Early YearsBowie was born in Brixton, an area of London, but grew up in the town of Bromley, in Kent (now part of Greater London). Initially a saxophonist and vocalist with various blues groups, such as The Lower Third, in 1960s London, Bowie's greatest strength through his career has been his ability to adapt his public image to fit, and often anticipate, the prevailing musical trends. Heavily influenced by the dramatic arts, from avant-garde theatre and mime to Commedia dell'arte much of his work has involved the creation of characters or personae, to present to the world. Bowie needed to use a different stage name because of Davy Jones of The Monkees, so he picked Bowie after Jim Bowie.
SeventiesHis first flirtation with fame came in 1969 when his single Space Oddity was released to coincide with the first moon landing. A failure the first time out, along with his first two albums (David Bowie - 1967, Space Oddity 1969), it later became a UK hit record. His first notable album, The Man Who Sold the World (1970), rejected the acoustic guitar sound of Space Oddity, replacing it with the heavy rock backing provided by long-term collaborator Mick Ronson. (The title track provided an unlikely hit for UK pop singer Lulu and would later be covered by Nirvana.)
The album titled David Bowie has caused some confusion, as two different releases have carried the name. Even though releasing David Bowie in 1967, the initial release of the 1969 album was also eponymous in UK (in States it bore the title Man of Words/Man of Music). In 1972 it would be re-released as Space Oddity. The 1967 album is scantily available nowadays, although it exists in counterfeit copies.
His next record, Hunky Dory (1971), saw the partial return of the fey pop singer of Space Oddity, with light fare such as the droll "Kooks" (dedicated to his young son known to the world as Zowie Bowie but legally named Duncan Jones) and "Oh! You Pretty Things" sitting along side the verbose philosophising of "The Bewlay Brothers". Lyrically, Bowie also took the time to pay tribute to some of his influences, on "Song for Bob Dylan", "Andy Warhol" and "Queen Bitch," dedicated to The Velvet Underground. The next year, Bowie would produce Lou Reed's solo breakthrough, Transformer). Supported by another hit single in "Life on Mars", Hunky Dory sold tremendously well and lifted Bowie into first rank of stars (in an 18 month period in 1972 and 73 he would have four top 10 albums and eight top ten singles in the UK).
The cover of the first of these albums, on which Bowie is seen reclining in a dress, was an early indication of his interest in exploiting his androgynous appearance. This would be taken further with his next record, the seminal The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Ziggy Stardust was a concept album relating the career of an extraterrestrial rock singer. Bowie took the character to extremes, touring and giving press conferences as Ziggy before a dramatic and abrupt onstage "retirement" in 1973. The record contained some of Bowie's most acclaimed work, much of it a reaction to his own fame and the conflict between his beliefs and the reality of stardom. These themes were further explored, with the same musicians, on 1973's Aladdin Sane, another conceptual work about the disintegration of society. It included the hit Jean Genie and a cover of The Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together".
After Pin Ups, an indifferently received collection of cover versions of 1960s hits, came Diamond Dogs, another ambitious album with some spoken-word passages and with a song-cycle about a fascist state based (loosely) on George Orwell's 1984.
In 1975 came the first of Bowie's re-inventions of his image, having taken the genderless-alien-cum-rock-star to (and possibly beyond) its limit, culminating in the lead role in Nicolas Roeg's film "The Man Who Fell To Earth". He shed the glam rock trappings and, with Young Americans, explored Philadelphia soul with backing from a young Luther Vandross. 1976's Station To Station featured a bleaker verson of this soul persona, called "The Thin White Duke". By then Bowie was heavily dependent on drugs, especially cocaine, and had become notorious for a supposed fascist salute given at London's Victoria Station. Many have attributed the chopped rhythms and emotional detachment of the record to the influence of the drug. Bowie's interest in the growing German music scene and the appeal of the nightlife prompted him to move to Berlin, where he produced two more of his own classic albums, and others, notably by Iggy Pop.
The brittle sound of Station to Station was a precursor to that found on Low, the first of three recorded in collaboration with Brian Eno. Heavily influenced by the Krautrock sound of Kraftwerk and others, the new songs were relatively simple, repetitive and stripped, a clear and typically perverse reaction to punk rock, with the second side wholly instrumental. (By way of tribute, proto-punk Nick Lowe recorded an EP entitled "Bowi".) The next record, "Heroes", was similar in sound to Low, but more accessible. The mood of these records fit the zeitgeist of the Cold War, symbolised by the divided city that provided inspiration. The title track was a worldwide hit and remains one of Bowie's best known. Lodger (1979) was the final, and least accessible, of his so-called "Berlin Trilogy," although it did feature the hits "D.J.", "Boys Keep Swinging", and "Look Back in Anger".
The EightiesIn the 1980s, Bowie did an about-face and made an unabashed bid for commercial success. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980) included the #1 hit "Ashes To Ashes", revisiting the character of Major Tom from "Space Oddity". Bowie then scored his first truly commercial blockbuster with Let's Dance (1983), a slick soul/funk album with co-production by Chic's Nile Rodgers. Its title track has become a standard, and the album also featured the singles "Modern Love" and "China Girl", the latter causing something of a stir due to its suggestive promotional video. This album is also notable as a stepping stone for the career of the late Texan guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played on the album and was to have supported Bowie on the Serious Moonlight Tour, but left the tour over a pay dispute and was replaced by Earl Slick on the guitar duties.
Between Scary Monsters.. and Let's Dance, Bowie released "Under Pressure". Co-written by and performed with Queen. The song was a hit and became Bowie's third number one single.
The followup album Tonight featured collaborations with Tina Turner and a cover of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows". Critics slammed it as a lazy effort, dashed off by Bowie simply to recapture Let's Dance's chart success. Yet the album bore the minor hit "Blue Jean", whose long-form video, a 15-minute short film directed by Julien Temple, reflected Bowie's long-standing interest in combining music with drama. Never Let Me Down (1987) drew some of the harshest criticism of Bowie's career, condemned by critics as a faceless piece of product and ignored by the public - and Bowie himself openly apologised in an interview for the album being so bad; defenders of the album maintain that many of its songs are underrated and that Bowie at this time was simply facing the inevitable backlash of an overexposed superstar.
From Tin Machine to todayIn 1989, for the first time since the early 1970s, Bowie formed a regular band, Tin Machine, a hard-rocking quartet obviusly influenced by Pixies (whose work Bowie would continue to appreciate in years to come, appearing live with frontman Frank Black, and making the Pixies song "Cactus" a staple of live sets in the early 2000s), that released two studio albums and a live record. The band received mediocre reviews and was ignored by the public, but Tin Machine heralded the beginning of an ongoing collaboration between Bowie and guitarist Reeves Gabrels.
Bowie began the 1990s with a stadium tour in which he played many of his biggest hits for what he said would be the last time. He surprised no one when he later reneged on that promise. But the 90s did show that Bowie had learned some harsh lessons from the previous decade, and was determined to get serious about concentrating on music more than commercial success.
1993 saw the release of the soul, jazz and hip-hop influenced Black Tie White Noise, which reunited Bowie with Let's Dance producer Nile Rodgers. Though considered by some critics to be musically far superior to Let's Dance, the public was still unsure whether or not it was ready to be receptive to Bowie again, and the album's ultimate failure was guaranteed when the fledgling Savage Records on which it had been released suddenly went belly-up.
Undaunted, Bowie explored new directions on albums such as 1993's The Buddha of Suburbia (built on incidental music composed for a TV series); 1995's ambitious, quasi-industrial Outside (album) (supposed to be the first volume in a still-unfinished nonlinear narrative of art and murder); 1997's Earthling (incorporating experiments in jungle and drum and bass and including a single released over the Internet); and 1999's Hours..., featuring "What's Really Happening", the lyrics for which were written by the winner of an Internet competition. Bowie also performed live again extensively throughout the 90s. The decade also saw him launch a branded ISP (BowieNet) as well as a novel and quite successful fundraising scheme to raise cash on the strength of future royalties, called Bowie Bonds.
In September of 1995 Bowie followed up his earlier Sound and Vision tour with the Outside Tour (with Gabrels again joining Bowie as his live band's guitarist). In a move that was equally lauded and ridiculed by Bowie fans and critics, Bowie chose Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails as the tour's opening act. Reznor has gone on record numerous times as being heavily influenced by David Bowie, and further collaborated with Bowie by remixing "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" and appearing in the music video for "I'm Afraid of Americans" (which was also remixed by Reznor).
The 1998 Todd Haynes film Velvet Goldmine drew its title from an Ziggy-era Bowie song and contained many events paralleling Bowie's life on and off stage. The tagline "The Rise of a Star... the Fall of a Legend" obviously recalls the name of one of Bowie's most famous albums. In an interview with the band Placebo, Bowie noted that he liked the story, but the movie felt more like the early 1980s than the early 1970s. Also, he forbid using his own songs in the film.
The 2002 album Heathen reunited him with Tony Visconti, producer of many of his best 1970s efforts, and won critical acclaim for his best chart performance in years. Earlier in 1998, he had also reunited with Visconti to record a song for The Rugrats Movie called Sky Life... surprisingly, it was edited out of the final cut, and did not feature on the film's soundtrack album.
In 2003, a report in the Sunday Express named Bowie as the second-richest entertainer in the U.K. (behind Sir Paul McCartney), with an estimated fortune of £510 million. Later that year, Bowie released a new album, Reality, and announced a world tour.
Today, Bowie lives in New York City with his second wife, the Somali-born model Iman, and their daughter.