Alexander Nemenov, AFP It's being called the first music video made in space.…
- Posted on Aug 5th 2011 3:00PM by David Chiu
Steve Wood/Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Author Paul Trynka, a former editor-in-chief at Mojo magazine, touches on that period and many other aspects of Bowie's life and career in a newly published biography, 'David Bowie: Starman.' In recounting 1971, Trynka mentions the singer's visit to America, where Bowie heard the Stooges for the first time and met the Velvet Underground's Doug Yule, whom he mistakenly thought was Lou Reed. More importantly, Bowie reinvented himself as a musician when he came back to the UK.
"His head was full of ideas," says Trynka. "He just sat in a room and learned how to play piano from scratch. To me I think that year represents the foundation of the David Bowie we know. He turned into a really talented songwriter [through] hard work, working the piano with a kind of obsessiveness. And when he did that, he learned how to write songs in a completely different way. Here is a guy who in 1971 turned himself from an average or catchy songwriter into a brilliant one."
It was also during this period that Bowie was working on songs, such as 'Moonage Daydream' and 'Hang on to Yourself,' that would appear on Bowie's next album 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars.' Not only musically, but Bowie was also developing the concept of the Ziggy Stardust character in 1971.
"He was very self-deprecating about himself as a songwriter," says Trynka, "very aware of his own limitation, very aware that he had to get to a higher plane of creativity. I think he did actually have a sense of destiny. We should just say the standard rock star's narcissism, but it's not that because wanted to do something genuinely new. All the surroundings were there -- he had an amazing ability to find people to help him on his mission."
For the 'Starman' book, Trynka discovered more details about Bowie's early life. "He was temporarily a member of the Small Faces," he says. "That in itself showed what a genius he had for meeting the right kind of people, making friends and influencing people. This was one of the biggest '60s bands. But he wasn't good enough, he was too derivative, and they threw him out of the band. That alone shines a new light on how he became the person he was."
Another notable aspect discussed in 'Starman' was the dark period in Bowie's life during the mid '70s that was marked by his cocaine use and his departure from the management company of Tony Defries, who had possession of Bowie's recordings.
"It was kind of spine-chilling," Trynka says of that time. "What struck me was actually how lonely he was a lot of the time ... by himself, watching TV for 48 hours in one sitting. I do believe that it was something close to a breakdown, because here's a man who was always obsessed with making this unique body of work and he realized Defries owned everything. Suddenly the one thing that he has fought for was snatched from him and owned by somebody else -- he was just an employee. I think that it's a very profound crisis for that person in particular to deal with."
A good portion of 'Starman' also delves into the relationship between Bowie and Iggy Pop. "The friendship was quite at the core of the book," says Trynka, "because that shows the two of them in their best light, and it shows Bowie's selflessness. On many levels, they were very similar guys. They actually really had similar qualities [such as] fantastic people skills. They're both singers, they're both narcissists. David genuinely wanted the best for Iggy. I don't think people get that.
"When I was a kid, I thought David was exploiting Iggy, and now I think he gave him a lot of his best songs. I can't think of many examples of that kind of generosity ... when he gave him songs like 'Nightclubbing.' Certainly David was looking out for number one a fair amount of time, but again there's a lot of selflessness there and it just makes him a far more interesting person to have all these contradictory aspects of his character."
These days, Bowie keeps a very low profile as there has not been a new studio album from him since 2003's 'Reality.' Has he retired from the music scene? "My heart says he'll come back," says Trynka, "[but] my head says he's likely not to. I think he would only come back if he thinks he could deliver something that will be seismic. If you pop back into the stage, it's got to be something that has a big explosion and lots of flashes. It would be a bit of a miracle if he comes back, but miracles do happen."
As for what he hopes people will come away from 'Starman,' Trynka explains: "It's history that shaped today's cultural landscape, it's still vital. For me, how this happened is important as a tool to understand the world in which we live today, the sound we hear on the street or the fashions that we look at. [Bowie's] influence is still pervasive. It's an important life and a crucial one, and I want people to think about the nature of creativity and how he made himself into this amazing creative force."