David Robert Jones was born on January 8, 1947 – a somewhat auspicious date. Not only was it the 12th birthday of the future ‘King’ of rock’n’roll, Elvis Presley, it was also the year of the (in)famous Roswell UFO incident that ushered in the ‘we are not alone/visitors from outer space’ era. Little did anyone know at the time that little David Jones would change his name to Bowie and join Elvis Presley as one of the top rock icons of his generation. The Roswell incident seems like a strange harbinger for things to come from this future ‘Starman’ who would someday play, The Man Who Fell To Earth. But first there was the evolution. Below is a promotional photo of David Jones at fifteen posing with his first band, The Konrads.
Seeing things moving slower than what was acceptable, Jones did what he would do many times after – he reinvented himself. He developed a new look and began to court controversy. Below is a clip from 1964 – seventeen year old Davy Jones is interviewed by Cliff Michelmore for the BBC program, Tonight. The topic of conversation? The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men.
It wasn’t long before the next transformation. Under advisement from his producer, Barry Langford, Jones received media attention when he had his long hair shortened before a television appearance with this new band, The Mannish Boys.
Two years – and more musical experimentation – later, Jones’ first album would be released. He would now be known by new name, David Bowie. Not much happened with the self-named record and for the next two years Bowie would immerse himself in various endeavors. Perhaps one of the most important influences Bowie would discover during this time was dancer and theatrical director, Lyndsay Kemp.
Studying the dramatic arts under Kemp, from avant-garde theatre and mime to commedia dell’arte, Bowie became immersed in the creation of personae to present to the world.
Strange Fascination: David Bowie, the Definitive Story – David Buckley, 2005
Coming out of that time period was a short film very rarely mentioned in the catalogs of Bowie works. It’s a somewhat strange bit called, The Mask. As Bowie’s voice describes the narrative, his image mimes the story. It’s a horror story of sorts, and one that in retrospect seems quite profound. It’s a tale of a man who finds a magical mask in a second-hand shop. Whenever he finds himself in social situations he puts the mask on and becomes the life of the party. This takes him to great things – he becomes a cause célèbre. But things aren’t so good for him after a while.
Bowie’s career has been one comprised of a myriad of changes – musically, stylistically – and with each change came a new personna. By 1976, the characters he had created – from Ziggy Stardust to Alladin Sane to Halloween Jack to The Young American to The Thin White Duke – seemed to have taken their toll on David Bowie the man. But this story has a better ending than the story of the hapless mime – actually it should be considered a beginning. 1976-1979 is considered David Bowie’s ‘Berlin Period.’ This was Bowie’s cleansing time. Freeing himself from his drug addiction and the poisonous rock’n’roll lifestyle that had left him reeling, he came out a new man. Rather than being left suffocating onstage as a spectacle, Bowie emerged without the mask. Gone were the characters to hide behind – what was left was a vital and happy guy.
So let’s end this little retrospective with the song that launched Bowie’s career – pun intended. This is a video of David Bowie’s first television performance of the song, Space Oddity. It was released on 11 July 1969, five days ahead of the Apollo 11 launch. Here, Bowie performs Space Oddity before he accepts the Ivor Novello Award for Song Of The Year in 1970.
Happy 67th, Mr Bowie – family, friends, fans, and admirers, are very glad you made it back to Earth.