The word legend is arguably overused these days.
But it would be an easy word to try to sum up the enigma that was David Bowie. The singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, arranger, painter and actor could count no less than 9 Platinum, 11 Gold and 8 Silver UK albums, and a further 5 Platinum and 7 Gold records in the US. Bowie’s accolades included honorary Doctorates, awards, an induction into the Rock N Roll hall of fame and even having a species of spider named after him (yes, really).
So in tribute to a truly unique artist and visionary, Town Hall Symphony Hall brings you just six of our favourite Bowie moments. And what a hard list it was to create; how can you possibly encapsulate a 50 year career from a man that prided himself on being the King of Reinvention? After lengthy debates referencing his work as a musician, actor and fashion icon from the 60’s right up until last week, the team settled on the following. As in the end, the very real struggle to select the things we love most about him is in itself the best indication of the true beauty of Bowie – there is a version of him for everyone.
Life On Mars
With nods within to LennonsWorking Class HeroSimon and Garfunkel’sBridge Over Troubled Water in it’s lyrics and musical arrangement, Bowie was haunted by the early versions of its melody until it’s completion:
This song was so easy. Being young was easy… I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road. Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice.
Ashes to Ashes
Noted by many for its surreal video in which we see Bowie dressed as a clown, Ashes to Ashes revisits Bowie’s Major Tom character from Space Oddity.
As well as calling the song “a nursery rhyme… a 1980s nursery rhyme.” Bowies is also noted as saying:
With Ashes to Ashes , [i was] wrapping up the seventies really and this seemed a good enough epitaph for it.
One of the first tracks Bowie ever wrote whilst residing in New York City, Jean Genie is thought to pay reference to the rebellious French writer Jean Genet and rock star Iggy Pop and perhaps gives an insight into Bowies well documented fascination with the idea of Americana and the American way of life.
Despite being from the Aladdin Sane era of his career, the song has a distinctly 60’s feel to it, with Bowie explaining:
I wanted to get the same sound the Stones had on their very first album on the harmonica. I didn’t get that near to it, but it had a feel that I wanted – that ’60s thing.
Heroes tells the story of a German couples determination to be together and their daily meetings under a gun turret on The Berlin Wall. Bowie wrote the song after he moved to Berlin, feeling burnt out from touring and fame. He would reside there for nearly 4 years in what was later dubbed, The Berlin Era of his career.
In 2003 Bowie confirmed that this song was inspired by an affair between his long time producer Tony Visconti and a German singer:
I’m allowed to talk about it now. I wasn’t at the time. I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea. Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend. Tony was married at the time. And I could never say who it was (laughs). But I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a German girl that he’d met whilst we were in Berlin. I did ask his permission if I could say that. I think possibly the marriage was in the last few months, and it was very touching because I could see that Tony was very much in love with this girl, and it was that relationship which sort of motivated the song.
Dance The Magic Dance…
Arguably the film role he’ll be remembered most fondly for will be his turn as Jareth the Goblin King in the 1986 classic Labyrinth. As well as starring in the movie, Bowie recorded five songs for the film: Underground, Magic Dance, Chilly Down, As the World Falls Down and Within You.
And so we come to the final piece of work from Bowies discography, Blackstar. Released just two days before his death, the album was recorded during his 18 month battle with cancer and is being hailed as a parting gift to his fans, with many questioning whether the track Lazarus was in fact Bowie singing his own epitaph.
His death was no different from his life – a work of art. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it.
The word legend is arguably overused these days.
So instead, we shall bid farewell and fond thanks to David Bowie, innovator, diamond dog and eternal spaceman.