Saturday, November 9, 2013

Stage Names: David Bowie


I am pleasantly surprised that, on this, the last day of our Stage Names theme, no one has tackled David Bowie. Bowie, in my mind, qualifies twice. Born David Jones in 1947, Bowie took his stage name to avoid being confused with Davey Jones of the Monkees. And, in the course of his career, Bowie has taken on the identities of Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, and others. The first of these stage identities was Major Tom. Major Tom is an astronaut who begins by relishing the fame that space travel brings him. I grew up in the 1960s, and I can assure you that the Apollo astronauts did indeed receive rockstar-like adulation in their day that is hard to imagine today. But Tom also finds his experience isolating, and the alternate reality of his unearthly environment soon consumes him. He sings, “Here am I sitting in my tin can…” and it goes from there. David Bowie was a struggling unknown when he recorded the song, but his career mirrors it in eerie ways. Bowie would soon be rocketed into this same kind of fame, and he would eventually be consumed by it, and retreat into the oblivion of a serious cocaine habit.

Luckily, that is not the end of the story. Bowie was able to overcome his drug habit. He continued his musical pursuits with some wild experiments that, for a time, resulted in a string of unpopular albums. That may have been bad news for his fans, but it probably gave Bowie some distance from his fame that aided his recovery. By 1980, Bowie was able to revisit the character of Major Tom in the song Ashes to Ashes, and view matters in a way that was both rueful and a mature reconsideration of his career and life to that point. Since then, Bowie has continued to be a restless musical chameleon. Collaborators have included a list of people who little else in common: Nile Rodgers of the disco band Chic, Brian Eno, Bing Crosby, Freddie Mercury, and Iggy Pop, just to name a few. Albums have become less frequent of late, and there may never be another full-length tour. But David Bowie has endured far longer than Davey Jones of the Monkees, and whatever Bowie does next is sure to be worth paying attention to.


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