Today being the incomparable David Bowie's 66th birthday, and having just finished reading Peter Doggett's splendid The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie and the 1970s, I definitely feel that some video links are called for. Here's one each from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Hopefully I've eschewed the usual suspects in favour of some somewhat obscure material.
Seventeen-year-old David Jones appears on BBC Tonight in 1964, promoting his newly-formed Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men, formerly known as the International League for the Preservation of Animal Filament. The story had been picked up from a promo piece in the London Evening News, planted to hype his new band venture, the Manish Boys. (Doggett: '...the hype was instructive. Bowie had learned by making an outlandish announcement, and risking an image that blurred feminine and masculine, he could command the attention of the media')
Bowie performs Drive-In Saturday on Russell Harty Plus Pop in January 1973 - the same month it was recorded - in full glam regalia. Note also Trevor Bolder's splendid two-tone sideburns. Bowie performs his vocals live here to a backing track, and boasts a splendid silver-blue complexion, as if he was about to expire from mercury poisoning. Far worse was to come in the mid-70s when his cocaine addiction spiralled into overdrive. (Doggett: 'The song's location was the future, when sixties icons like Mick Jagger and Twiggy (the Wonder Kid) were as archetypal as anything conceived by Jung, and - as in the 1967 movie Barbarella - lust was a thing of the past, only accessible from ancient videotapes).
Sure, it's cheesy as hell. And Live Aid is hardly an obscure performance, but it is obscure to me because until today I'd never seen Bowie's performance. Certainly, the suits are risible, the 'wave bye-bye' is cringe-inducingly literal, and it's all very slick and a million miles from the art-rock he produced in the 70s. But wait a second: he opens with the wilfully obscure TVC-15 (which reached no.33 in the UK charts in May 1976 and was based on a weird idea of Iggy Pop's, in which televisions turned carnivorous), follows up with the iconic Rebel Rebel (Doggett: 'pure attitude from start to finish: the essence of adolescent defiance, guaranteed to bring out the teenager in all who heard it') and adds in the pop blockbuster of Modern Love (check out the archetypal audience fist-pump when it kicks in), which, let's not forget, includes the lines 'No religion, no confession, don't believe in modern love'. And he finished up with the peerless 'Heroes' (which is omitted from the clip below due to clip length restrictions, but can be viewed here). All in all, I can put up with a few dodgy clothes, some funny 80s backup singer dancing and a bit of gurning in return for a performance that's this much fun.
For someone who's made a career out of remarkable and unpredictable media appearances, one of the most shocking performances Bowie gave was a non-musical one. At the conclusion of his set at Freddie Mercury's tribute concert in 1992 he surprised everyone by kneeling down and reciting the Lord's Prayer for Mercury and all the other victims of Aids. Presumably (possibly?) sincere, this was so completely out of character for a rock gig that it stunned the music press, who are a notoriously hard bunch to startle. Was it yet one more piece of Bowie theatre - performance art on a grand scale? Did he do it for a dare? (Doggett: '...Bowie appeared alongside Mick Ronson at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in London, closing his performance not with Rock 'n Roll Suicide as Ziggy Stardust would have done, but with an impromptu recital of the Lord's Prayer. It was perhaps the single most shocking moment of his career: utterly sincere, totally in keeping with the ethos of the occasion, completely at odds with the totemic cliches of the classic rock tradition').
News: David Bowie to release new album, Guardian, 8 January 2012
Exhibition: Sukita/Bowie: Speed of Life, Masterton, Sept-Oct 2012
Review: Bowie in Labyrinth