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David Bowie (1947-2016) – Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Rock Icon
 
  by: iradiophilly - Philadelphia, PA
started: 01/11/16 10:40 pm | updated: 01/11/16 10:40 pm
 
A personal memory -- by Paula Iacovelli Wholey - January 11, 2016 - for I RADIO PHILLY

Originality in music is rare. The '60s British invasion featured countless successful rock bands, but none had the creativity & staying-power of The Beatles. Michael Bublé, dubbed the 'young Sinatra' a few years back, wasn't really on par with the 'Chairman of the Board.' So it is with David Bowie - whom we lost yesterday (January 10, 2016), after a private but courageous 18-month battle with cancer. He had turned 69, just two days before.

Many will be writing about David Bowie today, detailing each album release and its impact on rock music through his more than four-decade-long career. So I will reflect instead, on some of the rich impressions David Bowie leaves with me.

Born David Jones in South London in 1947 (on Elvis Presley's birthday, no less) he changed his name to David Bowie, so as not to be confused with Davy Jones, The Monkees' popular lead singer. As 1969 crossed over into the early '70s, his first effort, "Space Oddity," collided with the rock n roll airwaves, with a worldwide jolt. (Remember when you first heard him sing, “Ground Control to Major Tom?” So eerie! I’m certain it inspired Elton John, when he was writing, “Rocket Man.”)

As a college DJ at Villanova’s WKVU (it had a Top 40 format) I loved playing the hidden, unexpected cuts from our top artists’ LPs. I believe I was the first to play Bowie at our station; I just loved his avant-garde sound, yet he baffled me at the time. Who WAS this guy, anyway? British, yes; catchy voice, surely. But Bowie proved to be, in a word – UNDEFINABLE. His flamboyant Ziggy Stardust persona led naïve kids like me to look up ‘androgynous’ in the dictionary – just as the line from his hit tune “Rebel, Rebel” confessed being “not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.” He blurred the lines of everything we assumed was constant – traditional – expected. But his music grabbed me so unexpectedly – and permanently. Forty years later I still have his Tower Theatre performance masterpiece (on Vinyl, of course!) recorded just 10 minutes from here, on the outskirts of Philadelphia. If you’ve never heard it, go find it – we nicknamed it “David: Live at the Tower.”

An interesting aside: I stopped by to visit fellow WKVU alum Tom Kelly, managing partner at iradiophilly.com, about 6 months ago, and his Classic Rock station happened to be playing a tune many will remember, “All the Young Dudes.” I said aloud, “Oh, listen to David Bowie!” Tom reminded me that this was the group Mott the Hoople (1972), and he was right. But so was I! Bowie’s voice clearly pops out of that chorus; David himself had written the song, and recorded it later on his “Live” album. You’ll hear it as I always remember it – raw, unpredictable, with the soulful sax we often heard on Bowie’s albums, reminding us how much he loved R&B music.

He was the most fashion-forward figure in the rock music world, so cutting-edge in fact that he’d shock people at first – then you’d see his color and fabric choices become all the rage on the fashion runways. We took many of his songs and they evolved into the trends of our culture. His song, “Fame” struck a chord with all aspiring performers; soon after came the hit song/play/TV program of the same name (“Baby, remember my name!”)

Bowie was married twice. His first wife, Angie (from whom he separated after 8 years, then divorced in 1980) bore him one child and - like many rock icons of the post-hippie generation - David got a bit too creative, perhaps, while naming his newborn son. Music peers Grace Slick and Frank Zappa had given their children outlandish first names (God Slick, and Moon Unit Zappa, respectively) and David added a rhyme as well – naming his son Zowie Bowie. [His son today carries the family surname, and a given name, Duncan Jones.] A dozen years later Bowie married international supermodel Iman (1992) with whom he had a daughter, Alexandria. David and Iman, a veritable ‘power-couple,’ were together until the last – sharing homes in both Manhattan and London.

A great story from 1977, when David Bowie was invited to appear on one of Bing Crosby’s TV Holiday Specials, here in the States. David was delighted – as Bing was one of his mother’s favorite singers – until he heard they were planning a duet of the Christmas classic, “The Little Drummer Boy.” David hated the song but relented, as he could intersperse a timeless tune called “Peace on Earth,“ as Bing continued singing about the drummer. Bowie’s choirboy-like vocal blended beautifully with Crosby’s rich baritone; it’s a real film treasure that can be easily found on YouTube©. It’s just another example of Bowie’s amazing versatility.

David would also surprise his fans by taking on film roles that gave him the chance to showcase his acting chops. He’d inhabited many characters through his music, but fans were shocked to see him playing Pontius Pilate in “The Last Temptation of Christ”, directed by Martin Scorcese. It was an acting role that a fellow singer (Sting) had turned down, but not David Bowie! He’d take acting parts whenever they felt right to him – his versatility was defined, once again.

Bowie’s masterful use of stage theatrics and characterizations undoubtedly paved the way for many pop superstars who have come after him. It’s hard to imagine the iconic concert stagings of singers such as Madonna, Katy Perry, and (of course) Lady GAGA - had David Bowie’s innovative work not led the way.

Yes, David was a true original, from the very beginning right up to the way he chose to take his exit – releasing what he knew to be his final studio album on his 69th birthday, last Friday, January 8, 2016. Entitled “Blackstar,” it arrived to critical acclaim and is a thought-provoking glimpse into his mindset as he faced his last days, having kept his terminal condition secret for so many months. One cut called “Lazarus” is particularly haunting – you have to see the accompanying video of it to feel its full impact. It was David Bowie’s performance in that video that told me he was ready – actually saying he was in heaven. He had his family around him, he’d enjoyed a unique and spectacular experience in this world, and was able to offer this last collection as his life’s encore. And haven’t we been the fortunate audience to have treasured it all.

 
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