Ziggy Stardust: A Memoir To David Bowie, One Of The Most Visionary Icons Of The 20th Century

Christy Lee

David Bowie changed the face of London with his music forever. He was more than just a musician, he was a writer, composer, designer and fan of many. He kept an open mind about everything and was able to constantly adapt, learn and break new boundaries by manifesting new sounds and imagery through his creativity. He was an innovator like no other.

Above: The Linguini Incident 1991

Pop star, rockstar, composer, actor, showman, producer. David Bowie symbolized versatility like few musicians could. The constant evolution of his sound and artistic persona have colossal influence on popular culture.

David Bowie: “My personal need to entertain has changed a lot. I think when I was young, I was about creating theatricality, creating a more artificial kind of parallel reality on stage, but as Ive gotten older over the last 5 or 6 years Ive really fallen into the comfort of actually adjusting into the tempo of the songs.

“As far as style is concerned I dont think I really want to have a style. I much prefer to be sort of a free agent and move from one thing into another and where my enthusiasms take me.”

The cacophony of androgyny, the science fiction look, the colors, the dyed hair. This was all red meat to designers. Clearly David was a genius in that area as well.

David Bowie didn’t just entertain, he intrigued and invoked. After 50 years in the spotlight the legendary musician somehow managed to retain a sense of mystery.

Along with the Beetles and Elvis Presley, Bowie obliterated musical boundaries and defined what pop music should be. He left a permanent mark on more than one generation.

Above: Photo of David Bowie Circa 1967

It took years of hard work for David Roger Jones to emerge as one of the most influential figures in music.

Growing up in the austerity of post war Britain he came of age in the swinging sixties. He was born in the Brixton suburbs of London in 1947.

Bowie was introduced to rock and roll at an early age through his brother Terry’s record collection. The recurring theme of mental instability of Bowies early work connects to Terry and his cruel grandmother.

Madness was the refrain playing in his families background. Three of his mothers sisters reportedly became psychotic, likewise Terry, his half brother.

You have to go back a generation to understand what made him tick. His maternal grandmother, Margaret Burns, was a cruel woman who took her anger out on anyone around her. Bowies mother Peggy was the eldest of six children. Peggy was beautiful and modeled lingerie.

She met a glamorous French barman, fell in love and became pregnant with Bowies brother Terry, Bowies half brother. Soon after she gave birth he disappeared without a trace.

Because the stigma of illegitimacy was so strong back then, her mother Margaret looked after Terry from the age of 6 months. In passing him to Margaret, Peggy had unwittingly created a natural experiment. Terry was raised by a woman who had nurtured three psychotic daughters.

Bowie got a subtly different deal.

Margaret was emotionally abusive to Terry. Rebuked by her for some misdemeanour, he smirked out of nervousness. Margaret said “go on, laugh again’, and he nervously did again so she smacked him across the ear and said, “that’ll teach you to laugh at me”.

Such abuse is the single strongest childhood predictor of schizophrenia, more so even than sexual abuse.

Terry was later institutionalized with schizophrenia and committed suicide in 1985. This deeply affected Bowie as he loved his brother and visited him frequently.

Above: Bowie And Older Brother Terry Burns Photographed Early 1960’s

Peggy married in 1946 and gave birth to Bowie born David Jones, the next year. Both Peggy and Bowie’s father, John Jones were physically undemonstrative but John was affectionate to his son. He took him to pop concerts and bought him a saxophone at age nine.

Above: David Bowie With His Mother Peggy Jones Circa Early 1950’s.

During David Jones adolescence there was one indelible incident in 1962 which would forever change his image. The incredible photogenic eyes were a result of his being punched by his friend George. It just changed the look of his eye to a much lighter shade of blue which worked out in his favor so bizarrely he owed his friend George. They remained friends after the incident which was a one time thing to which his friend really regretted after.

David Bowie never really cared for his own singing voice and performed his own songs because no one else would sing them. He was quoted saying he would give someone else’s right arm to find someone who would sing his songs.

Bowies early musical interests were blues influenced and he formed a few bands before reaching Space Oddity.

Bowie regularly frequented an underground psychedelic club called ” Middle Earth”, located in London where he performed with his band, “Feathers” with Hermione Farthingale his girlfriend at the time. He wasn’t doing the lead singing in this group, he was more of a mime artist in this group. He was magnetic on stage. Some years later Hermione left David and the group Feathers as she was doing small scale films and fell in love with another actor. David was broken hearted.

Above: Bowie And Farthingale of Feathers 1969

Bowie almost decided to leave the music scene all together. “IT” is one of the most intriguing stories to resurface in the wake of David Bowie’s death: the tale of how the rock legend almost became a Buddhist monk in Scotland.

Bowie was considering becoming a member of the Samye Ling Monastery in Eskdalemuir, Dumfries and Galloway in the late 1960s, according to reports. But he heeded the advice of a Tibetan monk who advised him to concentrate on music instead.

But how long Bowie spent at the monastery and what he did there has been lost in the mists of time. One obituary even claimed he had helped establish Samye Ling, which was set up in 1967 as Britain’s earliest Tibetan centre and Buddhist temple.

He told a close friend Mary Finnigan that while he was there he never really lost the music. It was with him all the time. It was just buzzing through his head. He realized I think that he was not being true to himself and so he packed up and went back to London.

In a Russell Harty interview in 1976 via satellite from Burbank California. David Bowie stated his opinion on being disciplined.

David Bowie: “Discipline doesn’t mean getting up every morning at 8 and having breakfast and leaving your flat at half past 8. Discipline is if you conceive of something you decide whether or not its worth following through and if its worth following through well then you follow it through to its logical conclusion and do it with the best of your abilities. Thats a discipline. Whether there are areas in it not to ones liking you have to go back and re-do it”.

He was always focused and driven. During the time he was sitting around the flat not doing much he was constantly composing. He was never idle.

David Bowies skills of being a great story teller remain unparalleled.

David didn’t write love songs. At a time where everyone was writing love songs he never did.

David would often go to La Giocond which was a cafe at 9 Dennmark Street in London’s Tin Pan Alley, where musicians such as David Bowie and Elton John would eat and meet other people in the music. Bowie would sit and nurse a cup of tea for hours because at any moment anyone from the song publishing companies would rush in and say “boy we need a bass player”, or “we need a back up singer”, and you would wait and see if someone would call you in for something.

David Bowie employed a writing technique from William Burroughs where he would write a song, cut it up and rearrange it out if order. You would still have the same meaning but the song would be out of order.

Throughout his career David Bowies style and image were inextricably linked to his music. He made the focus on himself and his reinventions.

Bowie was an artist who changed himself frequently and completely. This presented a challenge and caused tremendous problems for his fans who would turn up for his gigs dressed up as last years image and at the end look very sheepish because they realized they were wearing the wrong costume. Bowies fans really made massive efforts to try and look like him. The audience became a sea of a multitude of Bowies multiple personas. Bowie was the master of reinvention.

Some of Bowies groundbreaking work would come from his band Spiders From Mars such as The Man Who Sold The World, followed by Hunkey Dory which introduced the sexual ambiguity that would become a part of Bowies imagery.

Bowie photographed in a dress on the cover of his album The Man Who Saved The World released November 4th 1970 was extremely edgy and unheard of for that time. Heres David Bowie essentially saying to gay males to not be afraid to be themselves and not change who they are inside.

He was already giving the signals that he was going to blur the lines.

One object of Bowies admiration was New York pop icon Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol was a massive figure in Davids life in the late 60’s to early 70’s and what The Factory was doing in New York. David wrote a song for Andy Warhol titled “Andy Warhol” on the album, Hunky Dori. He said, “Its different from anything Ive ever done.”

On July 3, 1973 Bowie released The Starman. “The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.” This is the story of David Bowie’s fifth album, the masterwork that would immortalise him as the world’s biggest pop star.

Bowie was already planning his next move. In 1973 Bowie announced the retirement of Ziggy.

By the mid 70’s David Bowie metamorphosed again. Still breaking new musical ground. “Station To Station” provided a dose synthetic funk and introduced Bowies more toxic alter ego, The Thin White Duke.

The cocaine fueled paranoia that seeped through Station To Station reflected Bowies increasingly troubled state of mind. Exacerbated with legal and financial troubles with former managers or damagers as Bowie liked to call them.

Spying Through a Keyhole contains demos and rarities from Bowie’s “Space Oddity” era

A new David Bowie box set has been announced. The collection, titled Spying Through a Keyhole (Demos and Unreleased Songs), contains 7″ vinyl singles featuring unreleased tracks. The box is due out this spring (via Parlophone Records). Among the nine recordings in the box are two demos of “Space Oddity.” Check out the cover artwork below, and find more information at Bowie’s website.

Parlophone has been releasing David Bowie box sets annually for a number of years, beginning with 2015’s Five Years 1969-1973. The label then released Who Can I Be Now? in 2016, A New Career in a New Town in 2017, and Loving the Alien last year.

More Changes

But just as quickly as Bowie transformed himself into Stardust, he changed again. He leveraged his celebrity and produced albums for Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. In 1973, he disbanded the Spiders and shelved his Stardust persona. Bowie continued on in a similar glam rock style with the album Aladdin Sane (1973), which featured “The Jean Genie” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” his collaboration with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Around this time he showed his affection for his early days in the English mod scene and released Pin Ups, an album filled with cover songs originally recorded by a host of popular bands, including Pretty Things and Pink Floyd.

By the mid 1970s Bowie had undergone a full-scale makeover. Gone were the outrageous costumes and garish sets. In two short years he released the albums David Live (1974) and Young Americans (1975). The latter album featured backing vocals by a young Luther Vandross and included the song “Fame,” co-written with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar, which became Bowie’s first American number one single.

In 1980 Bowie, now living in New York, released Scary Monsters, a much-lauded album that featured the single “Ashes to Ashes,” a sort of updated version of his earlier “Space Oddity.”

Three years later Bowie recorded Let’s Dance(1983), an album that contained a bevy of hits such as the title track, “Modern Love” and “China Girl,” and featured the guitar work of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Of course, Bowie’s interests didn’t just reside with music. His love of film helped land him the title role in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). In 1980, Bowie starred on Broadway in The Elephant Man, and was critically acclaimed for his performance. In 1986, he starred as Jareth, the Goblin King, in the fantasy-adventure film Labyrinth, directed by Jim Henson and produced by George Lucas.  Bowie performed opposite teenage Jennifer Connolly and a cast of puppets in the movie, which became a 1980s cult classic. 

Over the next decade, Bowie bounced back and forth between acting and music, with the latter especially suffering. Outside of a couple of modest hits, Bowie’s musical career languished. His side project with musicians Reeve Gabrels and Tony and Hunt Sales, known as Tin Machine, released two albums, Tin Machine (1989) and Tin Machine II (1991), which both proved to be flops. His much-hyped album Black Tie White Noise(1993), which Bowie described as a wedding gift to his new wife, supermodel Iman, also struggled to resonate with record buyers.

Oddly enough, the most popular Bowie creation of that period was Bowie Bonds, financial securities the artist himself backed with royalties from his pre-1990 work. Bowie issued the bonds in 1997 and earned $55 million from the sale. The rights to his back catalog were returned to him when the bonds matured in 2007.

Later Years

In 2004, Bowie received a major health scare when he suffered a heart attack while onstage in Germany. He made a full recovery and went on to work with bands such as Arcade Fire and with the actress Scarlett Johansson on her album Anywhere I Lay My Head (2008), a collection of Tom Waits covers.

Bowie, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, was a 2006 recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He kept a low profile for several years until the release of his 2013 album The Next Day, which skyrocketed to number 2 on the Billboard charts. The following year, Bowie released a greatest hits collection, Nothing Has Changed, which featured the new song “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).” In 2015, he collaborated on Lazarus, an Off-Broadway rock musical starring Michael C. Hall, which revisited his character from The Man Who Fell to Earth

Bowie released Blackstar, his final album, on January 8, 2016, his 69th birthday. New York Times critic Jon Pareles noted that it was a “strange, daring and ultimately rewarding” work “with a mood darkened by bitter awareness of mortality.” Only a few days later, the world would learn that the record had been made under difficult circumstances. 

Death and Posthumous Recognition

The music icon died on January 10, 2016, two days after his 69th birthday. A post on his Facebook page read: “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer.”

He was survived by his wife Iman, his son Duncan Jones and daughter Alexandria, and his step-daughter Zulekha Haywood. Bowie also left behind an impressive musical legacy, which included 26 albums. His producer and friend Tony Visconti wrote on Facebook that his last record, Blackstar, was “his parting gift.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s