Here begins yet another series of posts here at Ground Control. In my Roots of the Indie Tree posts I will feature artists who were instrumental in getting the indie movement where the indie movement is today. Without these artists there would be no indie music and that would make old Zak here a sad panda. Here goes.
I’m going to kick this series off with an artist who obviously means a whole hell of a lot to me. One of my personal “Heroes”(you see what I did there?), man of many musical identities, and the namesake to my humble blog, the great and matchless David Bowie.
Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, whatever you choose to call him, Bowie is nothing short of a musical genius. His over 40 year career has spawned legendary albums and just as legendary ever-changing personas. With each changing persona came a brand new musical style, each one more spectacular than the last. To be asked to describe Bowie’s musical career is like being asked to describe the surface of a bowling ball as it careens toward it’s ten ill-fated targets. It’s quite a daunting task.
First there was regular Bowie from the late 60’s and early 70’s with hits like the iconic “Space Oddity”, “Changes”, and “The Man Who Sold the World”, the title track to his 2nd LP which was later covered by Nirvana on their MTV Unplugged album. At this point in Bowie’s career his songs took more from the psychedelic and folk genres. These were very accessible times for Bowie, which helped launch his career and made him a star.
With a handful of successful albums under his belt, Bowie decided to change gears and don his glam rock hat. In June of 1972 the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars threw him into the role of cult phenomenon. The subsequent tour included flashy stage performances as Bowie’s androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust. He went on stage as his red-haired, pale-faced, cross-dressing counterpart at sold out venue after sold out venue and blew away droves of crazed fans. The Stardust shows inspired many crazy stage acts today including Of Montreal and The Flaming Lips. Hell, even Lady Ga Ga wouldn’t be where she is today without this bedazzled son of a bitch and his screw down hair-do.
Like so many artists before and after him, Bowie began to descend into a drug induced despair. Cocaine consumed him. He became emaciated and often times didn’t know what was happening around him. His next album 1976’s Station To Station, though spectacular and critically acclaimed, Bowie admittedly doesn’t even remember recording. The album served as a transition between his early rock and roll sound and his new electronic sound inspired by bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!. It charted very well in America and Europe alike. As a matter of fact, Station To Station remains the highest selling Bowie album in America. Bowie created his Thin White Duke persona during this period. The Duke was a nasty, though well dressed beast who belted out songs about love while remaining a cold emotionless shell of a man.
Bowie soon realized that The Thin White Duke was snorting far too many thin white lines and decided to move to West Berlin and start fresh. While cleaning up his act he teamed up with musician Brian Eno who would go on to produce The Talking Heads and U2 among others. Not to mention his own career both with Roxy Music and as a solo act. Together they created my personal favorite bodies of work from Bowie, The Berlin Trilogy. The trilogy consists of Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger and was co-produced by Bowie himself and Tony Visconti. The first two albums consisted of one side of experimental rock and one side of even more experimental ambient music. Lodger, however, was entirely rock. These albums have inspired a longer list of artists than I care to type. Their influences are especially evident in the music of the chill wave genre.
In the 80’s, Bowie gained even more popularity with the release of albums like Scary Monsters and Let’s Dance. He brought back the action-man Major Tom in “Ashes to Ashes” and worked with guitarists like King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and Stevie Ray Vaughan. In the 90’s Bowie started writing electronic music akin to the music of artists like Prodigy and Nine Inch Nails.
There aren’t many artists in the independent scene that don’t accredit David Bowie with forming their sound in one way or another. His mark is forever imprinted on the face of music and no force could possibly remove it. He is not only an idol of mine but of countless artists and audiences alike. He is indeed a crucial root of the indie tree.