Hallo David Bowie – Glam Rock Icon and Innovator
David Robert Jones – singer, songwriter, record-producer, actor, and leader of a cultural revolution. To the majority, however, he is known most commonly by his stage name David Bowie. Bowie was brought to the public’s ear in 1969 when his award-winning single ‘Space Oddity’ reached the heights of the UK Top 5 and, mere days after its release, was featured on BBC coverage of the Apollo 11 launch. Space Oddity gained so much fame in the musical world that Bowie named his second album after it and returned to the fictional yet emotionally-relatable character ‘Major Tom’ in future releases ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and ‘Hallo Spaceboy’.
Bowie studied mime under dance instructor – and lover to be – Lindsay Kemp and decided to combine this with music, which lead to his revolutionary, almost haunting stage presence. Coupled with his unexplainable sex appeal, he popularised the glam rock scene and forced it into the face of the sheltered public. Standing firmly at the pinnacle of teenage rebellion against the clutches of protective parents, he used his ambiguous sexuality to provide the ‘shock factor’ needed to command teens’ attention. His refusal to conform to the youth stereotypes of the time, displayed aptly by the famous ‘mullet’, was at the cutting edge of fashion and took the scene by storm.
By 1975, Bowie sat firmly at the forefront of pop iconography. Ziggy Stardust, a combination of drug-fuelled imagination and an extension of Bowie’s own personality, captivated audiences worldwide and bore a heavy influence on public fashion choices. Although his habit of shedding his bank balance was well known, the signature Ziggy look was in fact created by a hairdresser in Bromley, not far from his home in Brixton.
“Imagination can dry up wherever you’re living in England often if there’s nothing to keep it going”, Bowie said, shortly before branching out to the states. His impact in Britain had created a landslide, paving the way for the American takeover. During his time in the US, his later albums attracted the attention of prominent film director, Nicholas Roeg, who launched his acting career with ‘a Man who fell to Earth’. Bowie was quickly becoming a household figure, bearing an increasingly heavy influence on pop culture.
Bowie was thrust into the light of fame, but his often down-to-earth and relatable manner wasn’t left behind despite developing controversy. The sleeve notes on his Hunky Dory LP, featuring his Top 10 hit Life on Mars, holds a note accrediting the young ‘Richard Wakeman’, a mere session musician at the time who later went on to become the keyboardist of famed progressive rock band ‘Yes’. This modest kindness intrigued audiences worldwide – a man who found fame so young who showed recognition to those who helped him along the way was certainly well-received by the masses.
Although sometimes misunderstood, Bowie was certainly the figure the music industry needed to drag glam rock out of looming stagnation and take it global. It worked. Glam rock took America by storm and solidified David Robert Jones, the young man from Brixton, as one of the most prominent musical innovators of the last four decades.