Prior to their demise, 'HIM' magazine in the UK commissioned Jackson Cash to to trace the hits, misses and masterpieces of this gossamer-like genius that is the Great Dame of Pop culture. This was originally published in the now defunct California fanzine 'The World of Ron & Nancy'. Never slow to exploit the misfortune of others, we at OUTSIDELEFT are happy to bring you the finished article...
"The first time I met David Bowie was in 1972, my father had taken me on a day trip to London, ostensibly to see the Regents Park Zoo. I cannot remember exactly where we were, although I vaguely remember standing on the pavement, near an entrance to a tube station. Standing in the rain.
While my father checked the a-Z for directions, I bounced a fluorescent green rubber power ball against the paving stones until it hit a crack on a broken one and streaked away along the kerb. I watched the ball roll under the wheel of a black cab that had just pulled up at the side of the road, just a few yards away. After tugging my father's sleeve to get him to come along, I went after the ball.
As we reached the back of the cab the door opened and out stepped a red plastic boot. That I recall quite clearly as the boot was similar in style to the Wellingtons I had worn when I was just a little younger. The man wearing the boots stood by the side of the road.
He was tall and thin and had artificially red hair. I remember thinking that he looked like a clown but I remembered him from television. My father bent down and whispered in my ear, "That's David Bowie."
I already knew him from seeing him on TV so I stepped forward with my hand outstretched, thinking if I got an autograph it would make me famous at school.
"Hello, Mr. Bowie, " I said, "I've just come to get my ball back." I gestured to the green blob in the dirt by his feet.
He looked at me and smiled, "Fuck off." he replied, in the gently precise tone he would later use to great effect as 'The Man Who Fell To Earth.' Me? I never did get my ball back."
...Many Years Later...
The number is dialed, the telephone rings and is answered...
"Hello, Press Office."
"Oh, Hello, I uh, was wondering, I'm writing this piece for a magazine celebrating David Bowie's 30 years in the music business and I, uh, well, to be honest, was wondering if it would be possible to arrange an interview with David?"
Long Pause..."I'm sorry. Could you repeat that?"
"Yes, I'm writing an article about David Bowie and I was wondering if I could arrange an interview with him?"
"Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Well David is awfully busy."
"Yes. I appreciate that."
"What magazine did you say you were working for?"
"I didn't, but it's called Him."
"Him? I don't think I know that one. Is it a gentleman's magazine?"
"You could say that, yes."
"Thirty years you say? That's a long time isn't it?"
"Yes it is I suppose. Look, do you think there is any possibility of an interview?"
"Well, like I said, Mr Bowie is a very busy man. I really don't know. The best thing to do would be to put your request in writing and set it to us. You'd better include a copy of the magazine as well. We'll ask David and see what he says."
"How long do you think that will take?"
"To ask him."
"Good question. A month maybe or...
"So really it could be any time or never?"
"Never is possible. Yeah, never is likely."
"Okay, thanks for your time."
"No, thank you sir."
The Beatles have a succession of pop-top, mop-top, number one singles, 'From Me To You', 'She Loves You', 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', 'Can't Buy Me Love' - a quartet of smash hits that will forever act as the foundation stone for the pedestal from which no amount of over-rated yeah-yeah-yeah-ing or la-la-la-la-la-ing can shake them. John, Paul, George and Ringo become write the new youth culture gospel. The new testament starts here, the bible of the beat.
There is more to 1964 than Liverpool and the Merseybeat. Slouching in the wings and in the R&B clubs in the suburbs of London are a hundred other beat combos that could give the Beatles a run for their money, if they'd only got the boots or the luck.
The fakers and makers, the wheelers, the dealers and the weak-spot feelers. They all see this pop thing as a way to make money, make girls, make boys, fuck it - just make it.
Fresh from school (and in a combo with the nostalgically pleasing name of 'George and the Dragons') is a kid who would go on to be the ultimate weak-spot feeler, in that he'd see a gap in the market and go all out for it - David Jones.
This David Jones, all seventeen years of him, has a knack with the sax and the gall to write letters to prospective patrons and affiliated music business entrepreneurs demanding firstly, attention, and secondly a few hundred quid to get his new band, The King Bees, some decent equipment.
The success of the Beatles and this 'beat music's' profit potential has labels falling over themselves trying to find the next big thing. Davy Jones and the King Bees join the conveyor belt of hopefuls at Decca (then, as now, labels have a fling-it-all-against- the-wall-and - see-what-sticks attitude, auditioning and demoing tracks from dozens of bands each week).
Mystifyingly, listen to those tracks on the first single and you'll see what I mean. Jones convinces Decca that he really can make it for them and the label issues a limp r&b tune, 'Liza Jane'. Rumor has it that 'FLOP' was stamped on the label before the first batch left the pressing plant.
Elsewhere The Rolling Stones have honed their r&b sound are shaping up for the battle of the decade with the Beatles for the hearts of screaming youth.
David Jones hooks up with another group called The Lower Third, grows his hair and releases 'You've Got A Habit of Leaving', again it comes out on the Flop label. The Lower Third 'wow' London with a set that includes 'Mars' from the Planets Suite and 'Chim Chim Cherie' from Mary Poppins. Much to the annoyance of all concerned, Jones insists on getting out his acoustic guitar mid-set and fingering a few folks of his own.
Elsewhere Bob Dylan is hitting big.
Disgruntled at his continued lack of success, Jones sits at home and like Robert the Bruce before him takes inspiration from a spider trying to make a web in the corner of his flat. He resolves to "Try, try again" the implications of this encounter will not be realized until some six years later.
David Jones mysteriously disappears, in his place comes David Bowie, the Stepford pop-star. This Bowie looks remarkably similar to Jones but friends and acquaintances remark, "You know, there's something funny about the eyes that I haven't noticed before."
The full horror of this mystical transformation becomes apparent as the new Bowie releases single after single as a solo artist. Something strange has happened to his voice and he starts seeing little men at the end of his bed who start following him down the street.
As a form of therapy, Bowie undertakes the study of mime and he's bitten by the theater bug, causing an illness from which he'll never fully recover. Complicating his condition still further he contracts a not usually contagious Eastern religion.
Elsewhere John Lennon has announced that he's a Buddhist and the Beatles hang out with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
"Prepresent: Born London 1947
15 - Didn't attend school much...layed tenor sax with Modern jazz group...uddhism
16 - Left school, went into an ad agency and tripped on capitalism for six months as a commercial artist...e-read 'On The Road'...Formed a progressive blues group.
17 - More groups
18 - Frustrated with groups went solo with an acoustic.
19 - First LP
20 - Dropped out of music completely and devoted most of my time to the Tibet Society. Helped get the Scottish monastery underway.
21 - Acted, wrote and produced with mime company.
21 1/2 - Formed own mime, music, mixed media trio
21 3/4 - Fell in love.
22 - Solo again and making an LP for Philips. Started an Arts Lab in Beckenham, Kent to try and promote the ideals and creative processes of the underground."
Self-penned Bowie press release, 1969.
Bowie begins a career long investigation into startling new music technologies and the avenues of creativity that these innovations open up for the artist. The Stylophone makes its first appearance on a hit pop record when, after Rolf Harris fails to turn up for a session, David electronically doodles over his single 'Space Oddity' He is so impressed by the sound that he agrees to endorse the product in a series of adverts.
Elsewhere Stanley Kubrick's '2001; A Space Odyssey' has become the film to talk about.
Bowie marries in a secret ceremony and becomes able to fuck himself as his wife , Angie begins to look more and more like his clone.
'The Man Who Sold The World' album is released in America and the UK and sells like burnt cakes. The initial cover design for the album features Bowie in a dress. It is immediately rejected in the US and ultimately receives a similar fate in the UK.
Despite desperate attempts to 'break' America, Us radio stations are leery of playing and promoting music by a 'transvestite'. More people hear about the controversial album sleeve than ever hear the music on the album.
'Hunky Dory' is released as a follow up but Bowie has already begin to formulate an idea for a one-man West End spectacular. He aims to devise an outrageous, glamorous theatrical extravaganza.
Elsewhere Marc Bolan and T.Rex are stomping all over the UK charts while Iggy and the Stooges are exhilarating America.
David earns front pages by telling Melody Maker "I'm gay and always have been."
Bowie's mentor, Ken Pitt, later claims that this attempt to create an 'interesting' image had come from Bowie's infatuation with the theatrical leanings of Warhol and the Factory set.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is released.
"Wowee Bowie! The warped wonder has hit the big one with a blast. Ziggy Stardust is an electrifying glimpse of the apocalyptic future of rock'n'roll" - review, St. Louis Lamplighter, US underground paper.
"A cold hard beauty. An album to take you into the 80's" - review, Cashbox, US music magazine.
"An avant-garde superstar" - review, Billboard, US music magazine.
"When I first heard it, I thought that it was really good. It was exciting. Looking back on it I suppose it was partly because we were all so in love with what Bolan was doing, that glam thing. The Bowie album was just another record for us to play. It was the fashion, I suppose. We all went to the Ziggy show which was fun but I would never dream of listening to that record now. I don't think I even own a copy anymore." - female Bowie fan, quoted March 1994.
"David Bowie progresses yet again on his fifth album to be released on RCA records, to a much more intense delivery of his words and music. His last two albums progressed in terms of form and structure - as well as musically - to a peak that is reached with "Aladdin Sane." Both 'Hunky Dory' and 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust' were a much looser collection of songs bound together, in the case of 'Ziggy Stardust' under one major conceptual theme that was to be enhanced with Bowie's live appearance." (RCA press release, 1973)
Bowie and his Spiders embark upon a grueling touring schedule that sees Ziggy Stardust foisted on a suspecting public worldwide and the promotion of the smug pun intended Aladdin Sane LP. In Britain, the band play a farcical concert at London's Earl's Court which is reported by the NME with the banner headline ALADDIN DISTRESS. While members of the audience dance naked and 'urinate in the aisles' Bowie shouts from the stage for them to "stop being silly." The following nights show is canceled.
Before going onstage at a filmed show at the Hammersmith Odeon, Bowie receives a telephone call from Frank Sinatra who gives him some fatherly advice about his career. On stage he commits 'Ziggycide' and announces his decision to retire form live performance.
In another interview Bowie recants his previous gay claim: "The only thing it ever did was sell albums... bought the paper and it looked all right. But from then on, the way the other papers picked up on it, and just tore at it like dogs at meat. They made this enormous thing out of it."
Decca records reissue 'The Laughing Gnome', it sells a quarter of a million copies. A Spanish label repackages David Jones early sides on an album called 'The King of Gay Rock'.
As the glam-mania subsides, 'Pin-Ups' an album of cover versions is quickly recorded and released while Bowie looks around for his next leap of faith. As the year closes, he has five different LP's concurrently hogging the album charts.
Bowie collaborates with avant-garde Scottish vocalist Lulu and sees their re-recording of his song 'The Man Who Sold The World' shoot up the charts.
David commissions Dutch artist Guy Paellart for the sleeve of his next album. 'Diamond Dogs' is housed in a cover on which Bowie is depicted as a human-dog hybrid, complete with a huge throbbing dick between his legs. Although Bowie defends the picture by saying that he had personally posed for the painting and that it was "art", the record label bends under the moral thumb and David is neutered with a wave of an airbrush.
Diamond Dogs is all apocalyptic visions that are sub-'1984' and sub-sub-Burroughs, but it serves as the springboard for a touring show of especially stupid proportions.
Bowie's dream of a fusion of rock and theater is realized with a six ton set of 20,000 moving parts. The stage is so ridiculous that Bowie agrees to un-retire himself just so that he can have a go on it and a celebratory live album is recorded.
Bowie goes bonkers. He is convinced, a la Manson with the Beatles that the Rolling Stones are sending him coded messages in their songs. He records an album called 'Young Americans' which he describes as "Plastic soul."
Elsewhere disco music is big.
Punk rock goes overground. Bowie irrelevantly becomes the Thin White Duke.
The Thin White Duke records an album of punkish tunes including raw r&b covers of early David Jones material but the master tapes are erased by accident. All that is left of the sessions are loose jams of the band warming up for the r&b numbers. Undeterred, RCA package these as 'Station to Station'.
Arriving at Victoria Station, Bowie catches sight of his old woodwork teacher and gives him a wave as he stands at the back of a crowd of well-wishers. This wave to Eric Horton, 62 is misconstrued and causes an international incident.
Bowie releases two LP's, 'Low' and 'Heroes' and stars in the movie, 'The man Who Fell To Earth.' All of these projects are surprisingly successful and he fears he is somehow losing the plot so he agrees to amend matters by narrating Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf' and recording another double live album that nobody wants. Everybody breathes a huge sight of relief.
Boys keep swinging as Bowie invents the rock promo video and plays a vampire in 'The Hunger'.
He updates his biggest hit and wanders around in remarkably silly clothes. Plus ca change.
Fashion, turn to the left. Adverts in the teen-pop press offer '88-pleat Bowie bags" for the discerning style warrior.
Bowie enters a fallow period musically as he waits for his current contract to expire so that he can claim extra royalties on his next LP. Baa humbug!
After a period of acting on stage and screen, Bowie returns to torment the airwaves with an album of chest-beating slickness with Nile Rodgers at the controls. 'Let's Dance' spawns numerous hit singles the best of which is a fumigated version of the Iggy Pop tune, China Girl which Bowie had already sterilized as the producer of the Ig's Idiot LP.
Tonight and the worst of Bowie's theatrical leanings resurface as he concocts the flabbiest rock video yet for his tune 'Blue Jean'. The only man with the talent to cope with his twenty minute extravaganza is Julian Temple, honing his directorial skills for the forthcoming 'Absolute Beginners'.
When Absolute Beginners is released in 1986 the general public are stunned that Bowie is over-looked for an award for his fantastic performance in the film.
At this stage, it is difficult for Bowie to find the right star vehicle as he is only being offered parts as aliens, rock stars or villains. He does however follow up with the movie Labyrinth. A film which is acknowledged as a modern day classic and the Citizen Kane of the fantastic.
Everybody has a favorite album from this period. It's just a pity that none of them are by David Bowie. While aging 60's and 70's rockers reform for a heap of money, Bowie still seems to feel that he is on the cutting edge of entertainment. He forms the band Tin Machine and gets back to the roots of straight ahead rock as he had done in the 60's. In recreating a time it is remarkably successful, almost as many people are interested now as they were in the heady days of the Lower Third. Bowie can even play at small venues again.
David does a lot of work for charity. David fans and apologists do to. He gets down on one knee saying the Lord's Prayer at a tele-charity event. Skin crawls and toes curl all over the world as the event is beamed live by satellite. Bowie returns with a greatest hits tour. If you can't beat them.../p>
A writer attempting to summarize the thirty year career of David Bowie. He pauses and reads through he text he has written. Everything goes sadly wrong in the final ten years. Everything goes sadly wrong in the lower third. The writer racks his brain for something interesting to say about the current Bowie...e puts down his pencil and turns the page...lank...hat will have to do.
At the time of publication in originally in 1997, David Bowie rides high again. A funny turn as Andy Warhol in an art movie and a tour with pop sub genius Trent Reznor preceded a current fawningly acclaimed tour. Which leads all concerned to wonder, when oh when will the critics learn? Jackson Cash is still waiting for a reply to that written request for an interview...he Los Angeles Times reports that Bowie's accrued wealth $917,000,000 exceeds even that of Paul McCartney, making Bowie is the richest rocker in the world or at least the UK.
Now Download the WoweeZowee It's Bowie Game and have some fun!
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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