Yesterday was David Bowie’s 65th birthday! And while we assume that it’s nothing but happy birthdays when you happen to be David Bowie, we decided to take a second to wish our musical hero good tidings. One of the most documented pop-stars of the 70s, 80s, and forever, Mr. Bowie has a huge swath of YouTube dedicated to his near-constant alterations in musical and sartorial style. It’s one of that site’s most rewarding and time-murdering single-artists rabbit holes to get lost in.
For your viewing pleasure, I’ve chosen some celebratory moments from the Thin White Duke to-date, for he is, indeed, a jolly good fellow.
(Old Grey Whistle Test, 1972)
Here’s Bowie, fresh-faced and alligator-skin jump-suited, singing a stripped-down and totally astonishing version of “Five Years” from the Ziggy Stardust album, out that year. Though the glitter-soaked androgyny is still what everyone takes away from this period, his flamboyance is so casual here that you’re mainly struck by his pretty face and otherworldly voice. And great, weird phrasing the likes of which our current crop of rock stars and hedonists don’t approach very often. “Drinking milkshakes cold and long.” Sigh. (With the dire predictions and the big finish, it makes perfect sense that Arcade Fire pull this one out as a cover, now and again.)
Interview with Dick Cavett, 1974
The world was still around five years later, as it turned out. But, It only took two years, actually, for all that vim and vigor to drain away and “cocaine psychosis” to shrivel our man down to size (though his greatest artistic period was just coming into bloom). Fiddling with his cane manically, sniffling SO loud, nervous energy threatening to crack him in half—if an interview like this happened today, it’d be full-blown “tiger blood” style, Internet meme meltdown.
“Golden Years” (+ awkward interview)
(Soul Train, 1975)
Even less comfortable, somehow, is this 1975 appearance on Soul Train. Funky enough to be one of the first white performers invited on the program, the ultra-gaunt Mr. Bowie pantomimes “Golden Years” from his secret best album, Station to Station, kind of resembling Bradford Cox on the cover of Parallax. More compelling than the dead-eyed zombie cabaret is Bowie bashfully and intensely mumbling through some promotion for his cerebral sci-fi art-film The Man Who Fell to Earth with Don Cornelius, before establishing a real breezy rapport with the studio audience.
David Bowie and Cher (or maybe a Golem?) – “Young Americans (medley)”
(The Cher Show, 1975)
This is the worst thing that cocaine made David Bowie do.
Iggy Pop (w/ David Bowie) – “Funtime”
(Dinah Shore Show, 1977)
Despite coming pretty aggressively unhinged, Bowie still had the presence of mind to hand-hold Iggy Pop through his own solo creative peak around this same time. He even gave him star-powered backing on the day-time talk show circuit. Nothing like a shirtless, spasming Iggy to make you seem perfectly reasonable. (A nicely punk way to cash in a favor chip, after doing a karate segment on Dinah! with Henry Winkler the year before.)
Back in fighting form by 1978 and still soaring through his best Berlin work, here is a confusingly dressed Bowie out-funking the Talking Heads on West German television program Musikladen. Adrian Belew is good at guitar, bad at shirts.
Commercial for Lodger
In which we get depressed thinking about a time in which standoffish art-rock records like 1979’s Lodger were still moneymaking products in and of themselves that demanded their own dedicated advertising spots. No sitting around, hoping to be in the background of a new iPod commercial for Bowie. (“DJ” the single featured here, would actually be kind of a wry choice for that though, now that we think about it.)
(Serious Moonlight Tour, 1983)
“Alas, poor Eno, I knew him well.” The 80s were much less awesome for Bowie than the 70s.
David Bowie (w/ Robert Smith) – “Quicksand”
(Madison Square Garden, 1997)
Finally, in a fittingly media-aware touch, we celebrate Bowie’s birthday with a clip of Bowie celebrating his birthday, 15 years ago today in a star-studded Madison Square Garden concert. Looking really handsome, if a little Trent Reznor-inspired, at 50. Using the Iggy Pop method of looking better than your onstage cohort, he accentuates his good health here by enlisting The Cure’s Robert Smith to sing on swell and spacey Hunky Dory ballad, “Quicksand”. Robert Smith looks like a smudged Kathy cartoon.