(b. David Robert Jones
8 January 1947)
Bowie first caught the eye and ear of the public in July 1969, when his song “Space Oddity” reached the top five of the UK Singles Chart. After a three-year period of experimentation during which time Marc was in the ascendency,he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era with the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, spearheaded by the hit single “Starman” and the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Bowie’s impact at that time, as described by biographer David Buckley, “challenged the core belief of the rock music of its day” and “created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture. The relatively short-lived Ziggy persona proved merely one facet of a career marked by continual reinvention, musical innovation and striking visual presentation.
The cliché about Bowie is that he was a musical chameleon, adapting himself according to fashion and trends. While such a criticism is too glib, there’s no denying that Bowie demonstrated a remarkable skill for perceiving musical trends at his peak in the ’70s. After spending several years in the late ’60s as a mod and as an all-around music hall entertainer Bowie, reinvented himself as a hippie singer/songwriter. Prior to his breakthrough in 1972, he recorded a proto-metal record and a pop/rock album, eventually redefining glam rock with his ambiguously sexy Ziggy Stardust persona.
Ziggy made Bowie an international star, yet he wasn’t content to continue to churn out glitter rock. By the mid-’70s, he’d developed an effete, sophisticated version of Philly soul that he dubbed “plastic soul,” which eventually morphed into the eerie avant pop of 1976’s Station to Station. Shortly afterward, he relocated to Berlin, where he recorded three experimental electronic albums with Brian Eno.
At the dawn of the ’80s, Bowie was still at the height of his powers, yet following his blockbuster dance-pop album Lets Dance in 1983, he slowly sank into mediocrity before salvaging his career in the early ’90s. Even when he was out of fashion in the ’80s and ’90s, it was clear that Bowie was one of the most influential musicians in rock, for better and for worse. Each one of his phases in the ’70s sparked a number of subgenres, including punk, new wave, goth rock, the new romantics, and electronica. Few rockers have ever had such lasting impact.
Back in 1965 Marc and David, another Londoner, just a few months older than Marc struck up a friendship through a song publisher, Les Conn, who briefly managed both of them. “We met each other,” Bowie says, “when we were poured into the manager’s office to whitewash the walls. So there’s me and this mod whitewashing Les’s office. And he goes, ‘Where d’you get those shoes, man? Where d’you get your shirt?’
We immediately started talking about clothes and sewing machines. ‘Oh I’m gonna be singer and I’m gonna be so big you’re not gonna believe it, man.’ Oh, right, well I’ll probably write a musical for you one day. Cos I’m gonna be the greatest writer ever. ‘No, no, man, you’ve gotta hear my stuff cos I write great things. And I knew a wizard in Paris,’ and it was all this. Just whitewashing walls in our manager’s office.”