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Documentary Review - David Bowie: The Calm Before the Storm (2012)

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Introduction

David Bowie died at the age of 69 on January 10, 2016 after a long bout with cancer.  This documentary was produced in 2012 and speaks about Bowie’s three most successful albums, “Space Oddity,” The Man Who Sold the World,” and “Hunky Dory.”

                                                             

David Bowie

                                                                          David Bowie                                                                                                                                                        Wikimedia                                                 

Interviews with Close Allies

Bowie’s life and career are discussed through interviews with musicians and journalists who knew him intimately.  They include Annie Nightingale, DJ; John Hutchinson, guitarist; John Peel; David Stubbs; Kris Needs, Journalist; Keith Christmas; and Andrew Mueller.  These are all names with which I am not familiar.  Musicians and those who understand music intensely have a jargon which is not easily interpreted by a lay person.  However, it is fascinating to hear them, and especially when they speak of such a cultural icon as David Bowie.

In 1971, David Bowie was heard to say “I’m going to become a huge rock star.  Next time you see me, I’ll be totally different.”  He was correct.

As the interviewees passed swiftly through this documentary, it was difficult to keep up with who said what.  One gentleman said that one hundred years from now, people will recognize the names of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie.  All others will have fallen by the wayside.

                                         

Early David Bowie

                                                        Early David Bowie - Wikimedia

Davy Jones Changes His Name

David Bowie first arrived on the scene as Davy Jones and the Lower Third.  He was forced to change his name to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of the Monkees.  His first album was not a great success.  He had to take on a part time job in a printing firm plus he did some TV commercials.  However, in 1969, the release of his startling “Space Oddity” gained Bowie the recognition that has accompanied his music ever since.

John Hutchinson, Bowie’s guitarist, probably gave the most insightful description of David Bowie when he stated that Bowie had the mystique of being mysterious, but in reality “he is just like you and me.”  He had a strong belief in himself.

However, he did have a knack for self-promotion which set him apart.  It was important to get noticed.  He surrounded himself with useful people.  If you were not useful, you didn’t come back a second time.  There was no such thing as managers, accountants, publicists.  Artists had no clothes, no money until they had a hit record.  With hindsight, Bowie was a genius who changed popular culture forever.

                                                            

Bob Dylan

                                                                Bob Dylan - Wikimedia   

Early Influences

Early on, Bowie was influenced by Bob Dylan and Anthony Newley.  When nobody noticed his first album as Davy Jones, rock producer Tony Visconti, who worked with the band Tyrannosaurus Rex (Marc Bolan), took notice.  Visconti taught Bowie about craft, how to write songs, how to project.  He was able to get into the essence of an artist.  It was a fortuitous meeting.

“Space Oddity”

In 1969, Bowie recorded the song “Space Oddity,” which was a pun on the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  It was very clever, very unique, and coincided with the first moon shot by the United States.  It was the opening track of the album “David Bowie,” and was written for a promotional video named "Love You Till Tuesday".  It peaked at #5 in the United Kingdom, but did not do well in America at that time.  It is a Bowie fan favorite to this day.  Visconti regarded it as a cheap gimmick, however.  It was re-released in 1972 as the album “Space Oddity,” with the song as its first track.

English artists were ahead of the United States during those years.  Great stuff was coming from them.  American artists were looked at with suspicion, if not hostility in Britain.  A conservative Middle America did not like the way Bowie dressed.

                                                        

Marc Bolan

                                                       Marc Bolan of Tyrannosaurus Rex                                                                                                                                     Wikimedia

Marc Bolan

Marc Bolan, a Glam Rock titan and part of Tyrannosaurus Rex, proved to be a kindred spirit to Bowie.  He was determined to be a friend of Bowie’s.  He was not capable, though, of the metamorphosis that Bowie was capable of and which made him a survivor.  One night when they were performing, Bolan fell off the stage, which looked very silly.  The photographers refused a retake, so it went down in posterity.  Bolan died soon after.  People thought wrongly that they had a falling out, but he and Bowie were friends to the end.

One interviewee characterized David Bowie as very professional and straightforward.  He knew how to perform; he knew the tricks of the trade.  He also had paranoid obsessions when he worked feverishly, sometimes all night long.  He made great progress in a short period of time.  There were always other things going on in his life - women, parties, it was not only the music.  It was interesting to be around him.

“The Man Who Sold the World”

In 1970, Bowie’s album “The Man Who Sold the World” came out.  It was considered the darkest album of that year.  It was psychotic, unhinged.  Bowie termed it his “most drug-addled album.”  Kurt Cobain of Nirvana gravitated toward the song and introduced it to a new audience on a television program in 1993.  It has been described as similar to Black Sabbath.  The song “All the Madmen” is a reference to his older brother Terry who suffered from mental illness which forced the family to commit him to an institution.  Mental illness was prevalent in the Bowie family.

David Bowie began to experiment with issues of gender and sexuality in his performances.  He wore a dress on the album cover to “The Man Who Sold the World.”  Originally, he did not dress outrageously.  A drag queen cult formed behind him.  He said it was OK.  Glam Rock was in the air at that time.

                                                         

Tony Visconti

                                                            Tony Visconti - Wikimedia

“Hunky Dory”

David Bowie had a falling out with Tony Visconti and took up with record producer Ken Scott when Bowie’s third successful album “Hunky Dory” came out just in time for Christmas 1971.  It was one of the greatest albums Bowie did, and was no doubt the stone cold Classic he had promised to produce for years.  He had found the secret of surrounding himself with good people and becoming an original artist.  He was at the peak of his confidence, a super star walking on water.  The album included great songs such as “Changes,” “Man on Mars,” “Quicksand,” “Andy Warhol,” and “Song for Bob Dylan.”

Marriage to Angie Barnett

David Bowie married Angie Barnett in 1970.  They had one son, Duncan, whom they nicknamed “Zowie.”  Angie had a lot of influence on Bowie.  He tried new things, theater, songwriting, putting the band together.  She helped especially with his songs about children, such as the successful “Kooks,” as well as “Wonder Boy.”  They divorced, however, in 1980.

                                    

Ziggy Stardust

                                                          Ziggy Stardust - Wikimedia

Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie was not averse to change.  He adopted the persona of Ziggy Stardust with his guitarist John Hutchinson.  They performed a concert tour to promote the album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” in 1972.  Their first gig was at Radio City Music Hall and they ended the tour at the Long Beach Arena in California.  It resulted in David Bowie’s becoming a superstar.

                                               

Model Iman

                                                     Bowie's Wife Iman - Wikimedia

Bowie, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, was a 2006 recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.  He is survived by his second wife Iman, his son Duncan Jones, and daughter Alexandria.

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TIME David Bowie: His Life On Earth, 1947-2016
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Comments

Feb 17, 2016 8:03pm
FourWalls
Anthony Newley? I remember seeing him on Johnny Carson in the 70's singing "The Man Who Makes You Laugh." That's an interesting influence.
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Bibliography

  1. "David Bowie." bio.. 16/02/2016. 16/02/2016 <Web >

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