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The Artistry of Ziggy Stardust in 'David Bowie: Finding Fame'
August 9, 2019  | By David Hinckley
 


Rock ‘n’ roll history is littered with the frustrating stories of artists who were musically brilliant and almost comically inept in navigating the other parts of the music business.

The name David Bowie will never appear in those stories. Bowie was as smart about public relations, marketing, and finances as he was innovative with his ever-morphing music.

David Bowie: Finding Fame, a documentary on the early years of Bowie’s career, premieres at 9 p.m. ET Friday on Showtime and could be required viewing for any young artist who wants to, as they say these days, build a brand.

Produced and directed by Francis Whately as the third and final part of his Bowie biographical trilogy, Finding Fame takes Bowie up to 1973, when he dramatically killed off Ziggy Stardust, the creation that took him from success to stardom.

Since Bowie died in early 2016, Finding Fame includes his voice only in vintage clips and interviews. We do get new interviews with former girlfriends, members of his band and various friends, as well as clips from TV appearances in the early 1970s.

The upward trajectory of those years, looking back, seems remarkably linear and logical.

Like virtually every other rock ‘n’ roller ever, Bowie started in a series of local bands that didn’t go much of anywhere. Nine of them in all, starting at the dawn of the 1960s, well before it was cool or promising to be a British rocker. 

At first he was Davie or Davy Jones, his real name, a kid who was born in Brixton and grew up in the South London suburb of Bromley.

From the beginning, though, he explains in vintage clips, he envisioned a career in which he created a series of personae, stage characters with their own stories. In September of 1965 he became David Bowie, who in a sense was the first of those characters, and within a couple of years he had a breakthrough with Starman.

Along the way he had made a series of moves he considered necessary “to avoid being humdrum,” like wearing female makeup on stage, dying his hair and dressing the band in glam costumes.

Bowie wasn’t the first to go there. Look at pictures of the early Elvis Presley sometime, or consider Little Richard. But he was a pioneer in demonstrating the possibilities of that look, and within a few years it commanded its own sizeable corner of the rock world.

All of his early work came together, his friends say now, in Ziggy Stardust. But what’s equally significant about Ziggy, they quickly add, is that once Bowie had ridden him to the top, he moved on. He could have played Ziggy for year. He didn’t. He had other characters he wanted to explore, and while Finding Fame ends with the demise of Ziggy Stardust, viewers know that’s just what he did.

Finding Fame 
will frustrate fans who want more insight into Bowie’s off-stage life, which has been the subject of considerable writing and speculation over the years.
Here there is only the occasional incidental factoid, like Bowie saying his parents were cold and distant. School friends say he was an unusually curious child who was interested in everything and seemed to absorb things that flew right past most pre-teens.
We get a short segment on Haddon Hall, the quasi-commune where Bowie lived for a time with band members and his best-known partner, Angie (the same one who inspired a Rolling Stones hit).

What we don’t get, for instance, is any exploration of Bowie’s musical influences. The early years are always impressionable, and we get little sense of what he was hearing.
 
No, Whately sticks to what he clearly considers the more compelling story, about how David Bowie made himself into a rock ‘n’ roll star where 10,000 other kids with the same dream fell by the wayside.

It’s a tribute to persistence as well as vision and skill. You don’t have to like David Bowie’s music to admire his song.
 
 
 
 
 
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