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11 min read
Published: Jul 30, 2019
Words: 2071|Pages: 5|11 min read
Through the history of rock and roll music, there have been many groups and artists that have come and gone, and have made a significant impact on the lives of promising young musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Nirvana and many more. There was one artist from the 1970s who not only made an impact musically, but he also changed the rules of rock and roll and showed millions of fans that there is nothing wrong with being unique to oneself. Who is this guy? David Bowie was one of the greatest rockers and forward-thinking songwriter of all time. Most people referred to him as a musical chameleon because he would always change his appearance and sound throughout his career. Through the years, Bowie helped create new trends and music styles that not only gave rock its edge but a sense of self-appreciation so that any artist would be able to express their feelings and emotions. David Bowie was born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947, in a poor suburb called Brixton in London, England.
Bowie began to show an interest in music at an early age. He started to play the saxophone at age 13. He was greatly influenced by his half-brother Terry, who exposed him to the world of rock music and beat literature. From then on, Bowie began to get a feel of playing rock music himself. After he graduated high school, he led a group called Davy Jones and the Lower Third. Eventually, Bowie went out on his own. However, after recording an unsuccessful solo album, Bowie took a break from the music world. By early 1969, David had returned to music full time. He signed a deal with Mercury Records, and that summer he released quite possibly the most famous song of David Bowie to date: “Space Oddity.”:
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground Control to Major Tom (ten, nine, eight, seven, six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (five, four, three)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (two, one, liftoff)
This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare.
It was an extraordinarily intimate song including a conversation between an astronaut and his ground control team. This song was all about alienation and distancing oneself away from people by getting so caught up in one’s mind that he or she are so above everyone else. It is about seeing the world as a sad place, but not being able to communicate with anyone about it. The first verse “Ground Control to Major Tom, Ground Control to Major Tom,” explains how he had lost all communication with those that were on the ground. The lines “And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear” something so small and unimportant that no one would ever worry about, is metaphorically the same as looking up into space from Earth. These lyrics were inspired by a 1968 science-fiction film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The song has a very acoustic sound to it. When this single was released, it was around the same time American astronauts landed on the moon, leading many people to believe that this event inspired the song. In a 2003 interview with magazine Performing Songwriter, David Bowie commented:
“In England, it was always presumed that it was written about the space landing because it came to prominence around the same time. But it wasn’t. It was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found surprising. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was a revelation to me. It got the song flowing”.
From then on, Bowie went on to release even more quite successful albums. The album “The Man Who Sold the World” released a year later in 1970. It was not as successful as his first, but it did bring him further into stardom. It showed people that David had potential and that he was on a path to becoming a groundbreaking artist. This album had more of a massive abrasive hard rock sound, something Bowie was not accumulated too. Most people considered this to be a prototype for punk rock. Also, his fans considered this album to be the beginning of his classic era. The collection also included the song “All the Madmen”:
Day after day
They send my friends away
To mansions cold and grey
To the far side of town
Where the thin men stalk the streets
While the sane stay underground
Day after day
They tell me I can go
They tell me I can blow
To the far side of town
Where it’s pointless to be high
Cause it’s such a long way down
This song is all about someone that is primarily about to go insane. It sort of puts a perspective on how Bowie’s attitude was towards asylums. He idealizes the life and the people that are placed into asylums. In the first line “Day after day, they send my friends away,” the speaker is expressing how all of his friends are suddenly leaving to go put into these homes. Then it continues to repeat himself in the first verse. “While the sane stay underground,” he expresses how those that are not mentally ill live a healthy life on Earth, while those who are mentally ill, are high above ground because their minds are different from ours. The song was inspired by his half-brother Terry, who had a mental illness. He was committed to an insane asylum where he later committed suicide.
His next piece, “Hunky Dory” was released in 1971. It showed his maturity as a singer and songwriter. It also included songs titled “Andy Warhol” and “Song for Bob Dylan,” that shows that these two artists greatly influenced him. The albums biggest highlight was the song, “Life on Mars,” which had such a powerful ballad:
It’s a God-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling no
And her daddy has told her to go
But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen
The song had quite possibly one of the strangest lyrics ever written by Bowie. It began with such an amazing piano sound, and then it tied in with an electric guitar and drums. This song is all about how our entertainment has become so all-encompassing and important that our lives have begun to mimic it. The first line of the song says, “the girl with the mousy hair,” which shows that the girl has a lot of problems in her life that involves dealing with her parents. The song was released in 1971, where teenagers were becoming rebels against their parents. After she was kicked out by her parents for her drama-filled life, her friend is nowhere to be found, so she has no one. To deal with her drama, she confides in entertainment to escape. This song helped the album reach a huge chart success in Britain and even in the States. Another song “Changes”:
Still, don’t know what I was waitin’ for
And my time was runnin’ wild
A million dead-end streets and
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So, I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
How the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test
This song is all about growing up and doing wild things, but that one does not notice what he or she is doing at the moment. Then people grow up, and they witness others (teens) doing the same; there is not much one can do to control them. “Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for, and my time was runnin’ wild” He remembers his younger years, and how he let it get away without worrying so much about time. This song kind of personified Bowie because there was some speculation about Bowie’s sexual orientation, and whether he was gay, due to his androgynous appearance. He did not give an answer towards the statement. In the next year, Bowie would do something that no other musician would have ever thought to do, and he would forever change the way others viewed rock and roll music. In 1972, David Bowie released one of his most famous and significant album titled “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” He wanted to create a concept based on an alien rock star, Ziggy Stardust, who had come to earth in hopes of becoming some vast superstar until he decides to end his career in England and head back off into outer space. Ziggy had become Bowie’s new persona, and from now on he would introduce himself that way in all of his concerts. The name Ziggy Stardust was chosen from his friend Iggy Pop and a cowboy named Stardust. His main inspiration for the character was an early pre-Beatles era British rock musician named Vince Taylor. Bowie was now leading the glam rock movement. Ziggy Stardust was a huge hit in England and even some parts of America. Songs such as “5 years,” “Starman” and “Suffragette City” are thought to be some of the best works Bowie has ever done alongside with “Space Oddity”. The album became enormously successful and was seen as a turning point in Bowie’s career. Also, Bowie’s song “Heroes”:
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes just for one day
For a long time, David told people that the song was about two lovers both near the Berlin Wall, but the song was inspired by Bowie’s producer/engineer Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Due to their secret relationship, he could never really give the true meaning of the song “Heroes” until now, and the lyrics sort of spoke for themselves, “Though nothing, nothing will keep us together, We can beat them, forever and ever” This meant that they would not stop fighting until they were together in the end. Both the lovers had a huge desire for happiness and love, despite their flaws and the feeling that the world would keep them apart. Bowie’s album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” and “The Spiders from Mars” was just one of the first of his albums that enabled him to fulfill his ideas concerning the combination of both rock music and theater. Since the beginning of David Bowie’s career, he sought to perform rock as theatre, which is one of the main reasons for his everlasting change of his on-stage appearances. According to Philip Auslander (2009), he noticed:
“Bowie not only envisioned the rock concert as a staged, costumed and theatrical performance, he understood his performances and his relationship to his audience in actorly terms […] Rather than developing a consistent persona, Bowie sang in many voices and from many subject positions without identifying clearly with any of them.”
Bowie’s interest in theater has always been the main cornerstone of his career. Bowie wrote his lyrics, which were later viewed as dramas like the ones seen in a theater, and these lyrics would tie into whatever new character that happened to strike his imagination. He felt that the world needed to know.
David Bowie changed music in ways no one would have ever imagined through his androgyny, sexuality, ever-changing appearance, and love for theater and science fiction storylines. He surfaced from the 1960s with a force of uniqueness and individuality. David was undoubtedly the most creative rock ‘n’ roll musician there ever was, and he has even inspired artist till this very generation and maybe even to come. Bowie was always pushing the boundaries of his art. He was never afraid to try new things and step out of the box. He never repeated his style. He forever changed it up, and he was never dull. Each of his songs had a different style, and it was new, and always had a story behind it. Even though Bowie had some dark moments in his career, he found a way to escape them through his music. This does not summarize the whole movement behind his music and the influence he had on others. There is no doubt that Bowie changed rock and roll music and the culture behind it. Through his ever-changing image, his love for theater and his ever-loving spirit.
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