There’s a delightful irony in the fact that David Bowie’s most recent album is called Reality . After all, he’s the artist who came to fame in the early 1970s as the master of many musical guises such as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke. Of course, from the hindsight of a quarter-century later, we all know that whatever form the artist or his music takes, he remains David Bowie — dynamic, challenging, fascinating, imaginative and always pushing the envelope of his own artistry and the state of popular music in general.
And the reality of David Bowie is that he is one of the major pop music artists — with a capital “A” — of our time. Voted “the most influential artist of all time” by England’s New Musical Express , he has sold millions of records, appeared as an actor on the screen and Stage, and produced such other notable artists as Lou Reed, Mott The Hoople and Iggy Pop, to name some but hardly all of his varied accomplishments. As a measure of his impact on contemporary music, he was joined at Madison Square Garden in 1997 for a 50th birthday celebration by such other artists as Reed, Sonic Youth, Robert Smith of the Cure, Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters and Frank Black of the Pixies. And then, of course, there are his songs: landmark numbers such as “Changes,” “Fame,” “Young Americans,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Let’s Dance,” “Heroes,” “Golden Years,” and more.
Born David Jones in the Brixton section of London, he picked up the saxophone as a teen due to his interest in jazz and then played with a succession of rock and pop bands before emerging in his own right as David Bowie in 1969 with the U.K hit. “Space Oddity.” On albums like The Man Who Sold The World , Hunky Dory , TheRise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars , Aladdin Sane , Pin-Ups and Diamond Dogs , Bowie took the nascent glam and metal movements to their wildest extremes, matched by some of rock’s most theatrical and incendiary stage shows. With 1975’s Young Americans , he took a left turn into American soul music, and scored his first #1 U.S. single with the title song. Bowie again changed tack with the modernist sound of Low and Heroes , and then conquered dance music on Let’s Dance in 1983.
Since then, Bowie has continued to stay at the cutting edge with a variety of albums, bands and tours, reigning as an elder statesman of modern rock and becoming one of the first major musical artists to pioneer an internet presence. For 2003’s Reality , his 26 th album, “I said to myself that I would just do a collection of songs that I was writing at the time,” says Bowie “A collection of songs with no through line, no undercurrent of any kind of narrative, no concept of tying it all together.” Nonetheless, it was an album that still reflected his continuing diversity and innovation.
Married to supermodel Iman, Bowie was in the midst of a 2004 world tour when, first, a pinched nerve and then, later, emergency heart surgery, caused him to cancel remaining dates. Now recovering, David Bowie will no doubt return to the public eye soon to continue to create more of the visionary artistry that has made him a man who has changed the musical world.