2:58pm

Sat July 30, 2011
Author Interviews

'Starman' Tracks David Bowie's Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

The man we know as David Bowie has gone by many names: David Jones, the Thin White Duke and Ziggy Stardust, to name a few. But whether he's dressed in a metallic leather jumpsuit or a button-up and tie, David Bowie has dominated pop music.

Paul Trynka, former editor of the music magazine MOJO has chronicled the story of the man who influenced pop stars such as Lady Gaga and Madonna in his new book, David Bowie: Starman.

Meet David Jones

As a teenager, Bowie went by his given name, David Jones. He was in a series of pop bands before he broke into the mainstream in 1969 with the release of Space Oddity.

"The song was really inspired, more than anything, by going to see Kubrick's movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey," Trynka tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.

"Also, it was really typical of many elements of his career," he says. "It was a mix of kind of inspiration and marketing because he came across this song and then realized straight on that with the moonshot coming up it represented a terrific marketing opportunity."

Bowie used the event to speed up and market his new single.

Becoming Ziggy Stardust

Trynka says Bowie was always business-savvy, and his identity changes were as much planned as they were organic.

In the late '60s, Bowie adopted his most famous persona, Ziggy Stardust, and proclaimed he was gay to Melody Maker magazine.

"He knew exactly the power of those words, and he was also aware that this would propel him into the mainstream," Trynka says. "He was also pretty sincere. And in some ways, he was championing a lifestyle."

A Time For 'Heroes'

In the late 1970s and after a serious struggle with cocaine addiction, Bowie moved to Berlin. It was there that he teamed up with producer Brian Eno and wrote the album Heroes.

Trynka says Bowie had learned to express himself more simply by the time he was living in Germany, even improvising the lyrics to the title track.

"When those words ring out across a huge recording studio ... just near the Berlin Wall, that's the first time they've actually filtered into his brain," Trynka says. "There's a wonderful freshness there."

Only six years after Bowie released Heroes, he released the album Let's Dance. Trynka says the initial reception was poor.

"Let's Dance gets a lot of guilt by association because the music that came after it was really quite derivative and uninspired," Trynka says. "But Let's Dance as an album even stands up today because sonically it's so unique. It's very minimal, there's a fantastic beat to it."

The beat of the album's title track brought it to dance floors around the world, becoming Bowie's only single to reach number one on both sides of the Atlantic.

What Is Bowie Today?

For over a decade now, Bowie has shied away from the stage and the studio. Trynka says Bowie won't ever be forgotten or confined to the past.

His impact is probably bigger than Hendrix, Trynka says. "It's bigger than rock bands like Led Zeppelin because he's had an incredible influence on every level just in terms of the look of pop music, in terms of what we demand of our artists — that they do change and progress from album to album."

As time goes on, Trynka predicts Bowie's contribution to the world of music will only be more valued.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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