David Bowie’s journey from Croydon to the stars

By - Tuesday 12th January, 2016

Max Shirley explores the life of the recently deceased icon, David Bowie

David Bowie was one of the most influential artists of his time. His pure genius led to the invention of many-a-persona and the revitalisation of the music industry as a whole. He began in space with Ziggy Stardust and ended as an artistic rocker, fallen, in Blackstar.

David Bowie broke all possible boundaries. He defied all stereotypes, refusing to disappear into the crowd. The world was his creative playground, music, fashion and sexuality were just material items that helped him express who he really was.

“I had to resign myself, many years ago, that I’m not too articulate when it comes to explaining how I feel about things. But my music does it for me, it really does”

Bowie was born David Robert Jones to Margaret Mary and Haywood Stenton Jones on the 8th January 1947, Brixton London. In 1953 his family moved to the London borough of Bromley, bordering onto Croydon.

David Bowie studied art, music and design at Croydon School of Art and Tim Strange, its current head, said it was a “very sad day” when the college learned of his death. He noted him as an ‘illustrious alumni” and labelled him an “inspiration for students and staff”, stating that Bowie was “one of the few exceptionally creative [artists]“, who explored and pushed the boundaries of music.

Croydon loves Bowie more than he loved it

David Bowie had strong views about Croydon, though. During an interview in 1999 he proclaimed: “It was my nemesis, I hated Croydon with a real vengeance. It represented everything I didn’t want in my life, everything I wanted to get away from. I think it’s the most derogatory thing I can say about somebody or something: God, it’s so fucking Croydon!” A concrete jungle we may be, but Croydon has definitely evolved since the ’90s. Today Croydon loves Bowie more than he loved it.

Bowie formed his first band at the age of 15, called the Konrads, they played locally at youth gatherings and weddings. Six bands later Bowie re-invented himself to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees. April 1967 saw the release of his first solo single ‘The Laughing Gnome’, which failed to see the charts. Six weeks later his debut album, David Bowie, surfaced but, much like his single, never saw the light of the charts. It was his last release for two years.

His second album, Space Oddity, aroused more than just a small interest in Europe. The narrative of Major Tom, orbiting Earth alone, was an instant hit, reaching the charts in 1969, the year of the moon landing. It predicted the fascination that would surround astronauts from that moment on, with lines such as “the papers want to know whose shirts you wear” and “planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.”

David Bowie’s fourth album, Hunky Dory, is arguably his first great work and the foundation for things to come. The album included timeless titles such as the chilling ‘Life on Mars?‘. To highlight another small scene from his music career, 1977 saw the release of the phenomenal song ‘Heroes‘. It expresses the limitations that we all have, but reminds us that “we can be heroes”.

“I wanted to prove the sustaining power of music”

David Bowie was an actor as well as a musician, appearing on Broadway in 1980 as the Elephant Man. Among all his considerable works sits one that resonates with me, Labyrinth, a story that I can still recall from my younger years. Bowie plays the heinous character of Jareth, the goblin king, who captures the baby brother of Sarah, played by Jennifer Connelly. The cheery song ‘Magic Dance‘ is enough to bring a smile to any fan’s face.

Blackstar was his last and most recent album released on his sixty-ninth birthday, 8th January 2016. ‘Lazarus‘, a song from the critically acclaimed Blackstar, started with the lyrics: “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. The song is his goodbye, a parting gift for all of his fans.

David Bowie died on 10th January 2016 after suffering from an unspecified type of cancer for eighteen months. As he said in his final goodbye: “You know, I’ll be free. Just like that bluebird”.

Max Shirley

Max Shirley

Max recently finished Sixth Form at a local independent school and will be starting an English Literature degree in the new academic year. Max is a copy-editor at a Croydon-based start-up. Twitter: @max_shirley_

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  • Sean Creighton

    When I was at University I watched Joe Cocker rehearse for the record he made for the Rag Week Committee that helped launch his career. I was blown away; here was an undiscovered talent. University dances were full of talented bands and solo performers. But when I first heard Space Oddity on the Union bar jukebox I sensed that Bowie was a unique talent to be watched. It remains my favourite of his songs.

    • Max Shirley

      That is amazing, you had the chance to watch Joe Cocker! David Bowie was and always will be a spectacular artist – his songs are among the favourites of many people, from all different cultures and backgrounds.