He was a leader in terms of singing, song writing, performance art, style and fashion, and remained at the forefront of the entertainment world until his untimely death in 2016.
He never stopped working, even when seriously ill after being diagnosed with cancer. He spent his final months recording a new album, Blackstar, which was critically acclaimed following its release on 8th January 2016 – his 69th birthday. The press said it demonstrated his gift for making innovative and challenging music.
He left a wonderful legacy, not only in the shape of the hundreds of tracks he had recorded during his long career, but also in the recordings that were released posthumously.
Lazarus: The musical
In 2015, Bowie wrote an off-Broadway musical, Lazarus, inspired by The Man Who Fell to Earth – Walter Tevis’s 1963 science fiction novel. The book had been made into a film of the same name in 1976, when Bowie had starred as an alien trapped on earth, after trying to find a new home for his people when their planet was gripped by drought.
The musical premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in Manhattan on 7th December 2015 and ran until 20th January 2016, with all tickets selling out within hours of being released. The final day of the play’s run was declared David Bowie Day by the mayor of New York City, in honour of the late artist.
The play was a huge success and the London production began at the Kings Cross Theatre on 8th November 2016, continuing until 22nd January 2017. One of the London performances was recorded for a film, Lazarus, which made its debut for a special screening in New York in May 2018.
Lazarus featured several relevant songs from Bowie’s back catalogue, including The Man Who Sold the World, Changes, This Is Not America, Life on Mars and Absolute Beginners. Four new tracks written for Lazarus were released posthumously, including the haunting When I Met You.
Included on the original cast recording of the album from the musical, it was released after Bowie’s death. The singer had written it during the Blackstar recordings and originally, he took both parts himself. However, in Lazarus, it was a duet between a man and a woman – described as a “dialogue on love and despair”.
The version sung by Bowie was then released on an EP, along with the other new tracks, No Plan, Lazarus and Killing a Little Time. Fans and the music press were delighted when the song was released on the posthumous EP, No Plan, on 8th January 2017, as opposed to the version on the Lazarus soundtrack album.
Bowie sings in a baritone croon throughout When I Met You, with a swirl of drums and synths in the intro, transforming into a deceptively simple song, with acoustic guitar-strumming, interspersed with striking electric guitar.
During the chorus, Bowie’s lead vocals are mixed with background chants, cymbal crashes and sweeping strings. Finally, it concludes with the lines, “It’s all the same, the sun is gone, it’s all the same,” as the character in Lazarus laments a broken relationship.
The critics loved When I Met You, which was recorded with producer Tony Visconti and the same band who played on Blackstar.
The star has left a massive legacy for his fans and for the music world in general, having released more than 390 tracks during his 50-year career, including a staggering 128 singles, 72 music videos, 27 studio albums and 11 live albums.
Rise to fame
Born David Jones in Brixton in 1947, he studied music, art and design at Bromley Technical School, forming his first band, The Konrads, at the age of 15. After being in several bands in his teens, he formed David Jones and the Lower Third, releasing a single, You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving.
He went solo in 1969, changing his name to Bowie. As a solo artist, he began his meteoric rise to fame, thanks to his diverse music, succession of fascinating stage personas and amazingly flamboyant costumes.
As Bowie’s first solo single in 1969, Space Oddity reached number five in the UK pop chart, after it coincided with the Apollo 11 moon landing. His most famous stage persona was Ziggy Stardust – a sci-fi character, who hit the music scene in 1972 with his band, The Spiders from Mars.
A spaceman on earth, Ziggy’s single, Starman, achieved instant success. The band’s live performances, featuring Bowie’s distinctive vocals and brightly-coloured glam rock costumes, hair and make-up, took performance art to a whole new level.
In the 1970s and throughout the ’80s, Bowie always kept his image fresh, recording new material for each persona and keeping his fans on their toes as they copied his ever-changing look. In 1974, he toured the US with the Diamond Dogs tour, which was being filmed by the BBC for the documentary, Cracked Actor.
One of his biggest hits was Ashes to Ashes in 1980, which went silver, was number one in the UK and charted across Europe and in the US and Australia.
As an accomplished actor, Bowie made his debut in 1983 in Cat People, followed by his critically-acclaimed role as a prisoner in a Japanese PoW camp during World War II in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, released the same year.
He launched a new rock band, Tin Machine, in 1989, in which he was a band member rather than the front man – a project that he dissolved in 1992.
He survived emergency surgery for a blocked artery when he fell ill during his Reality tour in 2004, suffering chest pains. After taking time out to recuperate, he returned to performing until his death. He was a truly unique artist, who influenced the music industry and inspired hundreds of performers to follow their dreams.
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