by Joe Carrel, Buffalo Exchange HQ
While driving through downtown Phoenix, I happened upon a series of murals that made me pull over and take notice. The 80-foot stretch of paintings by courthouse sketch artist Maggie Keane inspired me to gather some intriguing tidbits about their iconic subject, David Bowie.
Born David Robert Jones, Bowie changed his name at the age of 18 to avoid confusion with fellow British musician (and Monkees frontman) Davy Jones. Infatuated with American culture and movies, he was inspired by 1960’s The Alamo. His new moniker payed homage to Texan rebel Jim Bowie; in fact, David’s wife, Iman, even has Jim’s famous Bowie knife tattooed on her ankle.
Sound and Vision
At age 15, Bowie and his friend George Underwood got into a scuffle over a girl. George impulsively punched Bowie while wearing a ring, damaging his left eye. As a result, the pupil was permanently dilated and its inability to respond to light made it appear noticeably different in color. The two boys remained friends and played together in various bands. Bowie even thanked him, saying that it gave him “a kind of mystique.” George would go on to become an artist, working on many of Bowie’s album covers (including Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars).
Though David’s adult life was populated with celebrities, a few relationships stand out. His mid-sixties band, Davy Jones and the Lower Third, was often bolstered by future Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page. Elizabeth Taylor held a party at which Bowie and John Lennon hit it off, resulting in the collaboration song Fame, as well as David’s cover of the Beatles’ Across the Universe. He produced several of Iggy Pop’s albums and even toured as a keyboardist in Iggy’s band before they wrote China Girl together. Even Bowie’s son, Zowie, would find notoriety, directing films like Moon, Source Code and Warcraft: The Beginning under his legal name, Duncan Jones.
David’s first UK chart hit was Space Oddity, inspired by the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey (whose main character, coincidentally, is named Dave Bowman). The song was released five days before the Apollo 11 launch and was used as the BBC’s background music for the lunar landing. Later that year, he recorded an Italian version of the song, Ragazzo Solo, ragazza Sola, meaning “Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl.” When Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the song during his 2013 stay at the International Space Station, Bowie called it “quite possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created.”
When hospitalized as a child, Bowie was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He replied, “The British Elvis.” He shared a January 8th birthday with the legendary rocker and reportedly had an encyclopedic knowledge of his career. In 1975, he offered the song Golden Years to Presley. After hearing Bowie’s recording of it, Elvis asked him to produce his next album. Unfortunately, this never came to be, as Presley’s death came six short months later. Decades afterward, though, the specter of Elvis would make one last curtain call, in the form of an unearthed recording titled Black Star. Bowie would make this the title of his final album, released two days before his own passing. It would complete the journey from childhood dream to lifelong reality, artfully demonstrating that heroes from one generation will always live on as the inspiration for future heroes to come.