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Record Mirror Special:
The David Bowie Story

"The Cosmic Yob" (pg. 12-14)

For any pop star to become a SUPER pop star, he has to have many things going for him.  He has to look right, develop the right kind of image.  He has to make the right sounds in the recording studio.  And, when the record hits it big, he has to back up the sounds with the right kind of stage act.

Pop history is littered with the wrecked careers of hit-disc artists who couldn't make it on stage.  They'd come on, looking as apprehensive as they felt, and trying reproduce the sounds that had been launched via radio and juke boxes.  And it wasn't easy.  Some, literally fell flat on their faces.

But stage performances were never high in David Bowie's list of hang-ups.  He has natural ability in getting that bizarre personality across, or in reacting exactly to the pin-point clarity of the spotlights.

Record Mirror writer Charles Webster has seen some of the world's top pop acts.  He felt he was no longer capable of being surprised.  But then he was sent along to review a David Bowie performance.  After just 20 minutes, he was sold on the David Bowie bravado; knocked out by the David dynamics.

And now he talks about what it is that makes David Bowie tick so sensationally on stage: -

"For a start, for David Bowie to perform at any venue you care to mention, everything, but everything has to be just right.  The grand piano must be a certain size; the dressing rooms must be GOOD enough for Ziggy and the Spiders to relax and apply their generous layers of make-up, and perhaps most important the vibes must be right."

"To see Bowie on stage, especially for the first time one would surely think that he is untouchable, a being from a distant planet ... and most certainly a genius.  Okay, so maybe I'm not too sure about the first two labels, but I've no doubts about his being a genius."

"His live performances can only be compared with Hollywood musicals of the Thirties. Though most of David's fans have seen those movies only on television, I'm sure they'll know what I mean.  A Bowie act bears little or no resemblance to what other rock and roll merchants are doing now, although it's a racing certainty that Bowie will enjoy the great "honour" of being copied by all and sundry.  That happens to all great originals.  But I'm also sure that none of the mimics, or apes or whatever you want to call them, will come even close to emulating the original."

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"There is always a buzz in a concert hall before he appears.  Some fans honestly do think that he is beamed down from Mars.  And the tension is almost knee-deep by the times he actually gets on stage.  The bars in these venues do good business while everybody wanders in and out, wondering how far-out their mental fantasies will be of what Bowie is actually all about."

"Look, its hard for me, professional journalist, to admit to still suffering the pangs of fan enthusiasm.  But for those who've never seen Bowie before tell me they get a sort of nervous twitch clutching at their guts.  And those of us who have seen him "live" still have a flame of excitement burning inside - a sort of subconscious wrestling with that old question of what the hell will he do next?"

"Some kind of signal wails to announce that there's only a few minutes to go before the bill-topper is on stage.  You sort of waddle in crocodile fashion, back to the seats.  You're almost conscious of finding something to do while you wait out the last minute or so ... maybe light a cigarette, but anything really, because we all know it's undignified to wave your hands about when you're trying to look cool!"

"Then the lights fade and music blasts from the public-address system, which seems to somehow guard the stage.  The theme from "Clockwork Orange" is the song being played, building up into a crescendo as the Spiders walk stiltedly on stage and get over to their equipment."

"Mick Woody Woodmansey lowers himself into the driving seat of his drum kit and sits, like a broken toy, waiting for the action to begin. Bassist Trevor Bolder plugs in his guitar and stands, straddling his feet, almost out of view.  He looks to me like a garden gnome with his enormous sideburns tarted up with make-up to resemble giant brillo pads."

"And then Mick Ronson the extravagantly-equipped lead guitarist letting his jacket open to expose a bony chest.  His blond hair hangs lanky at the start, but is soon to be congealed by sweat, and he walks about the stage like a sergeant major gathering the troops and pushing them into ranks ready to be inspected by the general."

"Finally the general himself appears skipping across the stage, making outrageous gestures with his feet and arms and looking like nothing so much as an electric ballerina."

"Without so much as a huff and a puff or a blow into his microphone to see if all is well, Bowie kicks the set into power drive."

"And those Spiders, those two legged musicians are now rocking like clockwork soldiers, except for Ronson who squeezes sensuous power from his guitar and becomes a very visual part of the act.  He knows, you feel sure that everybody is there to see Bowie.  But he can also feel confident that those fans will leave with only good words for Mick who should be a star in his own right alongside Bowie."

"Bowie has three acts. He has his rock and roll show, when he looks like a skinny washed out kid who wasn't allowed to join the Chapter; there's his theatrical performance, which he debuted at the Rainbow Theatre in London during the summer of 1972 - a performance which involves the services of various dancers, including Lindsay Kemp, who taught David Bowie all about the art of mime."

"And there is his regular show where he includes an acoustic set and songs of all kinds which show all side of his character.  Well ... nearly all sides of his character!"

"Without sounding offensive, I hope, I'd just say that Bowie's head is a really strange object.  His face is clean, and his high cheekbones draw his cheeks into his mouth which purses suggestively when he's not wailing or laughing with the broadest smile in show business."

"His carrot-coloured hair spikes out towards the sides like radio antennae, and his body is that of an athlete ... lithe, supple and surely hewn out of elastic."

"The stage movements of his are undeniably effeminate, but that what mime is all about.  It's expression, that is telling the story with gestures. It's also great stage craft, and anybody who thinks that David Bowie is just a rock singer had better believe me when I talk about his genuine stage craft."

"His fantastic clothes stretch with the sinew and muscle - the body writhes adds so much meaning to his lyrics, to the stories of his songs. It's all another dimension to his stage presence."

"His act moves along with the pace and smoothness of a killer snake until the band hit the last number.  Bowie becomes - well, let's say he summons up the last reserves of energy like a marathon runner who knows he's into the last lap of a helluva long race."

"Ronson's guitar literally becomes a part of him: Woodmansey attacks his kit in right noble fashion; and Bolder just moves slowly from side to side, giving no indication at all as to whether he's enjoying himself or whether the whole thing has become a drag."

"And the act is over.  The crowd yells out for more and the lights remain dimmed.  Again another question is posed. This time it's: will Bowie return and live out another helping of the magic?"

"So, even when he's not on stage, he has the knack of conjuring up ever-increasing applause and cheers from his audiences.  We've had a full share of one of the most off-beat and imaginative rock and roll artists, but we're hanging around just in case he can produce one final encore."

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"Most nights, that's the end.  For during that act David Bowie gives his all, and spends every last drop of energy from a now exhausted body.   That's all, even if the addicts just don't want to believe it."

"And in the end, the hall gets full lighting power again, and the fans in the cheaper seats - that is those furthest away from the stage - make for the exits and the last buses home."

"But always there is still a group of fans surrounding the stage, clamouring for David Bowie.  Even though they know the night is actually over..."

"Starman, Starmaker" (pg. 19-21)

Now we’ve seen that many people have been involved in the somewhat complex business of drawing the full measure of David Bowie’s talent from within that lean, expressive frame. But there’s another side to his very presence in pop music – and that’s his own ability to discover talent, encourage talent, and force that talent to shine…mostly by instilling his own kind of self-confidence.

Now Bill Harry has filled many roles in the pop music scene. He founded the Liverpool pop paper "Merseybeat", the first paper to have a group called The Beatles top of a popularity poll. He went on writing and also handled publicity for many top acts. Including David Bowie. We asked him about this talent-scout side of the Bowie nature and asked him to present it in his own way.

"Well, for a start, David Bowie has an aura. Around him one can actually feel a mind at work. The brain ticks and you can almost hear it – one is immediately aware of how perceptive he is. Though many people consider him a writer of marvelous fantasies and futuristic notions, his awareness of simple everyday events has acuteness that in turn results in songs of great power. Sure its fashionable now to praise Bowie now that recognition has come – and numerous people over the years have acknowledged his talent. To be so good at many varied activities is rare; but to be so good so young is even rarer."

"As singer, songwriter and producer – yes, he’s achieved the fullest recognition for each of these sides of his talent. But to me, his ability to draw out the essence of someone else’s talent was even more remarkable. By this, I mean that generally a creative talent must have an ego larger than the norm. This ego may be frustrated if the talent isn’t recognized but equally it could get out of hand when recognition does finally come. To control it by seeking out other artists and using energy to project them surely shows a degree of sheer unselfishness. You’ll know that David admires Andy Warhol and sought to do with other talent what Warhol does with art. He wanted to create with other artists, using his own capabilities and theirs, and fusing both talents to produce a third."

"David Bowie discovered a young man in a London Club, saw potential within him – and even though the youth had, never, NEVER, sung before, decided to project him as a singer. David formed a backing group for him, named him Rudi Valentino, the band Arnold Corns and wrote and produced their first release, "Moonage Daydream". Obviously Bowie’s hand is always evident in these projects and Rudi was promoted as a "camp" figure, even appearing on the cover of Curious magazine, naked at the waist and fondling a snake."

"Another friend of David’s was a designer whose hero was Bob Dylan. David’s plans for him also meant producing him as a singer and he wrote "A Song For Bob Dylan" for him. I don’t honestly know whether David eventually finished that particular project … but perhaps he just got involved in too many other things last year. He was also interested in developing the talents of singer Dana Gillespie. She’s been around the show business scene for some years – she was in "Catch My Soul" last year and appeared as Mary Magdalene this year in "Jesus Christ – Superstar". In fact, they’d known each other for years, ever since the days when David used to carry her books for her from school. She was only fourteen then.

David was particularly impressed by her songs and told me he considered her one of the best female songwriters he’d ever met up with. His plans to record her in his own way haven’t yet come to fruition, mainly I guess because of contractual problems and obligations."

"One project that he eventually carried through all the way proved completely the validity of his ideas – and resulted in one of the years biggest record hits. That was "All The young Dudes". Mott the Hoople are a young rock band – and of course they have a legion of fans. During the past three years, their following around the country has increased enormously and they’ve been dubbed one of the best live in-action bands in the country. Well, at least that was a good boost to their confidence, but there was a gap in their pop career. Despite attracting capacity audiences in whichever part of the British Isles they happened to be, Mott the Hoople failed dismally in their attempt to crash into the charts. They seemed to have all the advantages: like a vast following, fine albums and singles, promotion on big plug shows like Top of The Pops. Despite it all, they didn’t seem to be even sniffing at the charts.

Unfortunately, "All the Young Dudes" was released when the pop papers were screaming their heads off about Bowiemania, and the edge must have been taken off their first-ever hit by the stupid criticism that they’d made it because of the mass hysteria over David Bowie. Yet …this was the sort of involvement David had been seeking for years. The teamwork where he could write and produce an artist or group and amplify their natural talents. If the same thing had happened a year earlier, Mott would no doubt have been left out of all the criticism."

"To my mind, Bowie is a project man – but not pure and simple. The ideas swim around in his head like a frenzied flood of live tadpoles. Some years ago, when he was disenchanted with the pop scene, he joined a mime-theater group led by Lindsay Kemp, whom he still admires a great deal. Last year, 1971, I know he intended teaming up with Lindsay once again and going on the road with a totally new concept of presentation firmly fixed in his mind. Actually this was shelved – I suspect for the same reasons some of his other ideas have had to take a back seat … like anybody else, he can only do so much at any one time."

"His ideas reach out into his own promotion, of course. It is a larger-than-life campaign, which perhaps does tend to hide Bowie the man. I’ve a feeling he hides his real self from the public under a succession of masks, somewhat enjoying their feeble efforts to categorize him."

"Shortly after he wore the gorgeous gown – like the one portrayed on the cover of "The Man Who Sold The World" – he was wearing tight trousers, knee length boots and floppy hats. The Press guys generally were still taking in his OTHER image … and wondering which outrageous dresses he’d be wearing next!

By the time they’d caught up he’d passed his Greta Garbo stage – which consisted of carefully theatricised photographs of him in full-makeup – and shorn his hair short. It was as if he was saying: - "You place everyone in neatly-defined categories, so I challenge you to do that with me."

"Not only was he inevitably one step ahead, he’d inevitably planned several stages of his future "look" and had different sets of photographs of himself in various guises – including an Egyptian style, featuring himself as a Sphinx. This would have been very topical if he’d released them at the time of the Tutenkahmun exhibition in London – but there again, he probably shelved those pictures for that very reason."

"This goes to prove, I suppose, that no-one really knows what Bowie will come up with next, apart from Bowie himself. It’s for this very reason, this sheer unpredictability, that I believe he’ll be with us for a very long time indeed … will be an important figure in the development of pop music."

"But more that anything else, I’m looking forward to hearing about the artists that David will associate with in his song-writing and record-producing capacity. The success of Mott the Hoople – and it was a complete success – was only the beginning."

Of course pop music has always been full of the knockers, who don’t like to see real individual talent emerge – or at least build it up mainly for the delight of seeing it tumble down. But surely we’ve got to pay a very real tribute to David Bowie. Not only is he Starman … but Starmaker.

And when David Bowie was in the middle of "launching" Rudi Valentino as a new star-to-be, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the business. The two of them, looking pretty strange in the midday Carnaby Street sun, went a-visiting to public-houses where pop journalists drank lunch over the odd hour or two. The hours became much odder as Rudi and Dave showed.

David expressed his confidence very forcibly. "I believe that Rudi will be the first male to appear on the cover of Vogue magazine. I believe that the Rolling Stones are finished and that Arnold Corns will be the next Stones, if we must make that comparison at all." And then there was the silver-haired Rudi.

"That one there," said David, "will be the new Jagger. We’ll be copying the Stones and the Stooges, but he’ll be the new Mick Jagger." Which was a bit off-putting for Rudi who said, with a definite blush in his cheeks: "Actually I can’t expect to just bring Jagger back! Really I’m just a dress designer, but our record will be for the discotheque crowds."

And David said: "People desire images. I desire images, and so do other people. If the people want Rudi and Arnold Corns as the new Stones, they will become them. If they don’t, they’ll be rejected and it’s just bad cheese. But I bear in mind that nothing is really new, that the twentieth century has nothing to offer. But this one - "Moonage Daydream" is unique; there’s certainly nothing to compare with it. We did all this in just six days, because I think Rudi is right for now. There’s no point in waiting…"

The record was no smash hit. But it created interest. And a year or so on, it was re-released. Because Bowie was BIG…

All this was before Alice Cooper did his number one thing with "School’s Out" and the follow-up. Elected and so on. Cooper was to draw some pretty pointed remarks from Bowie. He discounted the work on the first Cooper album…"It didn’t excite me and it didn’t shock me. Which is the main test, because I think poor Alice is just deliberately setting out to be outrageous and it doesn’t work. And that stuff he does with the snake, the boa constrictor … oh, Rudi Valentino was doing that ages ago."

And again Rudi looked suitably uneasy. Rudi’s real name is Frederick Burrett, and he was nineteen when Bowie launched him, and a lot of people were telling him that he looked very much like Rudolph Nureyev, and he’d been stitching and sewing since he was knee high to his mother, and he made some very pretty clothes indeed. Three students from Dulwich College – guitarist Mark Carr-Pritchet, bassist Polak de Somogyl and drummer Ralph St Laurent Broadbent – were enlisted to make up the Rudi backing group. Rudi himself had not sung in anger, apart from an occasional foray into his school choir.

Sure, we all stared long and cool when Rudi, and David were a-visiting – and the city pin-striped businessmen stared longer than most. And David said "I’m used to it, speaking for myself. I’ve had so much abuse poured on me, so much scorn, mainly because of the way I dress. Rudi is already finding out what its like to be stared at…Why, I was in America in early 1971 and I was down in Texas as part of a promotional tour, and I was wearing some of my livelier clothes, and suddenly I found myself literally staring down the barrel of a gun. And there was this rancher actually snarling at me, telling me he’d like to blow my brains out, and calling me a fag, and suggesting that I got out of town while the going was good."

All part of the hazards of promoting a spectacularly DIFFERENT pop career, even in the hazy crazy days of 1970’s. And there's no doubt most people would stare big-eyed if they went on a conducted tour round the chaotic, jumbled-up place that David calls home down in Beckenham, Kent.  Bizarre is a word that about sums it up.  But he, Angie (who is the daughter of an American mining engineer) and Zowie are happy there.   The blue-eyed, and often chaotic Angie certainly doesn't worry about her husband's eccentricities ... and as for clothes, her point is that people should be allowed to wear whatever they like, whenever they like.

One Fleet Street journalist, having visited Chez Bowie, said it more resembled a curio market than a house, and that he'd like to return one week when he had a few days to look around.

But Bill Harry specifically referred to Mott the Hoople as being a top pop attraction which owed more than a little to David's sheer, honest-to-goodness persistence.   There was early controversy in this particular matter, because there WERE some Hoople fans who figured that their lads didn't need the influences of a Bowie, and that therefore the band had sold out.

Allegation of sell-out are ten a penny in pop music but don't put them to the Hoople Boys.  Lead singer Ian Hunter, for instance, was so knocked out with the album...This is how we SHOULD have sounded all along, he said.  There was the Sweet Jane track, a song from the redoubtable Lou Reed.  David had sent them a demo of Suffragette City and that happened at a time when Mott the Hoople were seriously thinking of chucking in the whole business.

When they told David about that, he got very upset indeed.  And he sent them a hastily written All The Young Dudes and lectured them a bit more and said: "Well, if you really feel you must split, go ahead and commit suicide, but please promise me that you'll do this song first."

Not so long after that, they did a gig at Guildford in Surrey and David's manager Tony de Fries took control of the band, and David control of the album.  David genuinely rated the band, but wanted to make it quite clear that he was just helping them, not trying to take over the whole scene and influence their musical thinking.

Mott the Hoople had made their debut at Letchworth Youth Club in 1969 ... four lads (Mick Ralphs, Overend Watts, Verden Allen and Buffin) being joined by Ian Hunter, from Shrewsbury.  They had a couple of albums, Mott The Hoople and Mad Shadows, produced by Guy Stevens.   The came Wildlife and they wound up their Island contract with Brain Capers ... four albums which had created minor waves but were positively not album chart triumphs.

They had the basic talent - anyone who saw the reaction of an audience at the Royal Albert Hall in 1971 would know that ...and it actually got them banned from that particular venue.  They used to hoard their money, because there wasn't much of it.   They shared a miserable house in West Kensington, and traveled around in a tatty old Ford Zephyr.  And then came David Bowie, to stamp his own brand of genius on that CBS album, and suddenly the whole thing was clicking into place.

Another top poster who has a lot of time for David Bowie is, suprisingly Peter Noone, alias Herman of the chart-topping Herman's Hermits.  Surprisingly?  Well, musically speaking, the two are obviously poles apart. But Bowie wrote Oh You Pretty Things - he wrote it, played it to Peter's producer, Mickie Most, and it needed only a couple of bars for everyone to realize that it was positively smack-on right for a Noone single.  David earned a few more paragraphs of heartfelt praise...

Said Peter: "My view is that David Bowie is the best writer in Britain at the moment ... certainly the best since Lennon and McCartney, and in fairness you don't hear so much of THEM nowadays.  No, I'd never met David before, but we were together on the record, along with guys like Herbie Flowers.  No point beating about the bush on this one - David Bowie has more than enough talent to write hit songs,automatic hit songs, for just about any kind of singer."

And on that recording session David Bowie played piano.  Another sample of a very versatile talent.

Another thing emerges as one talks to the various artists who have either been helped and encouraged by David, or used his material to do themselves considerable favors.   It's that he can inspire them to fight back against troubles simply because adversity is a place on the map very well known to him.

He can tell the upcoming young hopefuls about how he was a folk singer when Space Oddity made it, and he was suddenly transported from the clubs into the big ballrooms where the fans wanted whatever was happening in the charts.  He sang his gentle, acoustic-backed songs, and they didn't much rate him because they wanted a whole act from him based on songs like Space Oddity.

So they hurled lighted cigarettes at him, and they booed and jeered his every move, and it didn't much help that the skin-head fraternity noted that he was apparently deliberately trying to look like Bob Dylan.  in fact, he wasn't ... not deliberately, but they didn't fancy the coincidence anyway.

And it was during this time that he met Tony de Fries, who knew a great deal about legal matters, and was also into the music business and who was able to sort out David's financial affairs - a task which would have seriously tested even the Governor of the Bank of England.  Tony de Fries really did help, in every way.  He became a sort of prop, the foundation for building the Bowie career even bigger.  He took Bowie to the States on that promotional tour - he ensured that the right things were written about the star.  And whatever the situation needed he made sure that nothing at all was written, because there was always a danger of over-exposing a talent like Bowie.

There are lots of people would would like to create a really big feud between David Bowie and Marc Bolan - both of them into the gay glitter areas of rock.  David says he thinks Marc is fey and a bit self-centered in his stage act, but he doesn't object because he thinks its the right image for the Bolan-type audiences.

And there are almost always some surprise happenings when Bowie gets up on stage.   Like his unscheduled but amazing appearance with Mott the Hoople at a festival gig. Or the Royal Festival Hall appearance where he was joined on stage by Lou Reed, who jammed with the Bowie band and where the star of the show had no qualms at all about fitting in the background and just quietly accompanying the American's hauntingly fine voice. 

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"The Magic Theatre" (pg. 22-26)

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Though David Bowie doesn’t have all that much to say for himself – in fact, there have been times when he’s opted out from all Press interviews – rock writers round the world have searched for telling phrases to sum up his music.

And as sometimes, David himself finds it difficult to express just where he’s at in his music; so there have been umpteen interpretations placed upon his music. And, come to that, upon Bowie the man.

In rummaging though the clippings, we can’t help noticing that if many critics are unsure just who Bowie is, they’re virtually all knocked out by the sensitivity and imagination in his music.

Listen to American critic Henry Edwards, writing in what seems a critical daze after first hearing the Hunky Dory album. "David Bowie is not just another pretty face. And that’s saying something in an age in which beauty is only skin deep and more than enough to get anybody almost everything…"

"David’s flaxen hair, his piercing blue eyes, his blush-red lips, have made him the inevitable envy of the world’s aspiring starlets. Happily, however these purely physical traits are attached to a sensibility, and that special Essence of David makes this album a very special record indeed. I am sure that, one day the fist of the Almighty invaded the boy’s skull, plucked his brain from his cranium, and gingerly admiring and caressing it, decided it was too precious to share – and smashed it into smithereens. So the result is much like the outpouring of a gaily coloured kaleidoscope, fragmented but dazzling, jagged bits and pieces of unusually shaped objects, incessantly changing patterns with every gust of wind – each one a very special Bowie song."

Phew! Well, that’s just one man’s colourful view of just how the Bowie brain operates in pop music. But WHO is Bowie?

Here Mr Edward’s really finds himself in a maze. "Its not surprising that his voice can easily transform itself into Bob Dylan’s’ or even Tiny Tim’s, while maintaining its own distinctive sense of truth. David is Greta Garbo, and Bob Dylan; he is Andy Warhol, and Winston Churchill. He creates a self-legend composed of legends. His unique personae is based on the fact that he understands contemporary phenomena. That kind of crinkly intelligence is, in itself, phenomenal."

You may lose the way in trying to follow this, but be sure that Henry Edward’s is another critic-fan who both respects and admires David Bowie’s talents.

Listen now to another American critic one Ben Gerson. "That album, Hunky Dory, is of overwhelming brilliance – a distillation of the critique, the mature work of a mature man. Bowie amongst other things, is perhaps the first pop musician to wed the sensibility of the film world with that of rock n roll. The latter day Mick Jagger, of Midnight Rambler, is legitimate theatre – but its theatre which depends on self-parody. Jagger the performer exaggerating the media-exaggerated image of Jagger, profligate singer"

Alice Cooper, that other self-confessed actor, simply fastens onto the most horror-changed objects of our culture – noose, straight-jacket, electric chair, and exploits them for their shock value. That is not condemnable, but what’s lacking is the sense that these devices are the outgrowths of his private demonology.

However, David Bowie fuses the two. The camera rolls, and the people in front of it act spontaneously, but they are such theatrical characters to begin with – people who spend their lives acting – that it’s untrue to call the move a documentary. Bowie can lay his soul on the table, as he does on Hunky Dory, but still think dramatically and strike theatrical mood because image manipulation, the self-conscious presentation of self, is so much a part of his nature.

Okay, okay, okay. So that’s one man’s summing up of what makes Bowie’s music what it is. But how does that man see Bowie the man? Says Ben Gerson "Bowie physically most resembles Lauren Bacall, with a touch of Lizbeth Scott and Veronica Lake.

"While Bowie’s vocals are a mixture of John Lennon and Anthony Newley, the musical tone of Hunky Dory, is often redolent of English music-halls of decades ago."

A few more show business names to throw in as a comparative guide to who Bowie really is!

Another critic in Scope Magazine wrote: "After listening to Hunky Dory several times, I figured out the best way to describe it: It’s very much like Graham Nash’s solo album – he often sounds like Nash."

And in Rock magazine, the introduction to a review read: "Ladies and gentleman, your attention, please, as I now present our mystery guest, the man of a thousand faces, a dozen voices, will you welcome please...David Bowie! (applause, laughter, cheers)...Fade Out"

Lillian Roxon, rock biographer and then columnist for New York’s Sunday News, got deep into David’s sartorial style. She worked for a while through the clothes maketh the man line. "There was excitement over David Bowie who attracted attention by making his public appearances in Lauren Bacall hairdos and long, rather nicely-cut, crepe dresses.

"He was always quick to explain that the dresses were men’s dresses, medieval men’s dresses, made especially for him, and that while it was his nature and inclination as an entertainer to be outrageous, he was not at any time trying to impersonate a female, and that the close resemblance to Greta Garbo was purely coincidental.

"The talk must have driven him crazy, though because though he looks more like Garbo than ever on the cover of Hunky Dory, he’s exchanged his men’s dresses, which were actually quite graceful and not at all effeminate, for some aggressively masculine Star-Trek-type jumpsuits unzipped to the waist, red vinyl clog boots and a long, white, belted coat that makes him look like the welter-weight champion of the world…after a couple of nights out on the town.

"Now I don’t have to tell you how deadly dull the costuming of rock has been for a long time now, and how welcome a little Liberace-style preening is now and then. But it does occasionally get in the way of the music and, as it happens, David Bowie is a very fine writer and musician.

"There are brilliant touches, like a very accurate imitation of early Dylan, and a deeply moving song written in the Randy Newman style."

In the New York Times, Nancy Erlich laid off the comparisons, and simply described Man of Words album as "a complete, coherent and brilliant vision – one of the few proofs of the fact that what used to be rock and roll is now a limitless form of expression. But limits are always lurking around the corner, waiting to assert themselves. The day will come when Bowie is a big star and the crushed remains of his melodies are broadcast from Muzak boxes in every elevator and hotel lobby in town."

And it was Nancy Erlich too who said that Man Of Words was worth any other three records on the charts.

John Mendelsohn’s Rolling Stone description: "In his floral-patterned velvet midi-gown and cosmetically enhanced eyes, in his fine chest-length blonde hair and mod nutty engineers cap that he bought in the ladies hat section of the City of Paris department store in San Francisco, he is ravishing; almost disconcertingly reminiscent of Lauren Bacall, though he would prefer to be regarded as the latter-day Greta Garbo…

"And he plans to appear one day on stage decked out rather like Cleopatra, in appropriate heavy makeup and costumes recalling those designed in the Thirties by Erte."

The American Record Guide, an authoritative publication, said of that Mercury album ‘The Man Who Sold The World: "This is David Bowie’s third album, and it ranks among the GREAT records in the history of pop music."

But then move on to Where It’s At, and a feature written in April 1972. "David Bowie’s voice sounds at times like a cross between Elton John and the Kink’s Ray Davies … though to catergorise his talent is to do him an injustice, for his diversified experience, reflected in his songs, makes simply categorizing impossible."

Now hang on to this comment, from Patrick Salvo, writing in Crawdaddy magazine: "I gazed upon the album cover and saw the picture of Bowie and this photograph of a rather youngish, angelic, blond-haired lad who looked like either: - a) a child of Tibet; b) a cross between a very young Joey Heatherington and Tab Hunter, with long hair and makeup; c) Peter Frampton soaked in cashmere bouquet with a hair-do that would make even Keith Richard’s Blush; d) all of the above and more.

"Bowie is a mixture of Salvador Dali, the Bee Gees, 2001 and Andy Warhol."

And the comparison game went a bit further when Gilbert O’Sullivan, an even newer star name, was described as "a blend of the best of David Bowie and Cat Stevens"! But that’s by the way…

Here’s another quickie, culled from Rock magazine "David Bowie is the most singularly gifted artist creating music today. He has the genius to be to the seventies what Lennon, McCartney, Jagger and Dylan were to the sixties."

In the Los Angeles Free Press, Chris Van Ness wrote of David Bowie: "What happens to a flower-child, when all of the world around him is going slightly crazy and power struggles are taking over everything, including his music, is that he harnesses his genius, conforms to the insanity, and out-powers the loudest group around and does it all just a little better than anybody else, But David Bowie is the kind of artist you should discover for yourself…"

Down in Wisconsin, a critic advised his readers to take no notice of stories that David Bowie was Myra Breckinridge, Lauren Bacall or Alice Cooper…" because he’s just David Bowie. Well, the man's a genius, and he really puts his ideas across beautifully."

The word "genius" crops up frequently in the bulging book that houses David Bowie’s cuttings. And surely it’s a mark of the complexity and sheer style of his music, that so many critics round the world have to lean so heavily on comparisons, to try to explain where he is at. You can’t just call Bowie albums examples of rock, or beat, or pop, or fold, or country, or anything else.

There’s so much mood changing, so much versatility that each listening ear seems to pick up a different strong point. Hence the constant effort to describe, in a household-name word, what Bowie looks like, or sounds like, or even smells like.

And one way is for people to buy an album, or see a show. David provides the imagery, in sound and sight – and the rest is up to you. And we’ve seen earlier in this book, there’s no point questioning him closely about his motive, his ambition, because his inner ego is a constantly changing thing. What may be true on a Monday could be out of date by the following Thursday.

So he leaves it to the critics to struggle on. More than any other contemporary pop-music figure, he knows he has them baffled. But he can’t feel pleased enough in the way they all accept what, in part at least, most of them don’t really understand. What they often misinterpret…

In the last resort though, it’s the music that counts – though if the lyrics make one think as well .. that’s all to the good. That David Bowie thinks deeply about his own profession, which is that of composer-singer in the superstar bracket, shows on the lyrics of songs like Songs For Bob Dylan, which links the original Robert Zimmerman with the singing Bob Dylan, "good friends" linked through that name change…the stardom and then the virtual disappearance of Dylan.

"Changes" is the song that most critics seem to have picked on as best representing the lyrical style of Bowie, and they constantly refer to this theme of how rock and rollers grow older and time can change even those who are most adamant that they won’t ever change…

But there is still that guessing-game element and it merely helps to make Bowie an even more controversial figure in the world of pop.

Just cast a glance back over this chapter devoted to what writers and critics and commentators and communicators have said. If we were in a trivial mood, we could say: "A prize to the reader who can remember the biggest number of "names" with which David Bowie has been compared" Buts its enough, surely to repeat that Bowie has, from time to time, been just about all things to all fans.

And we’ll just recap some of those names…Bob Dylan, Tiny Tim, Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, Andy Warhol, Lizbeth Scott, Veronica Lake, Anthony Newley, John Lennon, Graham Nash, Liberace, Cleopatra, Elton John, Ray Davies, Tab Hunter, Peter Frampton, Salvador Dali, the Bee Gees, Myra Brekinridge.

Mr Acker Bilk, too. Mr Bilk? A bearded Somerset-born clarinet player who was one of the spearheads of a traditional jazz boom. Though David was to go into the progressive side of jazz, he remembers listening for hours to the swinging Bilk beat…the Bilk band was once in the charts for a whole year with a balladry version of Stranger on The Shore.

Maybe those names add up to so many red herrings when one sets out on a search for the real David Bowie. But they do help to an extent in clearing up a complex image…in that YOU can reject or accept each one in turn.

In the end, though, there is just David Bowie. Under the million words, the layers of paint, the trail of those red herrings, there is the one-time David Jones who changed his name, changed his life, changed his style – and also changed the face of contemporary pop music.

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---This page last modified: 13 Dec 2018---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)