Dogs tour kicks off in Mon­treal in June: he never ad­dresses the au­di­ence, or men­tions the city he's in; there are no breaks be­tween songs; and he leaves with­out tak­ing a bow. It's a phe­nom­e­non largely un­seen in rock, and yet, Bowie tires of it; when the first leg of the tour wraps, he re­tires the spec­ta­cle, opt­ing for a stripped­back soul re­vue that re­flects the di­rec­tion of his next al­bum.

Bowie be­friends RCA stu­dio gui­tarist Car­los Alo­mar, and in Au­gust, be­gins record­ing Young Amer­i­cans, a “blue-eyed soul” trib­ute to Amer­i­can funk, soul and R&B, at Sigma Sound Stu­dios in Philadel­phia. Alo­mar brings in a then-un­known singer named Luther Van­dross to con­trib­ute. He co- writes a song called “Fas­ci­na­tion” with Bowie for Young Amer­i­cans.

When the se­cond leg of the Di­a­mond Dogs tour be­gins in Septem­ber 1974, it's now ti­tled Philly Dogs and fea­tures Bowie backed by his ace soul band, in­clud­ing Van­dross singing backup. David Live, a live al­bum that cap­tures a night of Bowie's Di­a­mond Dogs tour, is re­leased at the end of Oc­to­ber.

1975 to 1976 In Jan­uary 1975, Bowie in­vites John Len­non to New York's Power Plant, where he's record­ing a ver­sion of “Across the Uni­verse”; while there, Car­los Alo­mar plays a riff for the two singers, who make up lyrics to new song, “Fame,” on the spot. Around this time, Bowie is grow­ing more para­noid; he has lit­tle ac­cess to or con­trol over his funds, and be­gins ask­ing ques­tions of his man­ager, De­fries, about where his money is go­ing. He hires a lawyer and, on Jan­uary 29, heads to the RCA of­fices to tell them he's break­ing with De­fries, who sends RCA an in­junc­tion to stop them from re­leas­ing Young Amer­i­cans. The re­ported set­tle­ment is that De­fries will own a piece of all of Bowie's record­ings from 1972 through 1982.

Young Amer­i­cans is re­leased in March; pro­duced mostly by Tony Vis­conti, it's a sin­u­ous, swag­ger­ing record that con­tin­ues Bowie's flaw­less streak of in­no­va­tive, stylish records. In April, he leaves New York for Los An­ge­les; left to his own devices, Bowie stops go­ing out and his only vis­i­tors are couri­ers, drug deal­ers and groupies. “If you re­ally want to lose all your friends,” Bowie will later say, “that's the drug to do it with. Co­caine sev­ers any link you have with an­other hu­man be­ing.”

Bowie takes the lead in Ni­co­las Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth, an al­le­gor­i­cal film about the cor­rup­tive power of greed that be­gins film­ing in July; work­ing on the film keeps Bowie fairly sober. Upon the film's com­ple­tion, Bowie re­turns to L.A. in song­writ­ing mode, as­sum­ing he is writ­ing the film's score; when he finds out ex-Ma­mas and the Pa­pas mu­si­cian John Phillips is com­pos­ing it, he con­tin­ues writ­ing any­way. The songs mix the funk and soul of Young Amer­i­cans with the mo­torik rhythms of Neu! and the robotic synth-pop of Kraftwerk.

Fol­low­ing the re­lease of Sta­tion to Sta­tion in Jan­uary 1976, Bowie plots the Iso­lar tour. The de­sign is aus­tere and min­i­mal­ist; Bowie, dressed in a sharp black suit, in­tro­duces him­self with the in­tro to “Sta­tion to Sta­tion”: “The re­turn of the Thin White Duke, throw­ing darts in lovers' eyes.”

When Iggy Pop hits rock bot­tom, puk­ing mys­te­ri­ous colours, Bowie asks Pop to ac­com­pany him on tour. Bowie re­turns to Lon­don for a se­ries of sold-out shows; on May 2, he ar­rives from Vic­to­ria Sta­tion in a Mercedes, from which he waves to fans and is­sues a Nazi salute. Af­ter news­pa­pers re­port the in­ci­dent, Bowie un­for­tu­nately fol­lows it up by claim­ing, in an in­ter­view with Cameron Crowe, that “Bri­tain is ready for a fas­cist leader.” He adds, “Rock stars are fas­cists. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.” Though he'd later ad­mit that his mind was ad­dled by co­caine, the in­ci­dent, along with a racist tirade by a drunken Eric Clap­ton a month later, leads to the for­ma­tion of the Rock Against Racism cam­paign.

Bowie brings the rem­nants of his film score for The Man Who Fell to Earth to France's Château d'Hérou­ville to record his next al­bum with Vis­conti and for­mer Roxy Mu­sic key­boardist/pro­ducer and solo artist Brian Eno. Es­chew­ing sched­ules and tra­di­tional writ­ing meth­ods, Bowie delves into the painful ex­pe­ri­ences of the last few years dur­ing th­ese ses­sions; en­cour­aged by Eno's Oblique Strat­egy Cards (a deck of in­spi­ra­tional cards, each with a sug­ges­tion like “Hon­our thy er­ror as a hid­den in­ten­tion”), he in­dulges his most left-field im­pulses. The re­sult is a mix of spiky, abra­sive and vi­brant songs that ad­dress Bowie's co­caine an­guish, and more am­bi­ent, in­stru­men­tal com­po­si­tions. As such, Low is split into son­i­cally dis­tinct halves: the more tra­di­tional songs com­prise the first side; the se­cond houses Bowie's am­bi­ent pieces. Bowie and Iggy Pop move to West Ber­lin, where Low is mixed. Though the record is sub­mit­ted be­fore the end of 1976, RCA are hes­i­tant to re­lease it for the Christ­mas sea­son.

1977 to 1979 Low is fi­nally re­leased in Jan­uary, 1977. In Ber­lin, Bowie meets with Vis­conti and Eno at Hansa Stu­dios reg­u­larly, where they con­tinue to ad­here to the cre­ative philoso­phies that birthed Low; he's also work­ing with Iggy Pop on Lust for Life. The Ber­lin Wall, vis­i­ble from Hansa Stu­dios, casts a shadow over city life in 1977, and the sense of con­stantly be­ing mon­i­tored height­ens the emo­tional charge of the ses­sions. Bowie writes a song that imag­ines a cou­ple liv­ing on ei­ther side of the di­vided Ger­many, forced to meet at the Ber­lin Wall. Eno and Vis­conti set to work flesh­ing it out, and King Crim­son gui­tarist Robert Fripp is flown out to con­trib­ute; his loop­ing gui­tar riff pro­vides the driv­ing force of one of Bowie's great­est songs, “He­roes.”

In sum­mer 1977, Bowie joins Iggy Pop on his North Amer­i­can Lust for Life tour as a key­boardist; he stays seated through­out the shows. When Bowie re­turns to Ber­lin af­ter the tour, he re­fo­cuses on Low fol­lowup “He­roes”. On Septem­ber 16, Bowie's child­hood friend Marc Bolan dies in a car crash. “He­roes” is re­leased on Oc­to­ber 14.

Bowie spends the rest of the year re­con­nect­ing with his son and re­hears­ing for his 1978 Iso­lar II world tour. A set is recorded and re­leased as a Tony Vis­conti-pro­duced live al­bum ti­tled Stage in Septem­ber, around the same time that Bowie heads to Moun­tain Stu­dios in Mon­treux, Switzer­land to be­gin­ning record­ing the third and fi­nal al­bum of his so- called “Ber­lin trip­tych.” Lodger is only slightly more ac­ces­si­ble than its pre­de­ces­sors: stu­dio ex­per­i­ments in­clude re­vers­ing tracks and us­ing iden­ti­cal chord pro­gres­sions on dif­fer­ent songs. The record­ing of Lodger is fin­ished in New York City in early 1979. It's re­leased on May 18. In New York, Bowie dis­cov­ers new wave, and falls in love watch­ing new artists like the Hu­man League and Klaus Nomi.

1980 to 1983 On Jan­uary 5, 1980, Bowie makes his de­but on Satur­day Night Live. With Klaus Nomi's help, Bowie per­forms cap­ti­vat­ing, high-con­cept ren­di­tions of “The Man Who Sold the World,” “TVC15” and “Boys Keep Swing­ing” that fea­ture a solid plas­tic tuxedo, a pink stuffed poo­dle and an over­sized Bowie head atop a flail­ing pup­pet, re­spec­tively. In early 1980, Angie and David di­vorce.

At record­ing stu­dio the Power Sta­tion in New York, Bowie is fus­ing his in­ven­tive Ber­lin style with el­e­ments of new wave and big, brash pop pro­duc­tion. Sin­gle “Ashes to Ashes” is his first num­ber one in the UK since “Fame” in 1975. Bowie re­leases Scary Mon­sters (and Su­per Creeps) in Septem­ber, 1980, to great ac­claim.

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