Any kid that grew up in the 1970s with dreams of becoming the next guitar hero had to start somewhere – usually playing a cheap acoustic model and trying to master the Mel Bay chord chart. The exciting part came when your slightly more advanced friends – and fellow budding guitarists – passed along a few iconic rock and roll licks: the opening riff to Chuck Berry’s "Johnny B. Goode," the bassline to Deep Purple’s "Smoke on the Water" and that ringing D chord hammer-on flourish in David Bowie’s "Ziggy Stardust." These were the ones that you played endlessly, and especially enthusiastically if the song happened to come on the radio.
David Bowie, who opened his first U.S. tour in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 22, 1972, marks another milestone today with his first new release in a decade, "Where are We Now?," as he also celebrates his 66th birthday. The song's title gave me pause, prompting me to wonder where rock and roll would be without David Bowie.
For decades, Bowie's music has challenged and captivated fans and critics alike. Sending bold messages through the airwaves, Bowie has encouraged listeners to explore who they were and where they were going. "When David Bowie came along, well, rock and roll needed a shot in the arm, and when I first saw him, it was a shock and yet it was very familiar," remarked the Talking Heads' David Byrne, when he inducted Bowie into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996."It was very necessary. It was something that was needed. It was essential. And like all rock and roll, it was tasteless, it was glamorous, it was perverse, it was fun, it was crass, it was sexy, it was confusing."
I still remember first hearing the power chords of "Queen Bitch," the Sigma Sound–soul of "Young Americans," the rolling New Orleans–style piano that somehow hints at techno in "TVC 15," the hip Robert Zimmerman reference in "Song for Bob Dylan" – the list goes on. Bowie didn’t just alter the sound of rock; he shaped the way it looked, and he expanded what it could achieve as a medium. In doing so, he inspired millions.
The flamboyant characters Bowie created, especially in the Seventies, operated in tandem with his musical aesthetic in aiming to shock and awaken the senses. The Rock Hall is home to a collection of Bowie costumes that illustrates the performer's bold and varied personas through the years – from the 1972 Freddie Burretti–designed outfit Bowie wore during the day while on tour promoting his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to the outfit he wore on stage during his A Reality Tour in 2003. The exhibit is a must-see for Bowie fans.
Happy Birthday David Jones, David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, The Man Who Fell to Earth.