The first time I heard a David Bowie song was way back in 1969. I had no idea what he looked like at the time. The song was called Space Oddity and one of the lyrics was “Ground control to Major Tom…..” A lot of pot was smoked by a lot of people listening to that song. It had a lot of imagery. 1969 was also the year when the first man stepped onto the moon.
Bowie passed away a several days ago after a year and a half battle with cancer. My guess is that some of those that were the hardest hit are the folks close to his age. His death was a reminder for some of us getting up in years that nothing lasts forever. As if we need more reminders. (I’m 68.)
Who is next? A lot of the greats in rock music are getting on in years. There are still some rockers from the 50s who are still alive including Chuck Berry (89), Fats Domino (87), Jerry Lee Lewis (80) and Little Richard ((83). Others that are getting up there in age include Bob Dylan (74), Boz Scaggs (71), Mark Knopfler (66), Don Henley (68), Paul Simon (74), Billy Joel (66), Rod Stewart (71), Neil Young (70), Bruce Springsteen (66), Van Morrison (70) and Paul McCartney (73).
Mick Jagger (72), Keith Richards (72) and The Stones are going on tour this year in South America for 2 months. It seems that other than Mick and particularly Keith, most of the older rockers who are still around stuck with pot and booze over the years and mostly avoided heavier drugs.
David Bowie faded from view over the last several years. The general public had no idea that he was dying. I looked up his last song and watched the video. He looked quite ill. The song he sung reminded me of Johnny Cash’s last song. Not many entertainers, never mind the rest of us, get to say their goodbyes in quite this fashion. It was a bit on the creepy side.
It is kind of amazing how much of British rock, starting in the mid-1960s, was influenced by people who had attended British art schools. It was kind of a badge of honour, and a cool place to be back then I guess. Brian Eno, Mick Jones, Keith Richards, Roger Waters. Freddy Mercury, John Lennon, Ray Davies, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Ron Wood, and….David Bowie all went to art schools. Often these guys came from backgrounds where many of their friends ended up working at dead end jobs. A lot of women over the years have been sympathetic to the starving artists in this world.
By the time Bowie came along rock music had gone through the pretty boys like Frankie Avalon and Ricky Nelson in the late 50s, folk music, the British Invasion, message songs about peace and love, the psychedelic stuff, and a fair amount of bubble gum music and cheesy stuff. Often why we liked a song was because of the “hook”. It could be the beat, a sax solo, or even one word repeated over and over again.
Mostly what we saw was a singer or singers, with or without a band, playing their music and getting off of the stage. This includes the Beatles and the Beach Boys. There wasn’t a lot of moving around the stage for members of these 2 groups. Mike Love of the Beach Boys would bob his head, snap his fingers, and shuffle his feet a bit but that was about it. “Good night Cleveland!”
This isn’t to say that nobody back in the earlier days of rock put on a show besides playing their music. There were a few like Jackie Wilson, Roy Head, and Elvis in his early years before he got cleaned up. One of the first singers from the British Invasion to put on a show was Mick Jagger from the Stones. He never stopped moving and we were transfixed as he strutted around. Mick added things like wearing a feather boa and was one of the first to do some gender bending. There wasn’t much masculine to his dancing. Pete Townsend in a different way got a lot of attention by smashing his guitar to smithereens.
3 of the biggest hits on the music charts in 1970 were A Bridge Over Troubled Waters by Simon and Garfunkel, Close To You by The Carpenters, and Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head by B.J. Thomas. These were the songs that many younger people’s parents also liked. Popular music had split in a number of ways. There were the popular bands of the time like America, Fleetwood Mac, Chicago, The Doobie Brothers, but Glitter Rock and Heavy Metal were starting to emerge. A few years later Punk Rock started to be noticed.
A certain amount of rebelliousness had disappeared from rock and roll and Glam (Glitter) Rock, Heavy Metal, and Punk were an answer to that. In some ways Heavy Metal was like the “Primal Scream”, the louder the better. Being a fan of Glam Rock or Heavy Metal kind of made a person an outsider and being an outsider for some was a cool thing in its own right.
Gender bending wasn’t anything new in the world of entertainment. Wrestling star Gorgeous George was doing this shtick back in the 40s and 50s. It was pretty obvious that Little Richard was more than a bit effeminate in the 50s. In the same decade most people didn’t know that Rock Hudson, Tony Perkins, or Tab Hunter were gay. Liberace once sued an English newspaper for claiming he was gay and he won even though he couldn’t have been gayer.
Freddy Mercury came out as being gay in 1975 and Elton John in 1976. There is a long history for some in the gay community of dressing up in wild costumes and pretending to be famous people. In the early 70s Alice Cooper started wearing makeup including mascara. Nobody thought he was gay. Both Mick Jagger and David Bowie figured out that they could use effeminate actions in their shows that could add some mystery and make fans wonder. Were they straight and just acting, were they bi-sexual, or were they simply gay?
In the 70s Bowie was a complete narcissist. He wasn’t alone. He did a lot of cocaine and thought he was invincible. His fans adored him. It seems that he thought he could do pretty well anything he wanted and this included participating in a number of orgies and treating groupies like shit. In between acting out these fantasies Bowie early on figured out that music was a business. His good pal Mick Jagger most likely influenced him on that. The big money in rock music was filling stadiums. To accomplish that one had to put on a big show that would make people talk about it. Having a whole slew of hits didn’t hurt either.
To me Bowie played his fans back then. In 1972 Bowie came out as being gay. He claimed that he had always been gay. In 1976 he then claimed to be bi-sexual. Then in 1983 he claimed that he was heterosexual and blamed the idea that he was anything else on his managers as if he didn’t have a mind of his own. Basically he pulled the wool over gay people’s eyes for more than 10 years.
Rumours about Bowie have been around for years about him being in bed with Mick Jagger. Some of these claims came from Bowie’s ex-wife who set him up with young girls (often underaged), orgies, and threesomes where she was often a participant. I don’t doubt that a lot of famous entertainers have slept with people of the same sex over the years.
It is hard to think about Bowie without including the sex stuff. Bowie himself created the image. When he and Jagger sang Dancing In The Streets they were nose to nose at times.
To me Bowie was always kind of creepy but it would be difficult to say that he didn’t produce a lot of great music including songs like Rebel, Rebel, Young Americans, Fame, Fashion, Under Pressure, Let’s Dance, China Girl, Modern Girl, Dancing In The Street, and Never Let Me Down, to name just some of his great tunes.
Although he didn’t sing Lou Reed’s Take A Walk On The Wild Side, that song to me describes Bowie in a nutshell. And then again there was that kind of touching moment when Bowie sang a Christmas duet with the old crooner Bing Crosby. That was two worlds colliding…..quietly.
I’ve never been a big fan of cults of any kind including people who totally idolize entertainer(s), politicians, or religious nuts. Bowie did have a cult following. I think people limit themselves when they restrict their open mindedness to one form of music.
From what I’ve read Bowie was a lonely man by the time he got to his early forties. My guess he was “sexed out” by that point. He kind of reminds me in a way of Warren Beatty who slept with an awful lot of famous and not so famous women in his time. Beatty got married when he was 60 years old and is now 78 years old and has 4 kids.
Although David Bowie died at 69 he was also one lucky guy. He got a second chance in life. By all reports he had a happy and loving marriage that lasted close to 24 years. He seems to have had a good relationship with his kids. One thing I didn’t know about Bowie (and probably a lot of other stuff) is that before meeting Bowie his wife Iman was married to former Seattle Supersonics basketball star Spencer Heywood for 10 years. This is just an opinion but I think in the last 20 years of his life Bowie learned how not to take himself too seriously. You could see his sense of humour on some of the old Conan O’Brien interviews.
What is David Bowie’s legacy? He mixed art with music and pushed the envelope, had a great singing voice and moved with the times, had an influence on there being a wider acceptance of the LGBT community.