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David Bowie Books
Paul Rance Art: David Bowie as Aladdin Sane
David Bowie's Early Years
David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, London, on the 8th of January, 1947 (Bowie shares a birthday with Elvis Presley).
Influenced by all kinds of music, especially jazz, young David's first favoured instrument was the saxophone, and jazz legend Ronnie Ross helps him master the instrument by his mid-teens. David's brother Terry is also a big influence on him, turning him onto jazz and Beat literature.
David's strikingly unique appearance was, the legend goes, due to a school fight with his friend George Underwood over a girl, which left him with his distinctive blue eye/grey eye combination. Though he was lucky to retain his sight, David bore no grudges, and George was later to design the 'Hunky Dory' album cover.
David's musical career began in earnest in 1963, when he joined The King Bees. He was also to be in a number of other bands in the '60s, such as The Konrads, The Manish Boys, George And The Dragons, and, most famously, The Lower Third. David's first big claim to fame was his appearance on a British TV show, aged 17, in 1964, when he was defending his, and other young males, choice of growing 'girlie' long hair. Now, it seems an amusing, and very dated slice of British television, as various middle aged men line up to slag off the youngsters for being, in their eyes, 'effeminate'.
Also in 1964, David Jones releases his first record, the single, 'Liza Jane', under the official band name of Davy Jones And The King Bees. But it failed to make a big impression on the buying public. A little later, Jones was said to be sleeping in an ambulance, outside London's famous The Marquee, where he was performing regularly with The Lower Third. Poverty rather than choice being the reason. At this venue, David and The Lower Third supported The High Numbers, who were later to become The Who.
In 1966, The Monkees brought about the name we now know as David Bowie (named after the Davy Crockett hunting knife). With the success of The Monkees, and their own Davy Jones, there now wasn't room for two. Bowie's band then became The Buzz, and not long afterwards he went solo and joined the trendy British label, Deram, in 1966 - a label made famous by The Moody Blues.
Bowie's songwriting capabilities were there for all to see even then, with some really bare and quirky arrangements. 'Rubber Band' was a very strange and interesting first single on this label, with some comical brass, though the B-side, 'The London Boys', with its dark lyrics relating to drugs, peer pressure and teenage angst, and a particular melancholy vocal, being the better song. David was not really looking to be commercial with these two numbers!
Bowie recorded quite a few luscious tracks at this time also, including 'Sell Me A Coat', 'When I Live My Dream', 'There Is A Happy Land', and 'Karma Man'. The most famous song of this period was 'The Laughing Gnome', which was originally recorded in 1967. This song wasn't a hit though in the UK until 1973, when it reached number 6 in the singles chart. 'The Laughing Gnome' contained cringe-making wordplay, but was funny nonetheless, and it was nice to see the oft-maligned seriousness of Bowie being turned on its head. Other tracks from this time included a not very commercial track alluding to child abuse - 'Little Bombardier', the wistful 'Let Me Sleep Beside You', and a song rich with witty, clever lyrics, 'She's Got Medals'. In fact, the lyrics of Bowie's early material were markedly different to the mainstream pop and rock of the time. The British actor/singer, Anthony Newley, was also having a big influence on the young Bowie, with slight Newley impersonations creeping into some of Bowie's early work. Bowie was also getting more and more interested in mime, filmmaking, and Buddhism as the decade neared its end.
Meeting the mime artist Lindsay Kemp really triggered Bowie's interest in this medium, and it was at a mime class in 1968 that David fell in love for the first time, when he met the exotically-named Hermione Farthingale.
Hermione and David were seen dancing together on the BBC 2 costume drama, 'The Pistol Shot', and they performed together in the folk trio Feathers. The relationship lasted a year, and, when it ended, Bowie was cut up enough to describe how he felt the split affected him like "a disease". Later Bowie tracks 'Letter To Hermione' and 'Life On Mars ("the girl with the mousy hair")' referred to his former lover.
Bowie supported Marc Bolan's new band, T-Rex, at The Royal Festival Hall, London in 1968. While, again in 1968, the young singer/songwriter was asked to write some lyrics for a French tune. They were never used, but Paul Anka's lyrics were - and the song was to be made immortal by Frank Sinatra. It was called 'My Way'.
Success was to come, however, in 1969 - probably the most dramatic year of David's whole life. David had to try and cope with the sudden death of his father in this year, and to sort out his dad's estate at the tender age of 22. This was also the year Bowie first met Angela, who was to become better known later as Angie. The young Bowie was also to see this as the year he 'made it', career-wise. He had a small role in the film 'The Virgin Soldiers', but 1969 was the year of his musical breakthrough. 'Space Oddity' reached number 5 in the UK singles chart the week man first walked on the Moon. The '70s, though, were to become a more successful decade, and, along with personal success, David Bowie was to become hugely influential on the careers of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and Mott The Hoople.
Copyright © Paul Rance/booksmusicfilmstv.com.
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In a Channel 4 programme in the UK it was revealed that DB was the 10th biggest selling artist in the British singles charts of the past 50 years, selling 9,392,410 records. Top three were 1. Cliff Richard, 2. Beatles, 3. Elvis.
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