Alien Man: The Life of David Bowie

Staff Writer: Hannah Johnson 

David Robert Jones (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016), known professionally as David Bowie, was an English singer, songwriter and actor. He was a leading figure in popular music for over five decades, acclaimed by critics and other musicians for his innovative work. His career was marked by reinvention and visual presentation, his music and stagecraft significantly influencing popular music. During his lifetime, his record sales, estimated at 140 million albums worldwide, made him one of the world’s best-selling music artists. 

Born in Brixton, South London, Bowie developed an interest in music as a child, eventually studying art, music and design before embarking on a professional career as a musician in 1963. “Space Oddity” became his first top-five entry on the UK Singles Chart after its release in July 1969. After a period of experimentation, he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era with his flamboyant and androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust. The character was spearheaded by the success of his single “Starman” and album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which won him widespread popularity. 

In 1962 Bowie formed his first band at the age of 15. Playing guitar-based rock and roll at local youth gatherings and weddings, the Konrads had a varying line-up of between four and eight members, Underwood among them.  When Bowie left the technical school the following year, he informed his parents of his intention to become a pop star. His mother promptly arranged his employment as an electrician’s mate. Frustrated by his bandmates’ limited aspirations, Bowie left the Konrads and joined another band, the King Bees. He wrote to the newly successful washing-machine entrepreneur John Bloom inviting him to “do for us what Brian Epstein has done for the Beatles; and make another million.” Bloom did not respond to the offer, but his referral to Dick James’s partner Leslie Conn led to Bowie’s first personal management contract. “Bowie changed my perception of what music really is. This man helped me through some of the hardest times in my life with his beautiful music… I owe him everything for showing me who I really am.”-Mark Diaz, sophomore at WHS. 


One of the most experimental and “darker” albums of David. Black star, was seen as Bowie’s goodbye gift to the world.


Conn quickly began to promote Bowie. The singer’s debut single, “Liza Jane”, credited to Davie Jones and the King Bees, had no commercial success. Dissatisfied with the King Bees and their repertoire of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon blues numbers, Bowie quit the band less than a month later to join the Manish Boys, another blues outfit, who incorporated folk and soul—”I used to dream of being their Mick Jagger”, Bowie was to recall. Their cover of Bobby Bland’s “I Pity the Fool” was no more successful than “Liza Jane”, and Bowie soon moved on again to join the Lower Third, a blues trio strongly influenced by The Who. “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving” fared no better, signaling the end of Conn’s contract. Declaring that he would exit the pop world “to study mime at Sadler’s Wells”, Bowie nevertheless remained with the Lower Third. His new manager, Ralph Horton, later instrumental in his transition to solo artist, soon witnessed Bowie’s move to yet another group, the Buzz, yielding the singer’s fifth unsuccessful single release, “Do Anything You Say”. While with the Buzz, Bowie also joined the Riot Squad; their recordings, which included a Bowie number and the Velvet Underground material, went unreleased. Ken Pitt, introduced by Horton, took over as Bowie’s manager. 

Dissatisfied with his stage name as Davy Jones, which in the mid-1960s invited confusion with Davy Jones of the Monkees, Bowie renamed himself after the 19th-century American pioneer James Bowie and the knife he had popularized.  His April 1967 solo single, “The Laughing Gnome”, using speeded-up thus high-pitched vocals, failed to chart. Released six weeks later, his album debut, David Bowie, an amalgam of pop, psychedelia, and music hall, met the same fate. It was his last release for two years.

Bowie met dancer Lindsay Kemp in 1967 and enrolled in his dance class at the London Dance Centre. He commented in 1972 that meeting Kemp was when his interest in image “really blossomed”. “He lived on his emotions, he was a wonderful influence. His day-to-day life was the most theatrical thing I had ever seen, ever. It was everything I thought Bohemia probably was. I joined the circus.” Studying the dramatic arts under Kemp, from avant-garde theatre and mime to commedia dell’arte, Bowie became immersed in the creation of personae to present to the world. Satirizing life in a British prison, meanwhile, the Bowie-penned “Over the Wall We Go” became a 1967 single for Oscar; another Bowie composition, “Silly Boy Blue”, was released by Billy Fury the following year. In January 1968, Kemp choreographed a dance scene for a BBC play The Pistol Shot in the Theatre 625 series, and used Bowie with a dancer, Hermione Farthingale; the pair began dating, and moved into a London flat together. Playing acoustic guitar, Farthingale formed a group with Bowie and guitarist John Hutchinson; between September 1968 and early 1969 the trio gave a small number of concerts combining folk, Merseybeat, poetry and mime. Bowie and Farthingale broke up in early 1969 when she went to Norway to take part in a film, Song of Norway; this affected him, and several songs, such asLetter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars?” reference her, and for the video accompanying Where Are We Now?” he wore a T-shirt with the words “m/s Song of Norway”. They were last together in January 1969 for the filming of Love You till Tuesday, a 30-minute film that was not released until 1984: intended as a promotional vehicle, it featured performances from Bowie’s repertoire, includingSpace Oddity”, which had not been released when the film was made. 


Lets Dance is seen as one of Bowie’s greatest albums of all time. His funky tunes, mixed with party lyrics gave all listeners a treat.


After the break-up with Farthingale, Bowie moved in with Mary Finnigan as her lodger. During this period, he appeared in a Lyons Maid ice cream commercial, and was rejected for another by Kit Kat. In February and March 1969, he undertook a short tour with Marc Bolan’s duo Tyrannosaurus Rex, as third on the bill, performing a mime act. On 11 July 1969, “Space Oddity” was released five days ahead of the Apollo 11 LA launch and reached the top five in the UK. Continuing the divergence from rock and roll and blues begun by his work with Farthingale, Bowie joined forces with Finnigan, Christina Ostrom and Barrie Jackson to run a folk club on Sunday nights at the Three Tons pub in Beckenham High Street. 

Influenced by the Arts Lab movement, this developed into the Beckenham Arts Lab, and became extremely popular. The Arts Lab hosted a free festival in a local park, the subject of his song “Memory of a Free Festival”. Bowie’s second album followed in November; originally issued in the UK as David Bowie, it caused some confusion with its predecessor of the same name, and the early US release was instead titled Man of Words/Man of Music; it was reissued internationally in 1972 by RCA Records as Space Oddity. Featuring philosophical post-hippie lyrics on peace, love and morality, its acoustic folk rock occasionally fortified by harder rock, the album was not a commercial success at the time of its release. 

Bowie met Angela Barnett in April 1969. They married within a year. Her impact on him was immediate, and her involvement in his career far-reaching, leaving manager Ken Pitt with limited influence which he found frustrating. Having established himself as a solo artist with “Space Oddity”, Bowie began to sense a lacking: “a full-time band for gigs and recording, people he could relate to personally”. The shortcoming was underlined by his artistic rivalry with Marc Bolan, who was at the time acting as his session guitarist. A band was duly assembled. John Cambridge, a drummer Bowie met at the Arts Lab, was joined by Tony Visconti on bass and Mick Ronson on electric guitar. Known as the Hype, the bandmates created characters for themselves and wore elaborate costumes that prefigured the glam style of the Spiders from Mars. After a disastrous opening gig at the London Roundhouse, they reverted to a configuration presenting Bowie as a solo artist. Their initial studio work was marred by a heated disagreement between Bowie and Cambridge over the latter’s drumming style. Matters came to a head when an enraged Bowie accused the drummer of the disturbance, exclaiming “You’re f****** up my album.” Cambridge summarily quit and was replaced by Mick Woodmansey. Not long after, the singer fired his manager and replaced him with Tony Defries. This resulted in years of litigation that concluded with Bowie having to pay Pitt compensation. 

The studio sessions continued and resulted in Bowie’s third album, The Man Who Sold the World, which contained references to schizophrenia, paranoia and delusion. Characterized by the heavy rock sound of his new backing band, it was a marked departure from the acoustic guitar and folk-rock style established by Space Oddity. To promote it in the US, Mercury Records financed a coast-to-coast publicity tour across America in which Bowie, between January and February 1971, was interviewed by radio stations and the media. Exploiting his androgynous appearance, the original cover of the UK version unveiled two months later depicted the singer wearing a dress: taking the garment with him, he wore it during interviews—to the approval of critics, including Rolling Stones John Mendelsohn who described him as “ravishing, almost disconcertingly reminiscent of Lauren Bacall”  – and in the street, to mixed reaction including laughter and, in the case of one male pedestrian, producing a gun and telling Bowie to “kiss my ass”. 

Dressed in a striking costume, his hair dyed reddish-brown, Bowie launched his Ziggy Stardust stage show with the Spiders from Mars—Ronson, Bolder and Woodmansey at the Toby Jug pub in Tolworth on 10 February 1972. The show was hugely popular, catapulting him to stardom as he toured the UK over the next six months and creating, as described by Buckley, a “cult of Bowie” that was “unique—its influence lasted longer and has been more creative than perhaps almost any other force within pop fandom. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, combining the hard rock elements of The Man Who Sold the World with the lighter experimental rock and pop of Hunky Dory, was released in June. “Starman”, issued as an April single ahead of the album, was to cement Bowie’s UK breakthrough: both single and album charted rapidly following his July Top of the Pops performance of the song. The album, which remained in the chart for two years, was soon joined there by the 6-month-old Hunky Dory. At the same time the non-album single “John, I’m Only Dancing”, and “All the Young Dudes”, a song he wrote and produced for Mott the Hoople, were successful in the UK. The Ziggy Stardust Tour continued to the United States. “The album Hunky Dory, was the first record I ever had as a young kid. It has stayed with me my entire adulthood. The songs on this record were so thought out and produced with amazing effort.”-Joseph Tobin, David Bowie enthusiast. 


Time Magazine’s tribute to Bowie. This touched the hearts of many with pictures of the artist along with quotes from other artists who loved him as well.



Bowie’s love of acting led his total immersion in the characters he created for his music. “Offstage I’m a robot. Onstage I achieve emotion. It’s probably why I prefer dressing up as Ziggy to being David.” With satisfaction came severe personal difficulties: acting the same role over an extended period, it became impossible for him to separate Ziggy Stardust—and, later, the Thin White Duke from his own character offstage. Ziggy, Bowie said, “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.” His later Ziggy shows, which included songs from both Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, were ultra-theatrical affairs filled with shocking stage moments, such as Bowie stripping down to a sumo wrestling loincloth or simulating oral sex with Ronson’s guitar.  Bowie toured and gave press conferences as Ziggy before a dramatic and abrupt on-stage “retirement” at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973. Footage from the final show was released the same year for the film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Highly sought after: The Man Who Sold the World had been re-released in 1972 along with Space Oddity. “Life on Mars?”, from Hunky Dory, was released in June 1973 and peaked at No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart. Entering the same chart in September, Bowie’s novelty record from 1967, “The Laughing Gnome”, reached No. 6.  Pin Ups, a collection of covers of his 1960s favorites, followed in October, producing a UK No. 3 hit in his version of the McCoys’s “Sorrow” and itself peaking at number one, making David Bowie the best-selling act of 1973 in the UK. It brought the total number of Bowie albums concurrently on the UK chart to six. 

Bowie moved to the US in 1974, initially staying in New York City before settling in Los Angeles. Diamond Dogs, parts of which found him heading towards soul and funk, was the product of two distinct ideas: a musical based on a wild future in a post-apocalyptic city and setting George Orwell’s 1984 to music. The album went to number one in the UK, spawning the hits “Rebel Rebel” and “Diamond Dogs”, and No. 5 in the US. To promote it, Bowie launched the Diamond Dogs Tour, visiting cities in North America between June and December 1974. Choreographed by Toni Basil, and lavishly produced with theatrical special effects, the high-budget stage production was filmed by Alan Yentob. The resulting documentary, Cracked Actor, featured a pasty and emaciated Bowie: the tour coincided with the singer’s slide from heavy cocaine use into addiction, producing severe physical debilitation, paranoia and emotional problems. He later commented that the accompanying live album, David Live, ought to have been titled “David Bowie Is Alive and Well and Living Only in Theory”. David Live nevertheless solidified Bowie’s status as a superstar, charting at No. 2 in the UK and No. 8 in the US. It also spawned a UK No. 10 hit in Bowie’s cover of Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood”. After a break in Philadelphia, where Bowie recorded new material, the tour resumed with a new emphasis on soul. 


Here, we see the most beautiful, sincere smile of Bowie. Sitting in a thin-rimmed chair, he glances out to the crowd with a cheerful glance.


Bowie moved to Switzerland in 1976, purchasing a chalet in the hills to the north of Lake Geneva. In the new environment, his cocaine use decreased, and he found time for other pursuits outside his musical career. He devoted more time to his painting and produced several post-modernist pieces. When on tour, he took to sketching in a notebook, and photographing scenes for later reference. Visiting galleries in Geneva and the Brücke Museum in Berlin, Bowie became, in the words of biographer Christopher Sandford, “a prolific producer and collector of contemporary art. … Not only did he become a well-known patron of expressionist art: locked in Clos des Mésanges he began an intensive self-improvement course in classical music and literature and started work on an autobiography.” 

Before the end of 1976, Bowie’s interest in the burgeoning German music scene, as well as his drug addiction, prompted him to move to West Berlin to clean up and revitalize his career. There he was often seen riding a bicycle between his apartment on Hauptstraße in Schöneberg and Hansa Tonstudio, the recording studio he used, located on Köthener Straße in Kreuzberg, near the Berlin Wall. While working with Brian Eno and sharing an apartment with Iggy Pop, he began to focus on minimalist, ambient music for the first of three albums, co-produced with Tony Visconti, that became known as his Berlin Trilogy. During the same period, Iggy Pop, with Bowie as a co-writer and musician, completed his solo album debut The Idiot and its follow-up Lust for Life, touring the UK, Europe, and the US in March and April 1977. 

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps produced the number-one hitAshes to Ashes”, featuring the textural work of guitar-synthesist Chuck Hammer and revisiting the character of Major Tom from “Space Oddity”. The song gave international exposure to the underground New Romantic movement when Bowie visited the London club “Blitz”—the main New Romantic hangout—to recruit several of the regulars (including Steve Strange of the band Visage) to act in the accompanying video, renowned as one of the most innovative of all time. While Scary Monsters used principles established by the Berlin albums, it was considered by critics to be far more direct musically and lyrically. The album’s hard rock edge included conspicuous guitar contributions from Robert Fripp, Chuck Hammer and Pete Townshend. As “Ashes to Ashes” hit number one on the UK charts, Bowie opened a three-month run on Broadway on 24 September, starring in The Elephant Man. “I never really enjoyed his music as much as I should have until I was about 25, I then started listening to Bowie each day as if it were my religion. At this point, I am convinced that I could never get tired of his songs.”-Jordan Hope, junior at Etowah High School. 

Bowie shelved his solo career in 1989, retreating to the relative anonymity of band membership for the first time since the early 1970s. A hard-rocking quartet, Tin Machine came into being after Bowie began to work experimentally with guitarist Reeves Gabrels. The line-up was completed by Tony and Hunt Sales, whom Bowie had known since the late 1970s for their contribution, on bass and drums respectively, to Iggy Pop’s 1977 album Lust for Life. 

Although he intended Tin Machine to operate as a democracy, Bowie dominated, both in songwriting and in decision-making. The band’s album debut, Tin Machine, was initially popular, though its politicized lyrics did not find universal approval: Bowie described one song as “a simplistic, naive, radical, laying-it-down about the emergence of Neo-Nazis”; in the view of biographer Christopher Sandford, “It took nerve to denounce drugs, fascism and TV … in terms that reached the literary level of a comic book.” EMI complained of “lyrics that preach” as well as “repetitive tunes” and “minimalist or no production”. The album nevertheless reached No. 3 and went gold in the UK. 

On 20 April 1992, Bowie appeared at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, following the Queen singer’s death the previous year. As well as performing “Heroes” and “All the Young Dudes”, he was joined on “Under Pressure” by Annie Lennox, who took Mercury’s vocal part; during his appearance, Bowie knelt and recited the Lord’s Prayer at Wembley Stadium. Four days later, Bowie and Iman were married in Switzerland. Intending to move to Los Angeles, they flew in to search for a suitable property, but found themselves confined to their hotel, under curfew: the 1992 Los Angeles riots began the day they arrived. They settled in New York instead. 

In 1993, Bowie released his first solo offering since his Tin Machine departure, the soul, jazz and hip-hop influenced Black Tie White Noise. Making prominent use of electronic instruments, the album, which reunited Bowie with Let’s Dance producer Nile Rodgers, confirmed Bowie’s return to popularity, hitting the number-one spot on the UK charts and spawning three Top 40 hits, including the Top 10 single “Jump They Say”. Bowie explored new directions on The Buddha of Suburbia, ostensibly a soundtrack album of his music composed for the BBC television adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s novel. Only the title track had been used in the television adaptation, although some of his themes for it were also present on the album. It contained some of the new elements introduced in Black Tie White Noise and signaled a move towards alternative rock. The album was a critical success but received a low-key release and only made No. 87 in the UK charts. 

On 8 January 2013, his 66th birthday, his website announced a new album, to be titled The Next Day and scheduled for release 8 March for Australia, 12 March for the United States and 11 March for the rest of the world. Bowie’s first studio album in a decade, The Next Day contains 14 songs plus 3 bonus tracks. His website acknowledged the length of his hiatus. Record producer Tony Visconti said 29 tracks were recorded for the album, some of which could appear on Bowie’s next record, which he might start work on later in 2013. The announcement was accompanied by the immediate release of a single, “Where Are We Now?”, written and recorded by Bowie in New York and produced by longtime collaborator Visconti. 

A music video for “Where Are We Now?” was released onto Vimeo the same day, directed by New York artist Tony Oursler. The single topped the UK iTunes Chart within hours of its release, and debuted in the UK Singles Chart at No. 6, his first single to enter the Top 10 for two decades (since Jump They Say” in 1993). A second video, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, was released 25 February. Directed by Floria Sigismondi, it stars Bowie and Tilda Swinton as a married couple. On 1 March, the album was made available to stream for free through iTunes. The Next Day debuted at No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, was his first album to achieve that position since Black Tie White Noise and was the fastest-selling album of 2013 at the time. The music video for the songThe Next Day” created some controversy, initially being removed from YouTube for terms-of-service violation, then restored with a warning recommending viewing only by those 18 or over. 

On 10 January 2016, two days after his 69th birthday and the release of the album Blackstar, Bowie died from liver cancer in his New York City apartment. He had been diagnosed 18 months earlier but had not made the news of his illness public. The Belgian theatre director Ivo van Hove, who had worked with the singer on his Off-Broadway musical Lazarus, explained that Bowie was unable to attend rehearsals due to the progression of the disease. He noted that Bowie had kept working during the illness. 

Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti wrote: “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.” “David Bowie’s death was probably one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever experienced. In the streets, people gathered around to mourn and pay their respects to a man that had given them everything. Bowie was a magical being, I’m even convinced that he is an alien that is being sent back home. May his ethereal soul rest in peace.”-Brody King, Senior at KSU. 

Following Bowie’s death, fans gathered at impromptu street shrines. At the mural of Bowie in his birthplace of Brixton, south London, which shows him in his Aladdin Sane character, fans laid flowers and sang his songs. Other memorial sites included Berlin, Los Angeles, and outside his apartment in New York. After news of his death, sales of his albums and singles soared. Bowie had insisted that he did not want a funeral, and according to his death certificate he was cremated in New Jersey on 12 January. Bowie’s songs and stagecraft brought a new dimension to popular music in the early 1970s, strongly influencing both its immediate forms and its subsequent development. Bowie was a pioneer of glam rock, according to music historians Schinder and Schwartz, who credited Marc Bolan and Bowie with creating the genre. At the same time, he inspired the innovators of the punk rock music movement. When punk musicians were “noisily reclaiming the three-minute pop song in a show of public defiance”, biographer David Buckley wrote that “Bowie almost completely abandoned traditional rock instrumentation.” Bowie’s record company promoted his unique status in popular music with the slogan, “There’s old wave, there’s new wave, and there’s David Bowie”. Musicologist James Perone credited him with having “brought sophistication to rock

Bowie tribute

Fan tribute to Bowie , flowers, gifts, and paintings all lined the city in memory of the artist they loved so dearly.

music”, and critical reviews frequently acknowledged the intellectual depth of his work and influence. Human League founder Martyn Ware remarked on the depth of his pervasive artistry that he had lived his life “as though he were an art installation.” 


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