CRACKED ACTOR: David Bowie and the use of the theatrical in popular music

Of all the pop stars that have come into being since the likes of Elvis and Cliff Richard strutted their stuff in the fifties, the one who has always established his niche as the most creatively theatrical of them all is surely David Bowie. From Major Tom in "Space Oddity" to the Thin White Duke on "Station To Station", from Ziggy Stardust on "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars" to the pierrot in "Ashes To Ashes", Bowie has constantly reinvented himself in a way that only he seems able to do.

There are many imitators of his prime-era music - the British indie band Suede ripped off the Ziggy-era sound in their moderately successful career, and of course the New Romantics tipped their hats to his pioneering spirit with not just sonic but image homages and influences. Boy George of Culture Club was one particular fan, with his daring use of colourful costumes married to gay torch songs. And even in the seventies themselves, more than one talent openly cited him as one of their starting points - the soon-to-be electro-pioneer Gary Numan, for starters, and also the likes of Japan, Foxx and Ure-era Ultravox and the first openly-gay rock star Jobriath wore their Bowie influences well, as much in their manner and presentation as in the music itself. Pop music could be intelligent, colourful, dramatic and not a little good-looking. Particularly if it had the services of top photographer Mick Rock among others, who helped Bowie more than many stars in the seventies to look cool, trend-setting and flamboyantly exotic, no matter what his current guise.

But of course, with all the success that the former David Jones has had with this use of the arts in his career, the big question that has to be asked is : - why has this not translated itself into a more successful and consistent acting career, when the opportunities came? Unlike, say, Tom Waits or Kris Kristoffersen, he has never quite managed to balance quality music output with a career in the movies, and even Madonna, who struggled awfully in a number of celluloid disasters, come back to hit a bulls-eye with "Evita". Unlike them, Bowie's career in films never quite reached the heights of his bizarre debut, "The Man Who Fell To Earth", or of course his many big-selling albums. His painting career has also been fairly low-key, but this love of genuinely creative 'hobbies' has always intermingled with his work, and recurring themes can be seen in both. The most striking example of this was his "1.Outside" album (1995).


Bowie's interest in the theatrical was present at the very start of his career in music. Even when appearing in a number of R&B acts with the likes of friend George Underwood in the early sixties, he had endless ideas of painting special 'glow in the dark' backdrops, and of advertising their group name through striking imagery. According to his old acquaintance (who inadvertently in a playground scrap over a girl with Bowie gave him the famous 'different-coloured eye'), he had so many ideas so quickly that it was difficult to put them all into practice. It was this quick-working and somewhat-easily bored approach that would characterise his work at times, particularly in the early days.

Yet while eccentric in approach as all original artists must be, what would go on to set him apart from the likes of one-time friend and rival Marc Bolan and many others, apart from a more genuine appreciation of art and philosophy (despite his working-class upbringing) was a certain media-savvy that would stand him in good stead most, if not all, of the time. From the moment he appeared on BBC TV, interviewed by Cliff Michelmore as the head representative of the "Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Long-Haired Men", Bowie showed he had the nerve and the flair to court controversy and yet be generally popular to the mainstream at the same time - a remarkable achievement. Bowie's loyalty to the cause would soon be replaced by other obsessions, of course, yet he had shown himself to be bold enough to lead a kind of counter-rebellion.

Rising himself out of the eternal circle of joining and leaving endless 'mod' rhythm and blues outfits, Bowie teamed up with Ken Pitt, manager of The Nice. The manager had worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme in his time, yet this character was like no-one else in the world of pop music at the time. With a strong sense of humour endearing him to this svengali figure - who even put him up for between 1967 and 1969, Bowie would see Mike Vernon produce his debut, eponymous album. An utterly bizarre mishmash of oddball stories and crazy characters, the instrumental backing for Bowie's high-pitched, Anthony Newley-style vocals is hardly traditional rock-and-roll, more neo-classicism. As original - if not as popular - as Pink Floyd's style on their own first LP, Bowie's artistic preferences, bolstered by his own literary perusings, were the dominant themes on an often-embarrassing first attempt. Thankfully, this album, with such cringeworthy numbers as the infamous "The Laughing Gnome" and the Syd Barrett-like "There Is A Happy Land" was merely a starting point for the more focused and developed ideas on later works. And if nothing else, it showed that Bowie's starting point was not simply rock music, like many others'.

The mostly acoustic second LP "Space Oddity", produced by Tony Visconti except the famous title cut, showed more glimpses of Bowie's past. But ideas also abounded of the narrator creating different images of himself as a defence mechanism - "but if you took an axe to me / you'd kill another man, not me at all" - which sums up this initially shy man's attitude to his music, and far from being 'authentic', he had shown an interest in hiding behind an on-stage or on-record 'character', such as Major Tom in the allegedly 'drug-referencing' title track. This was one reason why Bowie had such interest in creating such iconic figures, and was probably boosted by new friend performance-artist Lindsay Kemp. To this day, Bowie will often oblige onstage when asked to "Show us a bit of mime, David!" And if the cries are sarcastic, then he doesn't seem to care.

"The Man Who Sold The World" saw Bowie dabble in hard-rock, with the reserved but decent Mick Ronson the most notable addition to the band. From Hull, this traditionally brought-up and softly-spoken lead guitarist was hardly in-tune with the aesthete who wore a dress openly on the front cover of the album. Yet the work is, behind David's courting of controversy on the sleeve, a frighteningly-personal one, with references (albeit fantistical) to Terry Burns, Bowie's mentally disturbed half-brother (such as on "All The Madmen"), and Bowie looks at his own damaged psyche on songs such as The Width Of A Circle - "So I ran across a monster who was sleeping by a tree / And I looked and frowned 'cos the monster was me". With images of death, futuristic nightmares and Nietsche-based superman theories taken to extremes, it is not the obvious starting-point for new Bowie fans. Indeed, Sounds magazine in April '71described it as "Dylan meets the demon king". Dark philosophising would characterise his most high-minded flights of fancy.

Apart from the shot of Cane Hill mental asylum (which still had electric-shock therapy as one of its' 'remedies') on the cover of the US release of this album, and the depiction of Burns' stay there on "All The Madmen", Terry and his tragic life would crop up repeatedly on Bowie's works. David's half-brother would commit suicide in 1985 by lying in front of a train, and this event would be seen as the basis of one of his most popular recent singles, "Jump They Say". "Hunky Dory" would also see explicit reference to Burns' personality.

By the release of "Hunky Dory", though sales were not exactly going through the roof, Bowie was at least becoming a better-known household name, for his unique blending of intellectualism, bleak worldview and self-absorption - not something which the "flower power" generation tended to do too much, nor the rather two-dimensional glam scene that would soon pounce upon his success with his next work. "Hunky Dory" is again acoustic, but Bowie's theatricality this time was put on the back-burner in favour of some sugar-coated cyanide pills. "Quicksand", for example, deals directly with the artist's over-analysis of the human state...

"I'm sinking in the quicksand of my thought / And I ain't got the power anymore."

"Oh! You Pretty Things", meanwhile talks of "cracks in the sky" and "The Bewlay Brothers" is another dark song, closing the original work on a sombre note, where more clues are given of the shadowy presence in David's mind of - again - half-brother Terry. It would not be the last time.


As I have mentioned, Bowie's overtly-theatrical nature had not exactly ensured enormous sales for his first works. His unusual mixture of coy playfulness (Dylan, the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol all get tongue-in-cheek mentions in "Hunky Dory") and broodiness would, however, stop much of his early stage shows and albums getting slammed as 'fake' or orchestrated - at least by the majority. In a strange way, having shown his personal side on his early works, he now seemed more keen to move into dangerous territory.

The mid-seventies period would see a seachange in the presentation of rock concerts generally, and Bowie himself would have a major influence on this. But as a contrast to some of the excesses of the boom in stage sets and the ilk, Bowie and possibly Pink Floyd at their pomp were able to create something totally original, and reinvent themselves and their ideas on a regular basis. The high-tech sets, sound-systems and eccentric props of the latter - from the crashing Spitfire in performances of "Dark Side Of The Moon", the flying pig on the "Animals" tour and the infamous "wall", built across the stage during their infamous tour of their 1979 classic, were matched by one man's flair and invention. David Bowie's.


"The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars" was the original glam-rock album, and is probably the most famous of them all. Indeed, Bowie's principal 'persona' would be the androgynous alien rock star, and it is to his eternal credit that he somehow managed to bury this alter-ego so quickly and convincingly, and create equally remarkable characters and music.

What is remarkable about the success of Ziggy Stardust is a) that the public were prepared to accept a sexually-ambiguous figure so readily, and b) that the success of the show, particularly in today's context, came from the appearance of Bowie and the band. There was little in the way of outrageous sets at this point. The impact came simply from the outlandish appearance of the "Spiders", married to the simple but dramatic 'plot' of the album and the high amount of melodic crowd-pleasers. And the sudden bit of 'guitar fellatio', where Bowie had his mouth to the strings of Ronson's guitar, has become one of the most famous - and breakthrough images in rock.

More the pity, then, that a copycat American Bowie of great talent, Jobriath, would be unable to get away with hyping himself as an out-and-out "fairy", and his career would sink without trace before his death in obscurity of an AIDS-related illness in the eighties. Perhaps society was not quite that ready, and his decision to show his genuine love of the likes of Marlene Dietrich and silent movie stars, in a stage show that saw the performer transformed from King Kong into the screen queen on a giant ejaculating penis, was a terrible faux-pas, and one that his career never recovered from. As I have said before, Bowie was a little more shrewd than all that, not least with the media. After all, pop stars tailor their performances and stage shows more for the press than for the people...

The follow-up album to "Ziggy", "Aladdin Sane", saw Bowie head into more American musical areas, with greater success than Marc Bolan had experienced earlier with "Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow". The cover is a classic, all white, with flashes of colour zapping down David, and what look like tears falling down his body too. The static image again instantly stuck - there was no need to dress that way on stage - and even if the muscular, louder parts for Ronson and avant-garde pianist Mike Garson dominate the work, the image of Bowie in ultimate preening pose on the insleeve is utterly striking. The airbrushing of his privates was also shrewd, as it would be on "Diamond Dogs". And Bowie also became, on the wonderfully melodramatic "Time", the first person to get away with "wanking" on a song (so to speak).

After a fairly insignificant covers album, "Pin Ups", Bowie set to work on a "1984"-inspired work. "Diamond Dogs" saw him move into much more dramatic terrain, with a full-blown concept of a dystopian future, set amongst fantasical images, and a stage-show that portrayed "Hunger City", the setting of his self-written tale when the Orwell estate refused him permission to use the late George's infamous book as the direct basis. Disc magazine loved the album, saying it was his "finest album so far". Burroughs and Bryon Gysin influence the lyrics, and the only fly in the ointment was some somewhat lacklustre performances on the road, where Bowie's (or was it Halloween Jack's?) determination to have the backdrop unspoilt by amps meant the band had to play behind screens, which was not appreciated by his backing musicians. Again this showed his commitment to getting a revue-style show was more important than blowing the house down, and there would be something of a change in the demands of audiences now, as the days of the Who's ear-shattering concerts were ending. The likes of Alice Cooper and Kiss had their own, utterly over-the-top shows, with mock-theatricality and shock (particularly with the former) taking the place of invention. Cooper had been steered away from glam by a concern over where the American audience was ready, but Bowie had cleverly side-stepped this possible resistance - by self-reinvention.


"Diamond Dogs" and "Young Americans", the latter of which is even more influenced by R&B and even soul, helped make Bowie in America. Yet his theatricality, which up until now had been mostly colourful, fantastical, and non-political, would take a sinister turn for the worse. Bowie's lifestyle of hedonism, with his open marriage resulting in bisexual 'swinging' on both sides, had been taking its toll. On top of that, perhaps more seriously, his cocaine use was seriously out of hand, and a ravaged David found himself holed-up in LA at is most decadent, allegedly storing his urine in the fridge, fearing exorcisms, refusing to open the blinds to let the light in, and undoing all his good work as a white soul boy by giving bizarre and chilling interviews.

Bowie was becoming right-wing, and suddenly the theatre of excess was not on stage - it was in real life, or as near as he could get at the time. This could have been the finish of the man career-wise, if not life-wise - both Elton John and John Lennon (the former Beatle guested on "Young Americans") visited him on the west coast and were shocked at what they saw. Yet amazingly, he took his theatricality to a new medium - film.

"The Man Who Fell To Earth", surreally directed by Nic Roeg, is an alarmingly biographical film, in relation to its star. Bowie plays Thomas Newton, an alien who lands to try and help his fellow folk back on their dying planet, but instead becomes seduced on the vices of mankind - notably television, drugs and sex. Like Bowie, the alien is very successful, but happiness does not come with wealth and excess for Newton.

Nor had it come for Bowie. While his career hadn't stalled badly like Bolan, who similarly to the "brickies in foundation" like The Sweet and Slade, was still stuck in the narrow confines of the fading glam scene, "Station To Station", David's next work, displayed in its sleeve notes the unnerving picture of Bowie the world was already seeing. White-shirted with short red hair, still stick-thin with an alarmingly-white complexion, he looks at his most detached and cold. Which is what the 'character' on the album, the "Thin White Duke", was as well.

Bowie had been talking of how the German people were fooled back in 30s and 40s Berlin by Hitler, how the stark, minimalist white light made the Fuhrer even more striking, and therefore even more easy to follow. Now he had put into his art the idea of a morally repugnant character still being the one that people would flock to see on stage - lit simply and mesmerisingly. And he unsmilingly, would stare back.

It was time for Bowie to take action. Meeting up with the self-destructive Iggy Pop - someone who had been an influence on him, although a radically different stage performer - the two resolved to put their serious drug problems (and Iggy's stay in a mental institution) behind them. They decamped to Berlin, a place perfectly suited to their interests and intentions, as it turned out. There were still temptations, for sure, but there was also history, perspective and a strange down-at-heel glamour. And the two would struggle, determinedly, to start afresh.


Bowie would now go on to produce music of great beauty, and appalling ugliness. During his 'Berlin' period, his confusion and uncertainty would go onto tape, in the form of half-formed song fragments and moody instrumentals. The use of the latter on the 'second side' of both Low and "Heroes" meant that the works would build dramatically toward their conclusion, and after creating theatre through his leftfield, imaginative lyrics, Bowie now seemed able to say more than many artists, by vocally saying nothing at all. "Warszawa", "Art Decade", "Weeping Wall", "Sense Of Doubt", "Moss Garden" and "Neukolln" (sic) are mostly emotions that David felt by being near the Wall and observing the troubles of the people that lived in its shadow. All are instrumental, and show that Bowie's sense of drama could now be applied to sound only. Stages were not needed for such evocative, imaginative work, and the aural soundscapes he created are seen as some of the most influential rock sounds of all, with influences on the likes of Moby and many New Wave bands. Indeed, "Heroes" was recorded at Hansa right by the Wall, and Bowie, along with Brian Eno, deliberately managed to give the work a monolithic grandeur that few other rock albums in history have come close to.


It would be good to report that Bowie's success with theatre in his work, whether on-stage or on-record, continued successfully into the eighties. But that did not entirely prove to be the case. He did appear in more films, of course, including Just A Gigolo (which bombed at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival), and The Hunger (1983). The former can be put down to a certain interest in German life, having lived there until what was then recently. But The Hunger was a stranger choice, with Bowie only in the first half of the film, as a suddenly-aging vampire.

A Broadway run of The Elephant Man (1980) was perhaps more successful, and when the director of what was to be Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (also starring Ryuichi Sakamoto) visited Bowie during the show, he agreed to star in the film when it was ready. Bowie played Major Jack Celliers, a POW in a Japanese camp. Celliers is a tragic figure, who reflects while in solitary about his letting his brother be bullied at school, and how it ruined the boy's life. He himself then faces the ultimate sacrifice, and Bowie admitted in an interview when it premiered at Cannes how the themes of guilt and loyalty to family struck a chord. Once again, he thought of his brother Terry in particular while playing this role, and in a gritty, uncompromising picture, his act of human self-sacrifice at the end is far from the fantastical figure of the seventies, and deeply moving.

Sadly, other film work proved less distinguished, with minor roles in Absolute Beginners and Labyrinth (1986), and other films which made little impact, apart from the hit theme tune he wrote to the former. Bowie played Warhol in Basquiat (1986), an ambition of probably not just him but many of his peers too. Yet this shows that in the world of cinema's theatrics, he still has a genuine need for a project of artistic merit over downright commercial success - he claims to have turned down the role of the villain Max Zorin in A View To A Kill (one of the less distinguished films in the Bond canon).

On the subject of commercial success, of course, his eighties work would come to be increasingly criticised as playing safe, and eschewing his once unique sense of flamboyance in favour of middle-of-the-road pop crooning. The striking appearance of Pierrot in one of his most evocative videos "Ashes to Ashes" (which saw the return of the still-isolated Major Tom, now drug-dependent and at an "all-time low", was sadly the last real flash of inspiration Bowie would have in years, in terms of creating an image which could carry an entire album. The shocking murder of friend John Lennon in 1980 is widely believed to be one reason why the constant chopping and changing of personas came to an abrupt end at this point, for a long time at least.

Yet after 1983's "Let's Dance" (rarely seen by Bowie fans as his best work, yet certainly a great starting point with its swinging, smooth R&B style and Niles Rodgers production) this safety-first approach did away with the inventive visual approach in favour of ambitious pop video directors forcing David to 'ham up'. The front cover even had in the unlikely guise of a boxer. Suddenly, there was no genuine character for fans to follow, no clear identity for them to pursue. All he represented on this evidence - which is born up in many of his eighties videos - is a successful, sharp-dressing pop star, throwing the odd moment of surrealism to catch the eye. Suddenly, he looks more pretentious than ever before, and not endearingly so.

The following two works saw relative commercial success, but critical backlash, as Bowie's music became more and more dominated by safe and unspectacular session musicians, and less commitment and involvement from the man himself. Endless cover versions and bland MOR rock songs appeared, both of little merit. And from this came the worrying proof that he had lost his touch on stage, in terms of dramatic presentation. The Glass Spider Tour of 1987, which took as its name and basis one of the more bizarre Bowie songs of the eighties (though far from being his worst), is seen as one of rock's great follies, never mind David's. With a sixty-foot arachnid behind him, no basic stage concept and not even any coherent impact in the running order, it was savaged by the critics both at the time and in subsequent surveys. The red-suited, long-haired Bowie looked like more like a Butlin's holiday camp entertainer than androgynous alien, and his singing "Space Oddity" from up in the heavens on wires smacked of the worst sort of clichéd eighties showmanship. He had abandoned his most adventurous audience.

To try and resolve the situation, he created Tin Machine, a brutal four-piece garage band with a left-wing political angle. This was an astonishing move for Bowie and about as unexpected as he had ever been, with memories of his fascist statements and image in the mid-seventies not yet forgotten. Ultimately, the Tin Machine project would be known as a flop, yet it is curious how Bowie used their macho, suited image as a way of re-finding his own love of images. Bearded, sharp-suited and with a cigarette on permanent standby, the suddenly deep-voiced singer cut an incongruous sight, but it is a reinvention which he has never regretted.

It was in the late eighties, in fact, where his love of art - always present - began to become almost as important to him as his musical career. He would often wax lyrical on the likes of Jackson Pollock, and Reeves Gabrels, his guitarist in Tin Machine, would have a similar outlook. There is some doubt over how much good Gabrels has been to Bowie as a musical collaborator over the next decade and more - he co-wrote many songs with his employer, and some of them have not been "the Dame's best. However, he certainly 'clicked' with Bowie, sharing with him, as well as his love of art, the poseur's eccentric sense of humour.

Bowie would befriend the likes of Damien Hurst, too (of the sheep in the tank of formaldehyde notoriety), and after the Tin Machine project had folded, and he had gone back to solo work, he would be influenced enough by the brutal new generation of artists to record a hugely ambitious work called 1. Outside. This would see Bowie provide a self-portrait as the cover of the work, and in a strange way it is indicative of the contents too, with its abstract swirls of colour and suggestions of art dominating all else.

A non-linear conceptual work on an 'art crime', it showed all the excess Bowie could go to, this time in the world of painters and creators of 'living art'. A grim booklet shows all kinds of disembowelments, as a young girl falls victim to a mysterious killer. The album sees Bowie explode into an absolute multitude of personas, as if making up for lost time. Amid a strange, dense sound mix - with Garson and Gabrels back in particular quantity - this proposed first in a series features its creator in the roles of the ill-fated girl, the disturbed and disturbing Ramona A. Stone, the lonely old man Algeria Touchshriek, the framed youth Leon Blank, investigator Nathan Adler and even the minotaur.

Perhaps this bizarre incident showed that the chameleon had once again shed the skin of the past, and moved on. He now had the confidence not only to face the more reactionary members of the music press with his decisions to put the theatre and art he loved back into his music career, but to again tackle different musical genres in subsequent works - jungle/drum and bass in Earthling, indie-style rock in "hours...". Recent successes with the mature Heathen and the brash Reality have cemented his revival, though Bowie's recent heart problem in Germany last year shows that even the Thin White Duke is mortal...

For while on his "Hurricane" tour, at a festival in Scheessel in North West Germany in June 04, Bowie finally did fall to earth. A suspected pinched nerve in his shoulder turned out to be an acutely-blocked artery, and an emergency operation known as an angioplasty was carried out. 11 European dates, would be cancelled, keeping the star out of live performance for the whole of July. Afterwards, however, he seemed as flippant as he was disappointed, and while he bemoaned the curtailing of a tour he had characteristically enjoyed, he went on to say of the life-threatening experience, "I won't be writing a song about this one".


Will there ever be a musician with the skill of presentation of Bowie in the future? One who is able to create an on-record and on-stage personality, and to keep the myth intact by saying enough - and just enough - editing his comments to the media as brilliantly as he did? One has to think of those who have said too much, from the doomed Jobriath to Gary Numan, who after inventing a new, post-punk image as a cold, robotic character, rather blew his considerable success by becoming 'uncool'. Though Numan would reinvent himself too, from android 'Friend'; to the last electrician, 'The Sparkle'; to the stoical 'Warrior' and beyond, he had given the savage music press too much of himself, and destroyed the credibility of his on-stage characters and stage effects - such as the clever minimalist lighting also used by Bowie as the Thin White Duke. Only recently has the worthy Numan become fashionable, with his new techno-industrial, gothic image, stopping the papers' attention being centred on his praise of Margaret Thatcher and love of cars and planes, rather than on his shows and work.

The 'New Wave' bands, appearing in the rather conservative punk era, were unable to be too ambitious on stage, saving any of their possible pretensions for record instead - see Ultravox's Rage In Eden for their ideas of a possible show that would have matched one of their influence's biggest efforts. Pink Floyd, meanwhile, were destroyed by the ever-inflating ego of creative leader Roger Waters, and when he left the band their ever-spectacular shows were reduced to eye-catching technology, celebrating prior achievements more than anything else.

Even U2, with their phenomenally-successful career and stage shows, have tended to package their on-stage presentation as a separate entity to their actual work, which tends to lack any concept or lead 'character'. Bono does like to dress up as the devil on stage, but as yet his band's more political stance means that there is an earnestness about the band's character that sets them apart from Bowie's more 'me'-centred approach. No-one would deny that the Irish four-piece's enduring character is testament to their similar ability to musically reinvent themselves with great and consistent results, yet their self-parodying style also puts them in a different bracket to the boy who was so desperate to escape the 'normalness' of suburbia. So with Michael Jackson's showbiz style on-stage more contrived and two-dimensional than his now less-than-private life, with the possible exception of Madonna, who has rehashed herself in a multitude of female roles - the virgin, the whore, the diva, the eastern princess - is there anyone left who can pick up the baton left by Bowie, should he leave us or call it a day?

It's more likely that he will remain unique. 'Unique' in as much as his virile imagination and strong stage presence were matched by a combination of unlikely factors in his upbringing and life that brought such showmanship to the stage, and drama onto his records. The schizophrenia of brother Terry - whom Bowie mentioned again in "Jump They Say" from 1993 - this time his tragic suicide in 1985. The early death of his father, who had offered David notable support prior to his breakthrough. The creation of whole new musical genres that he had to then shake-off to avoid being stereotyped - glam-rock most notably, which ensnared other pioneers such as Bolan.

Also notable was his ability to befriend other idols that made their own path in the profession, such as particularly Iggy, and for a time, Lou Reed, Mott the Hoople, and many others since, as diverse as drum-and-bass pioneer Goldie and Noel Gallagher from Oasis. The difference is that for every image they created that became something of a millstone around their necks - Iggy's half-naked wildcat, Reed's leather-coated machismo/gay clone, Bolan's 'bopping elf' - Bowie was prepared to literally 'become' different people for the sake of the show, and his work. That meant that there was never too much self-conscious swaggering - with the possible exception of his outrageously gay video and performance of "Boys Keep Swinging", partly in drag - and his much-loved English tradition of stagecraft meant even his occasional hammy excesses - such as singing "Cracked Actor" to a 'Yorick'-style skull on stage - could be tolerated.

He remains a one-off, as much as there will ever be. At once sociable and alienated, popular with fellow musicians yet separate from them, cheerily-familiar and friendly in interviews now but reluctant to give away too much of the 'real' Bowie (witness his refusal to get involved in virtually any biography, particularly with reference to Terry and his family) his fast-moving and fertile mind will always unearth something new. From increasingly imaginative re-workings of classic material, one never knows with Bowie when his next album will create an on-stage (or 'in-mind') experience that will break totally new ground imaginatively. And at a time in his career when he could easily be happy to sit in a pension-building artistic cul-de-sac, this innovative approach can only be applauded, and - for my money - should be.

- Complete Guide To The Music Of David Bowie by David Buckley.
- The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg.
- MOJO Special Limited Edition. "Bowie - Loving The Alien."
- Sounds - December 25th 1971 (Steve Peacock).
- Disc - May 11th, 1974.

Laurence Buxton