As 1999 wound to a close, David Bowie found himself being honored multiple times for his substantial contributions to 20th century pop music. In his native England, the readers of the Sun newspaper voted him the biggest music star of the last 100 years. In a Q magazine poll, he was rated the sixth greatest star of the century.
Bowie has always been synonymous with innovative and eclectic music. The glam-rock of "Watch That Man," the Philadelphia soul of "Young Americans," the electronic rock of "Heroes" and the funky-pop of "Let's Dance" represent a handful of unforgettable elements in his stylistically broad oeuvre.
The chameleon-like figure has also garnered respect by daring to lead in non-musical ways. Recognizing the power of public image well before the emergence of Madonna, Bowie brought a theatrical sensibility to rock in the '70s with his Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke personas. He is also one of the few pop artists to win critical respect as an actor on stage and on screen. (He received strong reviews for his lead role in the stage version of The Elephant Man in the early '80s.)
So it's hardly surprising to find the intellectual Bowie, at the dawn of the new millennium, looking ahead to the future rather than back on his own illustrious career. Perhaps more than any other pop artist, he has embraced modern technology with open arms. Two years ago he launched the world's first artist-created Internet service provider, BowieNet. Then, in 1999, he started his own David Bowie Radio Network on the Rolling Stone Radio web site.
Bowie says he will forgo touring for the next two years so that he can devote his time to more challenging endeavors, including bringing his Ziggy Stardust character to separate film, theater and Internet projects. He also wants to fulfill a long-time goal of writing music for the theatre.
Interestingly enough, Bowie's most recent album hours is a fairly conventional pop-rock offering, compared to his two previous works, 1997's electronica effort, Earthling, and 1995's ambient oriented Outside. Bowie actually began writing the music for hours at the behest of a video game maker. Eight songs from hours are featured during the course of the CD-ROM game, "Ommikron: The Nomad Soul."
The producers of the CD-ROM initially requested that Bowie write the type of industrial music common to such youth-marketed projects. Of course, that would have been far too predictable a path to take for an artist of Bowie's sensibilities.
"I said, 'I much prefer to treat it like a film score. There's so much industrial sound on (CD-ROM) games, why not try something different?' " Bowie told a journalist last fall. "So I took a very traditional approach. I wanted to widen the way a game could feel, to imbue the game with some sort of emotional element."