Essay: David Bowie (1947 – 2016)

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
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  • Published on: November 16, 2017
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  • David Bowie (1947 - 2016)
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David Bowie, a popular rock musician in the recent modern era, originally went by David Jones. Born to Heywood Jones, who worked in charity, and Margaret Mary Jones, a waitress, Bowie had changed his name so people wouldn’t confuse him with Davy Jones from The Monkees. If you’ve ever noticed asymmetry in David Bowie’s pupils, it’s because a fight when he was 13 resulted in a left pupil that would remain permanently dilated.

“Musical Chameleon” was the term a lot of people used for Bowie, often applying trends or fashion to his art as they evolved. It was thought that his trending was at its highest in the ‘70s when he created the persona of ‘Ziggy Stardust,’ thought to redefine the genre by using sexualized androgyny. Bowie came out as gay while interviewing with Melody Maker. It was his hope that this would increase interest in the album, as his character was quite unconventional at the time and possibly appealed more to the queer community.

‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ released in 1972 in England and became one of his most popularized albums. The appropriately titled song ‘Ziggy Stardust’ from the album is a common favorite and can be heard at the following link:

Bowie kept quite busy between 1973 and 1974 with the release of several consecutive albums up until his tour in ’74. In 1975 came his release of ‘Young Americans,’ which quickly became his first album to be top-seller in the U.S. It was at this time that Bowie moved to Los Angeles, where he landed an acting gig in ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth.’ Amongst all of this, Young Americans was thought to exemplify Bowie’s cocaine addiction. He moved back to England in a paranoid, drug-addled slump, saluting in the way of the Nazis, leading to a world of controversy. Interestingly enough, at this point, he relocated to Berlin to collaborate with artist Brian Eno. David Bowie can be seen giving a flawless performance of ‘Young Americans’ live in 1974 on the Dick Cavett show at the following link:

Bowie produced music with Eno well into the late ‘70s, when he eventually acted again with such icons as Marlene Dietrich, before going on a world tour. After quitting drugs, he settled in New York, where he eventually collaborated with the band ‘Queen’ in the popular song ‘Under Pressure,’ released in ’81 and later rereleased on the album ‘Let’s Dance’ in ’83 as a bonus track.

Bowie juggled between several film roles and albums throughout the ‘80s, including his classic appearance as the main protagonist in ‘Labyrinth’ in 1986. By the end of the decade, he had formed a band called ‘Tin Machine,’ thought to be heavier on the guitar than his previous works, but he didn’t have much success with this group and by the time the ‘90s rolled around, ‘Tin Machine’ was long forgotten.

It was in 1992 that Bowie wed Iman, a Somalian supermodel. He even released an album dedicated entirely to her, the next year, entitled ‘Black Tie White Noise,’ although it wasn’t received well by his fans. Bowie had a several releases through the remainder of the ‘90s, though they didn’t particularly succeed at gaining an audience.

Bowie slowed down in 2004, when he suffered a heart attack and put an end to touring. However, the early 2000s led to several feature opportunities for Bowie. He appeared in ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,’ which featured several of his most famous songs and collaborated with bands like ‘Arcade Fire’ and ‘TV on the Radio.’

By 2013, he released a new album — the first in a decade. It was titled ‘The Next Day’ and was number one in the charts in the U.K. He was silent about this album release and it wasn’t until his birthday that he announced it.

David Bowie died at 69 years old on January 10th, 2016 after years of battling with cancer. Phenomenally, this was two days after the release of what I would call his exit album, ‘Blackstar.’ By far the darkest release for Bowie, ‘Blackstar’ seems to have many grisly undertones that apparently highlight death, religion, and possibly melancholy references to previous lyrics. By representation, I believe this is one of his most important releases due to its powerful metaphors. ‘Lazarus,’ as released on the album, highlights Bowie’s long-term battle with cancer and leaves a lot of room for interpretation of death and dying. The music video can be seen here:

Throughout the decades of his lifelong career, David Bowie truly exemplified the style of a “chameleon,” displaying music as art throughout the generation. I believe there is a David Bowie album for every emotion and, in my personal opinion, that’s what music is all about.

Works Cited:

Grow, K. (2016, January 11). David Bowie Dead at 69. Retrieved July 10, 2017, from

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/david-bowie-dead-at-69-20160111

Kemp, M, and Grow, K. (n.d.). David Bowie Biography. Retrieved July 10, 2017 from

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/david-bowie/biography

Erlewine, S. T. (n.d.). David Bowie | Biography & History. Retrieved July 10, 2017, from

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/david-bowie-mn0000531986/biography

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