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DAVID BOWIE: The Man Who Changed The World.

DAVID BOWIE: The Man Who Changed The World… Five Years Gone But Not Forgotten!

Five Years… since extraordinary visionary and rock icon David Bowie prematurely left us, January 10, 2016, two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album Blackstar. It was a shock and devastating loss to his enormous legions of devoted fans, catching everyone by surprise, as it was kept secret that he was dying of liver cancer. Blackstar, his 25th studio album, was his swan song and parting gift, both jazz-tinged, innovative and incredibly moving, from a man that knew he was dying. When he successfully broke through the rock world globally, in 1972, with his album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, complete with shocking orange spiky hair and space age glam look, he clearly looked and sounded like a rock n’ roll alien, oozing with magnetic sex appeal. I was totally blown away and remain mesmerized to this day. I was not alone in my Bowie admiration society. In the early 70’s, Bowiemania had taken over in England and eventually caught on everywhere. It was also the music that was so captivating, and that voice that went along with this gorgeous and glamorous creature. The young and wise Bowie learned early on in his career to surround himself with the very best musicians; and he found that in the magnificent guitarist/musician/musical arranger Mick Ronson, who brought his musical vision to life with absolute perfection. Ronson may be the most underrated guitar genius of all time and even Earl Slick, who played guitar with Bowie for many years, described Ronson as “the best guitarist David Bowie ever had.” Besides The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Ronson also was responsible for making these other iconic Bowie albums: The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, and Pin Ups. Without Ronson’s magical gift for musical arrangement and extraordinary guitar riffs, these albums would not be the influential masterpieces that they are. Bowie did not give Ronson enough credit in the 70’s, when he discarded him and moved onto his American plastic soul phase. Later on, he summed up their wonderful creative partnership best by saying, “as a rock duo, I thought we were every bit as good as Mick and Keith, or Axl and Slash.” Sadly ironic that both Bowie and Ronson died from liver cancer.

A true rock n’ roll rebel and, whether you loved or hated him, one thing was certain…he was not to be ignored. He believed that you had to “look the part” to entertain a crowd and he had a giant influence in the fashion world, as well as with his fans that turned up at concerts looking like space age Bowie dolls. He changed and influenced the world and then suddenly changed streams before anyone could tire of it. As early as 1971, pre-megastar Bowie told Rolling Stone, “I refuse to be thought of as mediocre.” He was brilliant, adventurous, fearless and always evolving. He was never afraid to explore and break boundaries, being as controversial as humanly possible. He was more comfortable playing characters on stage in his concerts and movies like: Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke, Goblin King, Halloween Jack and Button Eyes. He used many different art mediums and theatre incorporated into his performances filled with sex, mystery, fantasy and rebellion. He defined the genre named glam rock as their poster boy. And now, five years has passed and the loss of possibly the greatest rock star of our time is glaringly evident, and he has proved to be irreplaceable. But he was so much more than just a rock star. He was not content with staying in any one genre and as soon as he was successful in one area, he lost interest, and it was time for him to move on. “I don’t know where I am going from here but I can promise you it won’t be boring” Bowie said, at Madison Square Garden for his 50th Birthday celebration concert, echoing his earlier refusal to be mediocre. His experiments were not always successful but he was never afraid of failure. In fact, he struggled for years, starting in 1962, with unsuccessful quirky pop/folk until he had some success, in 1969, with “Space Oddity.” His first album went nowhere, so he kept going back to the drawing board until something worked. Then there was no looking back. He introduced avant-garde jazz into the rock of Aladdin Sane and then further plunged into the jazz world for his final album Black Star. In between, he explored with punk, new wave, goth, soul, R & B, art rock, ambient, electronica, industrial rock, and defied being categorized into any one area, be it musically or artistically. Even after major success in the 70’s and 80’s, not all of his experiments worked. Tin Machine, his 1990’s venture back into rock as part of a band, didn’t make much of an impression. I will revisit those albums now, because years later I keep discovering hidden gems in each and every album of his, even his less successful experimental endeavors.

On Jan 5, 2021 Bowie’s wife, Iman, in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar addressing the fifth anniversary of his death, said, “that’s the saddest time,” but is consoled that he is still with her. She adds, “He’s hiding in plain sight. His fans are still around and his music is still relevant.” Why does Bowie still matter five years up the road? He reached and touched something deep inside with such a wide audience over multiple generations with something for everyone, delving into multiple genres. A true legendary star that told us it’s ok to be different. On Ziggy Stardust’s “Rock n’ Roll Suicide,” he sings “I’ll help you with the pain, you’re not alone. Gimme your hands, cause you’re wonderful.” Those feeling alone heard him and felt not so alone. He brought hope. His longtime producer Tony Visconti was asked, in Mojo Magazine, what the most misleading myth was about Bowie and he replied, “Well, contrary to what many fans think, he wasn’t God – but he was damn close!”

“Five Years” was also a song on that breakthrough 1972 rock album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. While recording this song of earth’s impending doom, singing his lyrics “five years, that’s all we’ve got” and “earth was really dying,” he put in so much emotion that he broke down crying by the end of the song. Ken Scott, his producer, said, “It was so bad that he had to re-record the ending.” Bowie speaking about himself was honest and humble when he said, “I’m not a Dylan and I’m not somebody who can sit down and stoically write a clear picture of what’s happening but I can leave a very strong impression about how I feel about it.” He was smart at taking in influences and making his own product out of it. He was a sponge and quite a creative one, always having a clear idea of what he wanted. His spaceship always knew which way to go. He was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and won 5 Grammys. He also was awarded, in 2006, a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award.

BBC Studio Productions released a trilogy of excellent Bowie documentaries, all produced and directed by Francis Whately. He found making the trilogy to be an incredible experience unearthing rare recordings, footage and archives, and speaking with friends and collaborators who were very open to speaking about the Bowie they knew, loved and admired so much. He said that Bowie “is possibly now even more famous in death than in life.” David Bowie: The First Five Years (2019) starts in 1966 showing his beginnings pre-Ziggy fame and brings some new understanding of this great artist from his early years. David Bowie: Five years (2013) is a documentary chronicling an intimate portrait of five years in his career featuring interviews with his closest collaborators and unseen archive material. David Bowie: The Last Five Years (2017) is another fascinating documentary chronicling his final five years. Its focus is on his final two albums, 2013’s The Next Day and 2016’s Black Star, and also 2015’s musical Lazarus. In it he said, “I’d love to feel that what I did changed the fabric of music.” That he did… and more. If you haven’t seen them it’s well worth it to see all three documentaries.

Bowie specials that celebrate what would have been his 74th Birthday on January 8, and also the five-year anniversary of his death, January 10:
DAVID BOWIE ICON is a giant (7.8 pound) coffee table hardcover book of the most significant collection of Bowie photos by 25 top photographers who also write about their experiences photographing him. It’s a stunning book, capturing portraits, candid moments, performances, rehearsals, album covers, and absolutely essential for Bowie fans. This was published to coincide with the fifth anniversary of his death. His legacy lives on and this pays homage to this once in a lifetime icon. Photographer Mick Rock writes, “I experienced David Bowie above all as a piece of living artwork. He was fascinating.” This enormous book is of the highest quality and contains gorgeous photos with reflections from these top-notch photographers.
Mike Garson’s A Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day- Scheduled for Jan 8 th 2020 on Bowie’s birthday, there was a celebration of Bowie in a ticketed livestream special that had to be rescheduled for the next day due to technical difficulties. It did go off the next night for three hours with nearly 40 songs and many of his former bandmates and some very special guests. It was spell binding and a glorious tribute to our hero, organized by Bowie’s longtime pianist, Mike Garson. As Garson sums it up, “People aren’t doing it because of me, they are doing it to celebrate David. We all have David in common. His talent was just so phenomenal.” Guest stars included Duran Duran, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter, Boy George, Adam Lambert, NIN’s Trent Reznor, Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan, Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell, Charlie Sexton, Peter Frampton, Yes’ Rick Wakeman, Living Coulour’s Corey Glover, The Rolling Stones’ Bernard Fowler, Foo Fighter’s Taylor Hawkins, The Pretty Reckless’ Taylor Momsen, Haelstorm’s Lzzy Hale, and more. Some of the David Bowie Alumni band are Gail Ann Dorsey, Earl Slick, Carlos Alomar, Carmine Rojas, Gerry Leonard, Tony Visconti, David Sanborn, Ava Cherry and Sterling Campbell to name just a few of all his extraordinary musicians. Mike Garson plays piano passionately and brilliantly throughout. You should be able to find a lot of these performances on YouTube.
Release of a special 7” David Bowie birthday single: “Mother”/”Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” on Parlophone/ISO records. It is limited to 8,147 copies, including 1,000 on cream vinyl. Both already are sold out and going for up to $265 on eBay for the cream vinyl single, but both tracks are available to stream and download. Originally recorded by Lennon for his 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Bowie’s version of “Mother” was produced by Tony Visconti in 1998 for a Lennon tribute that never came out. Bob Dylan’s original “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” was released on his 1997 Grammy winning “Time Out of Mind.” David’s version was recorded in 1998 during the mixing sessions for his fan club’s special album Liveandwell.com.
Lazarus, the musical by David Bowie and Enda Walsh was streamed for special birthday weekend live streams online by Dice.FM Events. Starring Dexter actor Michael C. Hall, who can surprisingly sing well, this musical was viewed in New York November 18, 2015 just shortly before Bowie passed away. His last public appearance was on Dec 7, for the premiere. It also had a limited run in London in October, 2016, from which this particular live stream was filmed. Even knowing he was dying in 2015, he courageously persevered to finish this musical that was loosely based on his starring role in Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth, about an alien who has come to earth to save his planet. Bowie perfectly played the part of the alien, as it came naturally to him. That’s what is missing in this production of Lazarus…Bowie. Nobody does Bowie like Bowie, and even though Michael C. Hall sounds the part, he has none of that Bowie appeal. This musical has three new Bowie songs that he completed just as time was running out and also includes some varied Bowie songs from his many decades, ending with “Heroes.” It is suggested for die-hard Bowie fans only, as this does not really work without him and was somewhat disappointing.

Bowie’s Famous Musician Fans and Collaborators- His influence on other artists was far reaching and simply incredible. Tributes flooded the internet five years ago when news hit that Bowie had died. Everyone was in a state of shock, as Bowie seemed to be almost otherworldy and immortal. Madonna posted a photo with him and said, “I’m devastated. This great artist changed my life! First concert I ever saw in Detroit!” Kanye West called him “one of my most important inspirations.” Iggy Pop said his friendship was “the light of my life.” Musician Lorde said that the night she met Bowie “changed something in her.” Mick Jagger posted, “David was always an inspiration to me and a true original. He was wonderfully shameless in his work. We had so many good times together. He was my friend. I will never forget him.” Photographer Kate Garner said, “After spending an afternoon with this magician, I found him to be one of the most amazing humans I have ever met.” Bowie’s generosity towards his fellow artists was remarkable and legendary. Bowie saved the English rock band Mott The Hoople from breaking up in 1972 when he gave them his song “All the Young Dudes,” which became an anthem for them. He teamed up with John Lennon on “Fame,” which became his first number one single in 1975. On Cher’s CBS variety show, Bowie and Cher performed an absolutely mesmerizing performance of his Young Americans’ song “Can You Hear Me.” Watch the video and the chemistry between them is adorable. Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Bowie’s vocals soar on their catchy global hit “Under Pressure” in 1981. Bowie had been enamored with Lou Reed’s avant-garde rock group The Velvet Underground, so when Bowie became a star, he and Bowie’s genius guitarist/musical arranger, Mick Ronson, helped make Lou Reed’s Transformer album the classic album that is it, including his big hit “Walk on the Wild Side.” Looking to impress his Mum in 1977 he sang with Bing Crosby on Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas tv special singing “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.” It was officially released as a single in 1982. He worked with Nile Rodgers and Stevie Ray Vaughn on the single “Let’s Dance” which topped both US and UK charts. It was a massively successful worldwide hit. Not really loving it at the time, I have come to appreciate it in later years. Bowie teamed up with Mick Jagger and filmed a fun video of the two of them performing “Dancing in the Streets” in 1985. Another great collaboration with two superstars is Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Bowie singing the early 1967 Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd song “Arnold Layne” in 2006 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, two years after Bowie’s heart attack. There seems to be no end to his collaborations and I recently discovered that Bowie had done a duet with avant-rock artist Kristeen Young for her 2003 album Breasticles, performing her song “Saviour.” There are endless surprises when Bowie is concerned because he did so much. Even an avid Bowie fan can still be surprised.

Five Years seems to keep resurfacing for many Bowie reasons but this particular five years has been so tough on so many loving fans that took his loss personally, even if they never met Bowie. He forever changed my life in 1972 and he remains my all-time favorite musical artist of all time. He is THE ONE. I am not alone in that. The accolades that flooded the internet when he passed away prove how important he was, and still is, to so many fans and so many artists that he mentored or inspired. His glorious body of work lives on eternally. It will take a lifetime to listen to his vast catalogue of diverse music, see all his movies, plays, artwork, read the numerous books about him, watch unseen interviews and whatever else will be released. There’s just not enough time. Bowie lives on forever.


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