David Bowie: A Cross-generational Superstar

13 January 2016

By Oisin

David Bowie, a truly cross-generational artist, died on Monday, a few days after turning 69 and releasing his final album, Blackstar. Bowie’s talents spanned across art forms at various points throughout his career. He was a producer, painter, film actor and art critic, not to mention the constant evolution of his music through the use of personas: Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke.

Born David Jones in January 1947, Bowie owes part of his unique look – his permanently dilated left eye – to a high school fight, during which he got punched in the eye. It was not until 1966 that David Bowie was invented, the name change serving to avoid confusing with Davy Jones of the Monkees.

After being in a string of fairly unsuccessful bands, Bowie went solo and released his first album The World of David Bowie in 1967. However, Bowie’s initial commercial breakthrough wasn’t until 1969 with the release of the single ‘Space Oddity’, the title track of his second album. The track’s release coincided with the Apollo 11 moon landing and introduced Bowie’s first major persona: Major Tom, a fictional astronaut who was stuck orbiting the Earth.

The next year was an eventful one for Bowie: his father died, his brother Terry was committed to a psychiatric institution, he married his first wife Angela Barnett, and his next album The Man Who Sold the World was released in America. It was released in the UK the following year.

Bowie kept up the pace and released Hunky Dory in 1972, which is an excellent collection that only had moderate commercial success. But that was all about to change: the way had been paved for Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy was perhaps Bowie’s most famous persona. He had a unique look: with flame-red hair and platform boots, he was a science-fiction alien rock star visiting a doomed planet Earth. The accompanying concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars included hits like ‘Starman’, ‘Suffragette’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ and brought Bowie worldwide stardom.

To much surprise, Bowie killed off Ziggy in 1973, only to create Aladdin Sane, a character similar to Ziggy, but sporting even more elaborate outfits. As well as writing and performing, Bowie also began producing; he produced Lou Reed’s Transformer album and Mott the Hoople’s single ‘All the Young Dudes’, both of which went on to be successful.

More albums and touring followed, including Diamond Dogs, Young Americans and Station to Station. The track ‘Fame’ on Station to Station was co-written with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar and become Bowie’s first US number one single.

Once more Bowie uprooted himself, this time moving to Berlin. He worked on a triptych of albums alongside the producer Brian Eno, and the three resulting albums, Low, Heroes and Lodger, were experimental and incorporated heavy electronic elements alongside Bowie’s signature innovative lyrics.

Bowie turned his focus to acting, but still released the album Lodger in 1979 and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) in 1980. Bowie divorced his first wife in 1980. A collaborative effort with Queen scored another number one hit: ‘Under Pressure’.

David Bowie’s 1983 album, Let’s Dance, was heralded as his return to form and brought the hits ‘China Girl’ and ‘Modern Love’. The late 1980s saw Bowie get involved in the heavy metal band Tin Machine and release poorly received albums. Tin Machine dissolved in 1992 (the year Bowie remarried) and Bowie began releasing albums once more, experimenting with influences from hip-hop to drum’n’bass.

Bowie headlined Glastonbury for the second time in 2000, which was 30 years after his debut there. This cemented his influence across many generations, and the album released in 2002, Heathen, saw Bowie return to form as the master of the rock genre.

Fans waited 11 years before Bowie surprised the world once more by releasing The Next Day in 2013. The album was met with huge success and became his first UK number one for 20 years.

Bowie released his final critically acclaimed album, Blackstar, on his 69th birthday, and he died just days afterwards. He is survived by his second wife, Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid, and children Duncan Jones, the acclaimed sci-fi director, and Alexandria Zahra Jones.

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