Saturday, January 16, 2016

Dan Haggerty R.I.P.

Dan Haggerty, best known for playing the lead role on the Seventies TV show The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, died on January 15 2015 at the age of 73. The cause was cancer of the spine.

Dan Haggerty was born on November 19 1941 in Pound, Wisconsin.  His parents separated when he was three years old and young Don Haggerty had a somewhat troubled childhood. He escaped from military school multiple times. His parents had wanted him to become a priest, so he was sent to a Franciscan seminary in Culver City, California. Rather than become a priest, Dan Haggerty took a job on a ranch that trained animals for movies and TV shows. Mr. Haggerty first worked as an animal trainer on films and later became a stuntman as well.

As an actor Dan Haggery's film debut was as Biff, one of the muscle men, in Muscle Beach Party in 1964. In the Sixties he appeared in the films Girl Happy (1965), Sail to Glory (1967), Easy Rider (1969), and Angels Die Hard (1970). He helped build motorcycles on Easy Rider and served as an animal trainer on The Wild Country (1970).

The early Seventies saw Dan Haggerty playing yet more bikers in such films as Chrome and Hot Leather (1971), Bury Me an Angel (1972), Pink Angels (1972), Sleazy Rider (1973), Superchick (1973), and Hex (1973). When the North Wind Blows (1974) marked a shift in his career. The film was a period piece dealing with an old fur trapper. While Mr. Haggerty did not play the lead, the movie was indicative of the path his career would take in the Seventies. Indeed, his next role would be the lead in the film The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (1974) . The movie centred on the historical figure James "Grizzly" Adams, a famous mountain man of the American West. The film proved successful and led to the similarly themed The Adventures of Frontier Fremont (1976) starring Dan Haggerty.

The success of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams led to the TV series of the same name, which debuted on NBC on March 2 1977. The series ran until March 22 1978. A Christmas themed TV movie, Once Upon a Starry Night, aired on December 19 1978. The series was followed by the TV movie The Capture of Grizzly Adams in 1982. The late Seventies saw Dan Haggerty appear in the TV movies Desperate Women, Terror Out of the Sky, and Condominium. He also appeared in an episode of CHiPs.

In the Eighties Dan Haggerty guest starred on the TV shows Charlie's Angels and The Love Boat. He appeared in such movies as Americana (1981), King of the Mountain (1981), Ladies Night (1983), Abducted (1986), Terror Night (1987), Elves (1989), One Man War (1990), and Repo Jake (1990).  On Americana he also served as an animal handler and a set decorator.

In the Nineties Dan Haggerty appeared in such films as Spirit of the Eagle (1991), Soldier's Fortune (1991), Love and Dynamite (1992), Abducted II: The Reunion (1995), The Little Patriot (1995), Grizzly Mountain (1997), Born Champion (1998), and Escape to Grizzly Mountain (2000). In the Teens he appeared in such films as An Ordinary Killer (2003), Big Stan (2007), Dead in 5 Heartbeats (2013), and Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013).

I have not seen either the movie The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams or the TV show it inspired since childhood. That having been said, I know I watched the TV series faithfully. I have no idea if I would like the TV show now or not, but I rather suspect I would still think Dan Haggerty was perfect for the role of Grizzly Adams. Not only did he look quite a bit like a mountain man (at least one who had been cleaned up), but he seemed to have a natural affinity for animals. Whether it was the bear Ben or the various raccoons, squirrels, and other animals on the show, Dan Haggery interacted as if it was perfectly natural. I rather suspect for many people who were kids in the late Seventies, Dan Haggerty will always be Grizzly Adams.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Angus Scrimm Passes On

Angus Scrimm, best known for playing the Tall Man in the Phantasm movies, died on January 9 at the age of 89.

Angus Scrimm was born Lawrence Guy in Kansas City, Kansas on August 19 1926. His interest in acting was sparked when he saw the 1929 version of The Virginian starring Gary Cooper. After graduating from high school he moved to Los Angeles where he studied acting at the University of Southern California.

Mr. Guy worked various jobs between acting gigs. He worked as a publicist for Los Angeles television station KTTV and wrote book reviews for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Later he wrote for TV Guide. Eventually he answered an ad in a newspaper for a music writer. This led to a job with Capitol Records where he wrote liner notes for various Capitol releases. Starting around in the Fifties he wrote liner notes under the name "Rory Guy" for such artists as Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Mae West, George Fields, and  Itzhak Perlman. Perhaps the most famous album for which Rory Guy wrote album notes was none other than Meet The Beatles. In 1974 Rory Guy won a Grammy for his liner notes for the album Korngold: The Classic Erich Wolfgang. His career writing liner notes continued well into the Nineties.

Lawrence Guy made his film debut in 1972 in Sweet Kill using the name "Rory Guy". He appeared in the films Scream Bloody Murder (1973) and Jim, the World's Greatest (1976) as "Rory Guy" before switching to his birth name of "Lawrence Guy" for the film A Piece of the Action (1977)  and guest appearances on the shows Quincy M.E., Project U.F.O., and Salvage One. It was in 1979 that he first appeared as The Tall Man in the cult classic Phantasm. It also marked the first time he used the stage name Angus Scrimm. He appeared  as "Lawrence Guy", in the 1980 movie Witches Brew.

In the Eighties Angus Scrimm reprised his role as The Tall Man in Phantasm II (1988). He appeared in the films The Lost Empire (1984)  Transylvania Twist (1989) as well as episodes of the TV show The Nutt House. He was billed as "Lawrence Guy" for the films First Strike (1985) and Chopping Mall (1986) and guest appearances on the shows The Wonderful World of Disney and Trapper John M.D.

Starting in the Nineties he was billed exclusively as "Angus Scrimm". He reprised his role as The "Tall Man" in Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) and Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998). He appeared in the films Subspecies (1991), Mindwarp (1992),  Munchie (1992), Deadfall (1993), Munchie Strikes Back (1994), Fatal Frames - Fotogrammi mortali (1996), and Bel Air (2000). He narrated the movie Wishmater (1997). He appeared in the television movie Vampirella and the TV show Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction.

In the Naughts Angus Scrimm appeared in the recurring role of Calvin McCullough on the TV show Alias. He guest starred on the TV shows FreakyLinks, The Nightmare Room, The Jersey, Coupling, and Masters of Horror. He appeared in the films Legend of the Phantom Rider (2002), The Off Season (2004), Satanic (2006), Robert and Theresa (2006), Automatons (2006), Red 71 (2008), I Sell the Dead (2008), Spaceman on Earth (2009), and Satan Hates You (2010).

In the Teens Angus Scrimm guest starred on the TV show Femme Fatales. He appeared in the films John Dies at the End (2012), The Trick Is the Treat (2013), Disciples (2014), and Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story (2015).  Perhaps fittingly his final film appearance will be in his most famous role, The Tall Man, in Phantasm: Ravager, set to be released later this year.

While he may not be as well known among the general public as Freddie Krueger or Jason, The Tall Man is one of the most iconic characters to emerge from horror movies in the late 20th Century.  In fact, I rather suspect if you asked horror movie connoisseurs to make a list of the most frightening characters from horror movies in the past forty years that The Tall Man would make the list. Much of this was due to Angus Scrimm's performance in the role. While it certainly helped that Mr. Scrimm stood six foot four and wore platform shoes that made him yet taller for he role, it was his performance in the role that made him so terrifying in the role. His tone of voice, his way of looking at people as if he was looking through them, and the way he carried himself suggested a very threatening alien menace. Compared to The Tall Man, Jason Voorhees might as well be a character from My Little Pony.

Of course, Angus Scrimm played many more roles than The Tall Man. In Jim the World's Greatest (the first film he made with Phantasm director Don Coscarelli) he played an abusive, alcoholic father. On the TV show Alias he played an upper-level operative of the criminal organisation SD-9. While he rarely played sympathetic roles, he did appear in a few. In the Wonderful World of Disney episode "Walt Disney: One Man's Dream" he appeared as Walt Disney's father Elias Disney

Here it must be also be noted that Angus Scrimm had a writing career before taking up acting. As Rory Guy he wrote liner notes for dozens of albums, including The Beatles' Meet The Beatles. Mr. Scrimm had considerable talent as a writer, even winning a Grammy for his work.

In real life Angus Scrimm was nothing like The Tall Man or the many villains he played over the years. At conventions those who met him always noted how nice he was and his clever sense of humour. He never took himself too seriously and he always had time for his fans. While Angus Scrimm was frightening as The Tall Man, in real life he was warm and friendly. Ultimately I am sure that is how many Phantasm fans will remember him, a man who was also a talented writer and a talented actor.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Late Great Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman, the beloved actor who played Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988), Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995), and Severus Snape in the "Harry Potter" movies, died today, January 14 2016 at the age of 69. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Alan Rickman was born on February 21 1946 in Action, London. His father died when he was only eight years old. His mother later remarried, but divorced young Mr. Rickman's stepfather only three years later. Alan Rickman won a scholarship to Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith. While at Latymer Upper School he appeared in plays, although he was not yet seriously considering acting as a career. He studied graphic design at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and later the Royal College of Art. He worked as a graphic designer for the Notting Hill Herald. After graduation he and some friends opened their own graphic design studio.

After three years Alan Rickman finally decided to go into acting. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1972 to 1974. During that time he supported himself as a dresser for Sir Nigel Hawthorne and Sir Ralph Richardson. After graduating from RADA Mr. Rickman toured with various regional repertory companies. In 1976 he appeared in a production of Ben Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 1978 he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, but he left after one year. In 1978 he made his television debut, playing Tybalt in a BBC production of Romeo & Juliet. In 1980 he appeared in a BBC adaptation of Thérèse Raquin and the sitcom Shelley.

The Eighties saw Alan Rickman's career take off. He would make his film debut in one of his best known roles. He played Hans Gruber in the classic action film Die Hard (1988). Die Hard would be a hit at the box office, raking in $83,008,852 in the United States alone. Since then Hans Gruber has come to be regarded as one of the all time greatest villains of the screen. He also appeared in the films The January Man (1989). Quigley Down Under (1990), and Truly Madly Deeply (1990). He appeared on stage as Valmont in a stage adaptation of the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The production found its way to Broadway in 1987, marking Alan Rickman's Broadway debut. He played Obadiah Slope in the BBC mini-series The Barchester Chronicles opposite Donald Pleasence as the Reverend Septimus Harding. He also appeared in the TV shows Smiley's People, Summer Season, Girls on Top, Theatre Night, and Screenplay.

The Nineties would be a busy decade for Alan Rickman when it came to film. He played Colonel Brandon in the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. He also appeared as Alexander Dane in the film Galaxy Quest (1999) and Metatron in the film Dogma (1999). He provided the voice of Joe in the animated film Help! I'm a Fish (2000). In the Nineties he also  appeared in the films Closet Land (1991), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Close My Eyes (1991), Bob Roberts (1992), Mesmer (1994), An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Michael Collins (1996), Judas Kiss (1998), and Dark Harbour (1998). He had a cameo in the film The Winter Guest (1997), which he also directed. He played  Grigori Rasputin the TV movie Rasputin. He guest starred on the TV show Fallen Angels.

The Naughts saw Alan Rickman play two of his best known roles. In 2001 he first played the role Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. He appeared in the role for the remaining six "Harry Potter" movies. In 2003 he appeared in the cult film Love Actually, playing a husband who was having a flirtation with his secretary. He also provided the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). In the Nineties he appeared in the films Blow Dry (2001), Play (2001), The Search for John Gissing (2001), Snow Cake (2006), Perfume (2006), Nobel Son (2007), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), and Bottle Shock (2008). He provided the voice of the Blue Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland (2010). On television he was a guest voice on the animated series King of the Hill and the animated series Back at the Barnyard. In 2002 he appeared on Broadway in a revival of Private Lives.

In the Teens Alan Rickman directed the film A Little Chaos (2014), in which he also appeared as King Louis XIV. He appeared in the films Gambit (2012), The Butler (2013), A Promise (2013), Dust (2013), and Eye in the Sky (2015). He once more provided the voice of the Blue Caterpillar, this time for Alice Through the Looking Glass (set to be released later this year). In 2011 he appeared on Broadway in Seminar.

There can be no doubt that Alan Rickman was one of the most phenomenally talented actors of our time. He is best known for the many villains he played over the years, but he also played a number of more sympathetic roles. Certainly among the best known of these is Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. Mr. Rickman captured Colonel Brandon as he was in the original novel--quiet, honourable, and sensitive, yet at the same time intensely romantic. It must also be pointed out that while Snape in the "Harry Potter" films was not always the most sympathetic character, in the end he was one of the good guys and had been all along. In Truly Madly Deeply  Alan Rickman played Jamie, a dead cellist who returns as a ghost to help his girlfriend cope with his death. He had a memorable turn as Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest, playing a Shakespearean actor whose most famous role is that of an alien in a cult sci-fi TV show.

Of course, for all the more sympathetic roles there can be no denying that Alan Rickman was best known for playing villains. Indeed, he had an impact as Hans Gruber in his film debut Die Hard that few established film actors would have. To this day Gruber remains one of the best remembered villains in recent memory. He was also memorable as Judge Turpin, the corrupt judge in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Whether as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or Elliot Marston in Quigley Down Under, Alan Rickman had a talent for playing villains.

That having been said, some of his best roles were neither good guys nor bad guys, but characters who were a little of both. It is hard to sympathise with Harry in Love Actually and yet in the end one cannot help but feel a bit sorry for him. P.L. O'Hara in An Awfully Big Adventure is essentially a good man, but one who is so disillusioned and traumatised by his life that he is ultimately irreparably damaged. Such roles would be difficult for most actors to play, and yet Alan Rickman made it look easy.

Here it must be noted that Alan Rickman was not simply a talented actor, but he was also a very nice man. His co-stars over the years, from Dame Helen Mirren to Kate Winslet noted his warmth and generosity. Daniel Radcliffe noted Mr. Rickman's loyalty, stating on various social media sites, "I'm pretty sure he came and saw everything I ever did on stage both in London and New York." It must also be pointed out that Alan Rickman supported several charities over the years, including Amnesty International, Book Aid International, the ONE Campaign, and Save the Children, among many others. As is often the case, the actors who play the best villains are often the kindest and nicest people around.

Ultimately Alan Rickman was an enormous talent who played a wide variety of roles throughout his career. His talent was such that he could say more with his eyes than most actors could with words .A subtle gesture from Alan Rickman could convey volumes. What is more, among his friends and co-stars he was known for his kindness, warmth, and generosity. In the end, while Alan Rickman was best known for playing villains, he was in reality a hero.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Late Great David Bowie: He Really Made the Grade

Legendary rock star and actor David Bowie died on January 10 2016 at the age of 69 after an 18 month battle with cancer. In a music career that spanned over fifty years he produced such hits as "Space Oddity", "Changes" "Fame", "Heroes", "Ashes to Ashes", and "Modern Love" and such classic albums as Hunky Dory (1971), The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), Aladdin Sane (1973), Diamond Dogs (1974), and "Heroes" (1977). His film career included such films as The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), The Hunger (1983), Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), Labyrinth (1986), and The Prestige (2006).

David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, London on January 8 1947. Until age six he attended Stockwell Infants School in nearby Stockwell. It was in 1953 that young Mr. Jones's family moved to Bromley, Kent. There he attended Burnt Ash Junior School. While at Burnt Ash Junior School David Jones proved to have an aptitude for playing the recorder and participated in the school choir. It was while he was attending Burnt Ash Junior School. that he developed an interest in American rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues acts, including Fats Domino, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Platters, Elvis Presley, and Little Richard.  He learned to play the ukulele and tea-chest bass, and later the piano, and participated in skiffle sessions with his friends.

Young Mr. Jones went from Burnt Ash Junior School on to Bromley Technical High School (now called Ravens Wood School) where he studied music, art, and design. He studied music under Owen Frampton, the father of another future rock star Peter Frampton. David Jones earned his only O-Level in a subject (music) under Owen Frampton and became friends with Peter Frampton. It was while he was at Bromley Technical High School that David Jones's half brother Terry Burns introduced him to modern jazz such as the music of Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. His interest in jazz led his mother to give him a plastic alto saxophone in 1961. The following year he would get a real saxophone. It was also while at Bromley Technical High School that David Jones got into a fight with George Underwood that ultimately resulted in damage to young Mr. Jones's left eye. Its pupil was permanently dilated. Despite the fight George Underwood and David Jones would remain friends for their rest of their lives. Mr. Underwood would go onto become a well-known illustrator, not only designing covers for David Bowie's albums, but also Tyrannosaurus Rex (later known as T. Rex), Procol Harum, and Mott the Hoople.

David Jones was fifteen years old when he formed his first band, The Konrads. After leaving Bromley Technical High School Mr. Jones left The Konrads to join another band, The King Bees. Eventually David Jones would enter into a management agreement with Leslie Conn . His first single was "Liza Jane", credited to Davie Jones with The King Bees. Despite appearing on shows such as Top of the Pops (David Jones's first ever television appearance) and Beat Room, "Liza Jane" failed to chart. David Jones left The King Bees to join another band, The Manish Boys. With The Manish Boys he recoded a cover of Bobby Bland's song "I Pity the Fool". The B-side was "Take My Tip"  by David Jones, making it the first "David Bowie" song to appear on a single. Sadly, "I Pity the Fool" would not prove to be successful either.

David Jones then left The Manish Boys and his contract with his contract with Leslie Conn also ended. He then joined The Lower 3rd and got a new manager, Robert Horton, who had been a tour managers for The Moody Blues. The single "You've Got a Habit of Leaving", written by David Jones, was released under the name "Davy Jones & The Lower 3rd". Unlike "Liza Jane" and "I Pity the Fool" it was written by David Jones himself, making "You've Got a Habit of Leaving" the first "David Bowie" song to be the A-side of a single. Unfortunately "You've Got a Habit of Leaving" failed to chart

Following the failure of "You've Got a Habit of Leaving" David Jones left The Lower 3rd. He adopted a new stage name. Quite simply there was a Manchester born performer also named David Jones who performed under the name "Davy Jones". He had played the Artful Dodger in the stage musical Oliver! and attained greater fame with The Monkees.Tiring of being confused with Davy Jones of Oliver! and Monkees fame, David Jones took the stage name of David Bowie, taking the surname from American frontiersman Jim Bowie.

Having left The Lower 3rd and adopting a new stage name, David Bowie also got a new backing band, The Buzz. It was with The Buzz that his first single was released under the name "David Bowie". Unfortunately, "Do Anything You Say" failed to chart. David Bowie then joined The Riot Squad. While David Bowie recorded with The Riot Squad, the tracks would remain unreleased until only recently. As to his manager Robert Horton, he failed to secure a music publishing deal. David Bowie left The Riot Squad and hired Ken Pitt as his manager. Ken Pitt had worked with both Mel Tormé and Manfred Mann.

Ken Pitt was able to get David Bowie a contract with Deram Records. His first single with the label, "Rubber Band", received good reviews, but did not chart. The second single was "The Laughing Gnome". The single not only failed to chart, but is considered by some to be the worst David Bowie song ever recorded. It was six weeks after the release of "The Laughing Gnome" that David Bowie's self-titled debut album was released. The album was a mishmash of styles, ranging from "Love You Till Tuesday", which could have easily been performed by Herman's Hermits, to "Maid of Bond Street", a music hall sounding song in waltz time.  A little over a month after the release of the album, "Love You Till Tuesday" was released as a single. Despite good reviews the song did not make the charts. With David Bowie's singles failing and the album David Bowie failing to chart, Mr. Bowie was dropped from  Deram Records.

In attempt to draw attention to David Bowie, his manager Ken Pitt then arranged for the filming of the short film Love You Till Tuesday. Love You Till Tuesday contained mostly songs from his debut album, but it had one new song that would be a sign of Mr. Bowie's new direction. "Space Oddity". While Love You Till Tuesday would remain unreleased until 1984, "Space Oddity" would prove to be his first hit. Mercury Records and its British subsidiary Phillips heard a demo tape featuring "Space Oddity" and a few other songs. Ken Pitt was then able to negotiate a one album deal (with an option for another one or two albums) with the label. "Space Oddity" was released as a single on July 11 1969, just in time to take advantage of the Apollo 11 mission (the first lunar landing). The single proved to be a hit in Britain, where it peaked at no. 5. In the United States it stalled at no. 124 on the Billboard singles chart. "Space Oddity" was re-released in 1973. It then became David Bowie's first no. 1 in the United Kingdom and reached no. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it his first hit single in the U.S.

"Space Oddity" was followed by the release of the album David Bowie (released as Man of Words/Man of Music in the United States and later retitled Space Oddity) in November 1969. While the album received good reviews at the time, it failed to chart despite the success of the song "Space Oddity". Today it is looked upon by many as the first true David Bowie album. Upon its re-release in 1972 (when it was retitled Space Oddity) in the wake of the success of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, the album went to no. 17 on the UK albums chart and no. 16 on the Billboard albums chart.

David Bowie/Space Oddity was followed by the release of the album The Man Who Sold the World in November 1970. The Man Who Sold the World received good reviews and also proved much more successful than David Bowie's first album with Mercury. The album ultimately peaked at no 26 on the UK albums chart and no. 105 on the Billboard albums chart. The album also marked a stylistic shift for Mr. Bowie. It marked the beginning of his "glam rock" period and featured songs that were on the whole heavier than David Bowie had done before. The subject matter was also diverse, ranging from the upbeat rock 'n' roll of "Black Country Rock" to a song influenced by H. P. Lovecraft ("The Supermen") to a song about a sentient computer ("Saviour Machine") to the introspective "The Man Who Sold the World".

Following The Man Who Sold the World David Bowie moved from Mercury Records to RCA. His first album with RCA would be Hunky Dory, released in December 1971. With Hunky Dory David Bowie continued to perform heavy glam rock, but included on the album were songs that were lighter, near folk rock ("Kooks") and even pop rock ("Oh! You Pretty Things"). Once more the subject matter was varied, from tributes to Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol to the Golden Dawn influenced "Quicksand". The album proved to be fairly successful on both sides of the Atlantic. It peaked at no. 3 on the British albums chart and at no. 93 on the Billboard albums chart. The single "Changes" would even see some initial success on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 66. When it was re-released in 1975 it peaked at no. 41. The single "Life on Mars?" went all the way to no. 3 on the UK singles chart.

David Bowie's next album would be one of his most famous albums, if not absolutely his most famous album. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released on June 16 1972. It was a concept album centred on rock star Ziggy Stardust, who serves as the messenger for an alien being to the people of Earth. The album received good reviews over all and proved very successful in the United Kingdom. It went to no. 5 on the UK albums chart. It also proved to be David Bowie's highest charting album in the United States so far, peaking at no. 55 on the Billboard albums chart. Since then it has become David Bowie's second best selling album of all time. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars also remains highly regarded. In 1998 Q magazine ranked it at no. 24 among the best all time albums. In 2012 Rolling Stone ranked it at 35th in their list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". In 2013 NME ranked The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars at no. 23 in their list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".

David Bowie followed The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars with Aladdin Sane, released in April 1973. The album proved to his most successful so far, peaking at no. 1 in the United Kingdom. In the United States it proved to be his first hit album, going all the way to no. 17 on the Billboard albums chart. Aladdin Sane was followed by the album Pin Ups, a collection of cover songs ranging from The Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind" to The Who's  "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere". Pin Ups performed very well on the charts, hitting no. 1 in the UK and going to no. 23 in the US.

With Diamond Dogs, released in May 1974, David Bowie began incorporating more of a soul and funk sound with the glam rock of his past few albums. Diamond Dogs was another concept album, this one influenced by George Orwell's dystopian concept album 1984. The album produced the hit singles "Rebel, Rebel" and "Diamond Dogs". David Bowie's following album, Young Americans, released in March 1975, completed the shift to what David Bowie called "plastic soul" that he had begun with Diamond Dogs. Young Americans proved to be very successful. It peaked at no. 2 on the British albums chart. In the United States it proved to be his most successful album yet. It peaked at no. 9 on the chart. It also produced the hit single "Fame" (co-written by both Carlos Alomar and John Lennon), which went to no. 1 in both the UK and U.S.

With his following album, Station to Station (released January 1975), David Bowie adopted what is considered his last great persona, the Thin White Duke. While Station to Station continued his trend towards "plastic soul", the album also saw David Bowie move towards electronic music of the sort Kraftwerk was known for. The album produced a hit single in the form of "Golden Years", which went to no. 8 in Britain and no. 10 in the UK.  His next album, Low, also did well. It moved further into the area of electronic music. It peaked at no. 2 in the United Kingdom and no. 11 in the U.S.

While David Bowie's albums and single continued to perform well in the United Kingdom, his next two  albums did not perform as well as the previous few in the United States. "Heroes" peaked at no. 3 in the United Kingdom, but only no. 35 in the U.S. Lodger performed better in the United Staes than "Heroes" had, going to 20--it peaked at no. 4 in the UK.  While the two albums performed less well than David Bowie's albums of the mid-Seventies, both saw some of his best work, including the songs "'Heroes'", "Blackout", and Boys Keep Swinging".

David Bowie would see much more success with his final album for RCA, Scary Monsters...And Super Creeps, released in September 1980. The album peaked at no. 1 on the UK albums chart and at no. 12 on the Billboard albums chart. It also produced several singles that were hits in the UK and number among his best known songs worldwide: "Ashes to Ashes" (which went to no. 1 in the UK), "Fashion" (no. 5 in the UK and no. 70 on the Billboard Hot 100), and "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)".  In 1981 David Bowie teamed up with Queen for the single "Under Pressure", which went to no. 1 in the UK and no. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. The following year he released the single "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)", which was from the movie Cat People (1982), a remake of the Val Lewton classic.

Arguably his creative peak ended with Scary Monsters...And Super Creeps.While the albums he recorded in the Eighties and Nineties would have a number of great songs and would perform very well commercially, his new material did not quite seem quite so revolutionary as that he produced in the late Sixties and the Seventies. Strangely  enough, he sometimes saw more success commercially than he had in the Seventies. The album Let's Dance, released in December 1982, went to no. 1 on the UK albums chart and no. 4 on the Billboard albums chart. It singles also did well: "Let's Dance" (no 1 in both the UK and U.S.), "China Girl" (no. 2 in the UK and no. 10 in the US), and "Modern Love" (no. 2 in the UK and no. 14 in the U.S.).  The albums Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987) also performed very well.

Strangely enough given the success of his albums as a solo artist in the Eighties, it was in 1988 that David Bowie formed the band Tin Machine with guitarist Reeves Gabrels, bassist Tony Sales, and drummer Hunt Sales. Tin Machine was meant to function as a democracy, although David Bowie tended to be the dominant songwriter. With Tin Machine David Bowie returned to a hard rock sound, with songs that were heavier and more aggressive than those he had recorded as a solo artist earlier in the decade. Tin Machine released two albums, Tin Machine (1989) and Tin Machine II (1991). The first album performed relatively well, peaking at no.3 in the UK and no 28. Unfortunately the second album sold more poorly, peaking at only no. 23 in the UK and doing even worse in the U.S., where it peaked at only no. 126. A live album, Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby, released in 1992, did not chart at all. The band broke up in 1993.

From 1993 to 2002 David Bowie continued to release solo albums that generally performed very well on the charts: Black Tie White Noise (1993), Outside (1995), Earthling (1997), 'Hours...' (1999), Heathen (2002), and  Reality (2003).  In 1998 he actually launched an internet service provider,  BowieNet, which lasted until 2006.

Following a heart attack in 2004 David Bowie reduced his activities and there would ultimately be a long hiatus before his next studio album. In 2013 the single "Where Are We Now?" was released. The song proved to be a hit, going to no. 6 on the UK singles chart. It was followed by David Bowie's 25th studio album, The Next Day. The album marked a return to rock music, more specifically art rock. It proved highly successful, reaching no. 1 in Britain and no. 2 on the Billboard albums chart.

Sadly in 2014 David Bowie would be diagnosed with cancer, although it would be kept secret from all but a few friends. On November 19 2015 his latest single, "Blackstar" was released. In December 2015 an off-Broadway musical, Lazarus, created around the songs of David Bowie and featuring the new song "Lazarus" opened.  On December 17 2015 the song "Lazarus" was released, making it the last single to be released before David Bowie's death. It seems quite probable that both songs may rise rapidly on record charts throughout the world.

David Bowie's final album, Blackstar, was released on January 8 2016, only two days before his death. The album has received widespread critical acclaim and appears set to top the charts in both the UK and the U.S., as well as elsewhere. It has generally been agreed by observers that Blackstar deals with Mr. Bowie's own demise. CNN stated that the album "reveals a man who appears to be grappling with his own mortality". Long time friend, collaborator, and producer on many of David Bowie's albums (including Blackstar) Tony Visconti appears to confirm this, stating on Facebook, "He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life - a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn't, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry."

Throughout his long career in music David Bowie collaborated with many other artists, even producing their albums. He not only wrote the song "All the Young Dudes" for Mott the Hoople, but produced their album and of the same name as well as playing saxophone and providing backing vocals on the album. He  produced and played on Iggy Pop's first two solo albums (The Idiot and Lust for Life) and later co-produced Iggy Pop's album Blah Blah Blah.  He appeared on a number of other artists' albums, from playing saxophone on Steeleye Span's "To Know Him is to Love Him" to singing guest vocals for artists ranging from Mick Ronson to Lou Reed.

Unlike many rock stars, David Bowie also had a very successful career in film. His career as an actor actually began in the Sixties. His film debut was in the short "The Boy" in 1967, a full two years before he would have his first hit with "Space Oddity". In 1968 he appeared in an episode of Theatre 625, which is now sadly missing. He appeared in an uncredited bit part in The Virgin Soldiers in 1969. In 1970 he appeared in the short television film "Pierrot in Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders".

In the early Seventies David Bowie would be occupied with his music career, but in 1976 he starred in one of his best known roles, that of the alien Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth. While it received mix reviews upon its release, the film is now regarded as a cult classic. He followed The Man Who Fell to Earth with the poorly received Just a Gigolo in 1978.

Arguably the Eighties was the height of David Bowie's acting career. In 1983 he starred in the vampire movie The Hunger. The film received mixed reviews upon its release, but has since developed a cult following. David Bowie's most famous film may well be Labyrinth, released in 1986. In the film David Bowie plays Jareth the Goblin King, who grants young Sarah's (Jennifer Connelly) wish that her baby brother would go away. The film received mixed to positive reviews upon its release, but has since come to be regarded as a classic. In 1983 David Bowie starred in the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. The film received largely positive reviews upon its release and is still very highly regarded today. In the Eighties David Bowie also appeared in the films Christiane F. (1981--in a cameo as himself), Yellowbeard (1983--in a cameo),  Into the Night (1985), Absolute Beginners (1986), and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).  He also provided narration in the re-release of the classic TV special The Snowman.

In the Nineties David Bowie appeared in the films The Linguini Incident (1991), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Basquiat (1996), Everybody Loves Sunshine (1999), and Mr. Rice's Secret (2000). He appeared in an episode of the TV show Dream On and was the host of season 2 of the TV show The Hunger. He provided the voice of Boz and music for the video game Omikron: The Nomad Soul. In the Naughts David Bowie appeared in the role of historical figure Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006). He had cameos in the films Zoolander (2001) and  Bandslam (2009). He starred in the film August (2008) and provided voices for the animated feature film Arthur and the Invisibles (2007) and the animated TV movie SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis (2007). He guest starred as himself in the TV show Extras.

There can be no doubt that David Bowie revolutionised rock 'n' roll. Alongside Marc Bolan of T. Rex, David Bowie has been credited with inventing the subgenre of glam rock. Indeed, some of David Bowie's work in the mid-Sixties prior to "Space Oddity" could even be considered precursors to glam rock. Certainly by the time of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust he had fully embraced the subgenre. While David Bowie was one of the inventors of glam rock, he would also have an impact on punk and New Wave. Particularly as Ziggy Stardust, Mr. Bowie would have a lasting influence on punk acts from The Stranglers to The Sex Pistols. David Bowie's impact would be felt on more than just glam rock, punk, and New Wave. It can be found in such diverse subgenres as heavy metal, hard rock, and power pop, among others. Ultimately David Bowie was one of the few artists to influence rock music as a whole.

Indeed, the extent of how David Bowie changed rock music can be seen by looking at the genre as it was in the late Sixties and early Seventies. In the late Sixties and early Seventies rock music was dominated by blues influenced acts that sometimes had guitar solos that lasted as long as eleven minutes and progressive rock acts whose songs could range up to twenty minutes. David Bowie and other glam rock artists of the early Seventies returned rock music to pop songs of three to five minutes. In many respects David Bowie was responsible for returning rock 'n' roll to something closer to its original form.

That is not to say that David Bowie remained with one style his entire career. If anything he was a chameleon, not only constantly changing his image but his style of music as well. In the late Sixties through the Seventies alone he went from the folk rock of the album David Bowie/Space Oddity to the glam rock of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars to the plastic soul of Young Americans to the electronic music of the Berlin trilogy (Low, "Heroes", and Lodger). Despite David Bowie's constant changes in persona and style, his music always remained recognisably "David Bowie". Quite simply, Mr. Bowie had a knack of changing styles, sometimes quite dramatically, while still insuring that he was immediately recognisable.

While David Bowie had an impact on rock 'n' roll, his influence was much more immediate upon those many artists for whom he wrote songs and produced albums. What is remarkable about Mr. Bowie is that as a collaborator he was very supportive, to the point that it seemed as if he had no real ego. When he and Iggy Pop were guests on Dinah Shore's talk show Dinah in the Seventies, David Bowie was a much bigger name than Iggy Pop. Regardless, when Dinah interviewed them it was Iggy Pop, not David Bowie, that Mr. Bowie talked about. David Bowie's many collaborators over the years always commented on how supportive of them he was and how generous he was to them he was.

Of course, it was not enough that David Bowie was a legendary rock star; he also displayed some talent as an actor as well. While some of Mr. Bowie's films were not exactly masterpieces (critics and viewers alike have characterised Just a Gigolo as "bad"), he performances were usually very good. Certainly his most memorable turn as a actor remains Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth and the Goblin King in Labyrinth, but he delivered other impressive performances as well. In fact, his role as Celliers in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence may have been the best one of his career, and his turn as Tesla in The Prestige was very convincing despite the fact that he looked very little like the man.

Throughout his long career David Bowie remained very active. He was nothing if not prolific. He continued to release albums throughout the Eighties and Nineties and did not slow down until his heart attack in the Naughts. What is more, while many rock stars of the Sixties and Seventies would have been content to churn out run-of-the-mill albums with little in the way of originality, David Bowie's music continued to change and evolve. He moved into dance music in the Eighties and with Tin Machine he returned to hard rock. In the Nineties he blended electronic instruments with soul and jazz for the album Black Tie White Noise. Throughout the Nineties and into the Naughts David Bowie continued to experiment and continued to work in different styles.

Indeed, this was true even of his final albums, The Next Day and Blackstar. With regards to Blackstar, it is to David Bowie's credit that he even created the album at all. At the time it was recorded he had already had cancer for some time. Many artists would have foregone releasing a new album given the circumstances. Instead David Bowie forged onward, ultimately leaving one final album for his fans. That it is a truly great album makes his achievement even more impressive.

David Bowie was truly one of a kind. In many ways he was a continuation of such multimedia stars as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley--a talented singer who also had a career in other media. Unlike Bing, Frank, or Elvis, however, David Bowie's image was constantly changing. He was Major Tom. He was Ziggy Stardust. He was Halloween Jack. He was the Thin White Duke. David Bowie's ever-changing personas not only kept him from ever going stale, it also helped those who grew up thinking of themselves as outsiders. After all, if David Bowie could be successful as someone as outré as Ziggy Stardust, then certainly the average teenager could see success simply being himself or herself. Of course, David Bowie would not have been a success if not for his enormous talent. He was a talented singer and an extremely talented songwriter. He leaves behind an oeuvre that only a few others can approach in terms of quality. If the outpouring of grief for David Bowie has been so enormous, it is perhaps because he was a very remarkable man.While the word "legend" is often thrown about indiscriminately these days, it truly applied to David Bowie. It is perhaps why so many of us have trouble believing he is really gone.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The 50th Annivesary of the TV Show Batman

It was fifty years ago tonight, on January 12 1966, that the TV show Batman debuted on ABC. Batman proved to be a veritable phenomenon. It was a smash hit in the ratings. Its debut episode alone had a phenomenal 27.3/49 rating, handily beating The Virginian on NBC and Lost in Space on CBS. Batman merchandise filled the stores, to the point that Sears and Montgomery Ward were able to devote multiple pages in their catalogues to goods inspired by the show. In 1966 it was impossible to escape Batman. In fact, perhaps the only phenomenon bigger than Batman in the mid-Sixties was The Beatles.

It was certainly an unusual situation, especially given the fad centred on a character who at the time of the show's debut had been around for 27 years. That having been said, contrary to popular belief, the TV show Batman did not put Batman on the map. During the Golden Age of comic books Batman was the second most popular character (after Superman) published by what would become DC Comics and probably the third most popular superhero at the time (after Superman and Captain Marvel). He was the first DC Comics superhero to appear in a live action film (the 1943 serial The Batman). With his first of many appearances on The Adventures of Superman on March 2 1945, he became the second major DC Comics superhero to appear on a radio show. Batman was already well-known among the general public before the debut of the TV show in 1966. Indeed, his name recognition probably helped the show. The 1966 Batman TV show did insure Batman's continued popularity for the next several decades. In fact, it is quite possible that he is the most popular superhero in the world and has been for years.

While Batman was perhaps the biggest fad of 1966 and one of the biggest fads of the Sixties, the show itself did not have a long run. The smash hit of the 1965-1966 season, Batman left the air after only two years and two months. Despite its rather brief run, Batman proved to be a hit in syndication. Indeed, not only did the show air on several TV stations throughout the Seventies, but it has continued to do well in syndication to this day. Despite the several movies that have been released since the TV show left the air, it seems quite possible that the Batman TV series remains the best known reiteration of the character.

Given its success it should come as no surprise that Batman would have a lasting impact on both television and comic books. First, there are those who believe that it was two TV shows that saved ABC from going under in the Sixties: Bewitched and Batman. Today ABC is considered one of the "Big Three" broadcast networks, on par with the two older networks, NBC and CBS. During the 1965-1966 season, however, ABC was only a little better than The WB or UPN were in the early Naughts. Many places across the United States did not have ABC affiliates and often their shows would be shown on the local NBC or CBS affiliate of any given market at awkward times of the day.

Quite naturally this had an impact on the ratings. In the early Sixties it was not unusual for ABC to have only one show ranked in the top twenty for the year, and sometimes that show would rank in the lower half of the top twenty. Fortunately for the struggling network Bewitched debuted in 1964 and proved to be a hit. It was the number two show for its first season and remained in the top ten shows for the year for the next few seasons. When Batman proved to be a hit in 1966, then, it gave ABC one more highly successful show. Ultimately Bewitched and Batman may have largely been responsible for allowing ABC to last out the Sixties and to finally become the equal of CBS and NBC in the Seventies.

Batman would also be instrumental in cementing the practice of mid-season replacements. Mid-season replacements pre-date the 1965-1966 seasons by many years. Among the more famous mid-season replacements are the classic sitcom The Bob Cummings Show (AKA Love That Bob) and the Western Rawhide. That having been said, prior to the 1965-1966 season mid-season replacements were relatively rare and usually the networks would keep even extremely low rated shows on for an entire season.

All of this changed with the 1965-1966 season. ABC's fall line-up for that season failed catastrophically. So that the season would not be a total loss ABC then took a drastic course of action, scheduling more mid-season replacements than had ever been scheduled in the history of television up to that point. To promote these changes ABC hired Grey Advertising. Copywriter Irwin Fredman came up with the slogan "the Second Season", deciding that the changes ABC was making were so great that the constituted a whole new television season.

The cornerstone of ABC's so-called "Second Season" was Batman. The show had been slated to debut in the fall of 1966, but when ABC's fall line-up proved disastrous its debut was moved to January. While Batman certainly did save the 1965-1966 season for ABC, none of the network's other mid-season replacements survived that season. In making such dramatic changes to their schedule at mid-season, ABC had set a precedent. In proving to be the smash hit of the season, Batman proved that a mid-season replacement could be as successful as shows that debuted in the fall. In the years following the 1965-1966 season all three networks would start scheduling mid-season replacements to take the place of shows that were not doing particularly well in the ratings. Particularly in the Seventies, these mid-season changes were sometimes every bit as drastic as those ABC made during the 1965-1966 season.

To some degree Batman would even have an impact on television comedies. Because Batman was meant to be an adventure show for children but a spoof of superhero conventions for adults, it lacked a laugh track. In 1966 nearly every American sitcom had a laugh track that took the place of a "live studio audience". Even Hanna-Barbera's "adult" cartoons, such as The Flintstones and The Jetsons, had laugh tracks. Batman would remain the only comedy on the air without a laugh track until The Monkees did away with their laugh track midway through the 1967-1968 season. While it would take literally years and some resistance from the networks (CBS insisted on a laugh track on M*A*S*H over the show's producers' objections), eventually the lack of a laugh track would become much more common on American sitcoms. In the past few years such sitcoms as 30 Rock, Arrested Development, Community, and Parks and Recreation, among several others, have aired without a laugh track.

As might be expected, Batman also had an impact on comic books featuring the character. While it does not appear that the "Batman" feature in DC Comics was in any real danger of cancellation as is commonly believed (see Comic Book Resources' "Comic Book Legends Revealed #408"), the show would cause some major changes in the "Batman" feature as it was published in the early to mid-Sixties. In the comic books the character of Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred had been killed off. His presence on the show resulted in him being resurrected in the comic books where he has remained ever since. Catwoman had not appeared in the comic books since 1954. Her appearance on the TV show resulted in her appearing in the comic books for the first time in 12 years. Because of the popularity of Catwoman on the show, William Dozier encouraged DC Comics to introduce more female characters who could be used on the show. The result was that the comic book company created the character of Batgirl, who was later incorporated into the TV show and has remained a major part of the DC Universe ever since.  The Riddler had been a very minor villain in the comic books (he had only appeared twice during the Golden Age), but the popularity of Frank Gorshin as The Riddler on the show turned the character into a major member of Batman's rogue's gallery.

Even fifty years after its debut Batman remains a highly successful TV show. It has persisted in syndication ever since it left the air in 1968 and has aired on such cable channels as F/X and IFC, as well as the nostalgia broadcast network ME-TV. After protracted talks between Warner (who own the rights to the character),  20th Century Fox (who owned the rights to the show), and other parties, Batman was finally released on DVD in 2014. It is quite possible that fifty years after its debut and such superhero shows as The Flash, Arrow, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., that Batman remains the most famous superhero show of all time.

(for a more detailed write-up on the history of the show readers might want to check out my two part "Batmania: How Batman Conquered America in 1966" as well as "Batman Turns 75 Part Three: Television, Radio, and Other Media")

Monday, January 11, 2016

"Look up here, I’m in heaven": A Remembrance of David Bowie

"Look up here, I’m in heaven."
(David Bowie, "Lazarus")

Last night I couldn't sleep. At the time I didn't know why. I wasn't anxious about anything. I wasn't uncomfortable. I was neither too hot nor too cold. It was after I got up and got on my computer that I learned what I think might have been behind my sleeplessness. It was a disturbance in the Force, a rift in the space/time continuum. To put it more simply, the legendary David Bowie had died.

Twelve hours later my eyes are still red with tears and I seem prone to break down crying at any given moment. I've been listening to David Bowie's songs for much of the day, everything from his earliest work ("Love You Till Tuesday") to his latest work ("Lazarus").  Part of me thinks that it is impossible that David Bowie could be dead. Only a few people knew just how seriously ill he was and so, like the rest of the general public, I assumed he would be with us for many more years. It is for that reason that while David Bowie's death was not sudden (he had fought cancer for eighteen months), it seems as if was to me. With no time for me to prepare for a world without David Bowie, then, his death was unexpected and perhaps for that reason the grief I feel is even more raw and more intense than it might have been otherwise. I am certainly in no shape to write the usual eulogy that I would today.

The fact is that for most of my life I have been a David Bowie fan. I cannot even remember what was the first David Bowie song I ever heard. I suspect it had to have been "Space Oddity" or perhaps "Changes". At any rate I was certainly aware of him by the time of his release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in mid-1972. I was nine years old and a bit too young to understand the whole concept behind the album, but I liked the music. At the very least I knew that it dealt with a rock star from Mars, which appealed to a kid who even then was a fan of fantasy and science fiction.

Needless to say, I became a David Bowie fan while very young. I was fortunate enough to enter my tween years and then my teen years at a time when Mr. Bowie was at the height of his career. It was a time when some of his best known songs were released: "Life on Mars?", "Rebel Rebel", "Fame", "'Heroes'", and "Ashes to Ashes". In the wake of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, David Bowie's albums did very well in the United States. Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, and Station to Station all peaked in the top ten of the Billboard albums chart.

In the Seventies David Bowie appeared very infrequently on American television. While I am sure I saw him more times, I can remember watching David Bowie at least three times during the decade. I vaguely remember seeing the video to "Ashes to Ashes" on some show in those days before MTV. Like many my most vivid memory of David Bowie on television in the Seventies was on Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, which was also Bing Crosby's final Christmas special. Even before re-watching the special this Yuletide, I could clearly remember his duet with Bing Crosby and the "'Heroes'" video that aired during the special. In fact, "'Heroes'" might well have been the first "music video" I had ever seen outside of The Beatles' promotional films. I also have vague memories of David Bowie performing "Space Oddity" on a Dick Clark special in the late Seventies, by which time I was very familiar with both the song and Mr. Bowie's other work. At any rate, by the time the Seventies became the Eighties I was familiar with David Bowie's appearance and the sound of his voice.

I remained a David Bowie fan throughout my life, as he progressed from Ziggy Stardust to glam rocker to the Thin White Duke and beyond. While other artists I had loved as a child sometimes produced work that failed to match their classics, David Bowie was always guaranteed to deliver superior songs. I enjoyed "Modern Love", "Blue Jean", "Heaven's in Here" (with Tin Machine), and yet other songs often as much as I did his earlier work.

Looking back in some ways it might seem odd that David Bowie would appeal to a kid growing up in mid-Missouri. His music was very different from that to which I had been exposed before: The Beatles, The Who, The Monkees, The Rolling Stones, and so on. He even looked different from any music artist I'd seen before, especially given I discovered him during his Ziggy Stardust era. That having been said, I think it was the very fact that David Bowie was different that turned me onto him. In the early to mid-Seventies there weren't that many music artists who blended science fiction, fantasy, and rock and roll. There were Hawkwind. There were Blue Öyster Cult. And there was David Bowie. Songs like "Space Oddity", "Starman", and so on couldn't help but appeal to a kid who was already an avid fan of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone.

Of course, the very fact that David Bowie was different may well have been much of what appealed to me as well. While I was never picked on or bullied or anything like that all through school, I was aware that I was different from other kids. Even then I was a bit of a dreamer. I was creative even then, writing my own comic books. My reading material tended towards fantasy, science fiction, and old pulp novels. I was an Anglophile even then and would have been even if I wasn't already English in descent. While I wasn't picked on or bullied, I did sometimes feel like an outsider. Perhaps in being so different (much more different than I was as a kid), David Bowie reassured me that it was not only all right to be different, it was cool to be different. Perhaps he made it more acceptable for me to stand out from the crowd.

If David Bowie had simply been some odd looking guy who fused science fiction with rock music, he might have just remained a part of my childhood and youth. The fact is that David Bowie was an enormously talented and creative singer and songwriter, something that was not lost on me when I entered my teens. At a time when other rock stars were content to sing about love, sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, David Bowie was singing about reinventing oneself ("Changes") and dystopias ("1984"). While Mr. Bowie would prove to be very successful on the charts over the years, I always got the feeling that he was never concerned with being commercial, only with being creative. It is to be noted that some of his best known songs didn't always perform the best on the charts ("Changes" being a prime example).

Right now it seems impossible to me that David Bowie has died. Even now I keep expecting for it to be revealed as some kind of hoax. Sadly, given the announcement of his death on Mr. Bowie's various official social media accounts, as well as the various obituaries and tributes to him, I know all too well it is true. As as result right now I feel a very profound sense of loss. I suppose a good way of looking at it was stated quite eloquently by Twitter user Dean Podestá, "If you're ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie." One could take this one step further and say that we should be thankful that David Bowie existed at all.