The New Romantic Pierrot
The un gay man Bowie fascination with the character of Pierrot, the forlorn and gullible clown from the Italian commedia dellâ arte, stretches back to his early work with mime artist Lindsay Kemp. In 1967 Kempâ’s theatre production Pierrot in Turquoise introduced Bowie to the pathos and universality of the commedia archetypes, which later brought texture and nuance to many of his stage creations (during the Thin White Duke period â€“ another great image Bowie described the character as Pierrot, the eternal clown putting over the great sadness of 1976.
Back in 69 a painted Pierrot had appeared on the original rear sleeve of the Space Oddity LP and a decade later, Bowie finally hurled the image centre-stage and made it the visual calling-card of his Scary Monsters album. Stalking through the Ashes to Ashes video in a strikingly beautiful costume created for him by Lindsay Kemp’s designer Natasha Kornilof, Bowie exploded into the 1980s with an image that resonated back across his career and yet was utterly contemporary, catching and reflecting the emergent New Romantic movement which worshipped at his altar. Ashes to Ashes helped to catapult those dolled-up Bowie acolytes Steve Strange, Spandau Ballet, Boy George and the rest â€“ out of the Blitz club and into the mainstream of British pop.
Essential tracks: Fashion / Teenage Wildlife / Scream Like a Baby
YouTube search: Ashes to Ashes (video)
The eighties superstar
Betwixt and between his arty, stubbornly uncompromising phases, Bowie has always known when its time to make a lunge for the mainstream, and seldom has he done so more spectacularly than in 1983. The Lets Dance album, with its big brassy songs and chromium-plated Nile Rodgers production, was accompanied by a dramatic demonstration of Bowie’s knack for redesigning himself to match his music.
In place of the effete, etiolated, disconnected weirdo of the 1970s, out stepped a Bowie for the MTV age: suntanned, smiling, confident, the hair a peroxide cloud of candyfloss, the clothes a selection of preppy fifties-retro pastel suits accessorized with bowties, braces and fedoras. In the Let’s Dance video he effortlessly out-swaggered Duran Duran, ABC and all the other Bowie disciples riding high in that season’s charts, while in the China Girl clip he took memorably explicit measures to banish any lingering doubts about his sexuality.
Of course, it was just as much an act as anything that had gone before: this was Bowie consciously normalising himself in readiness for stardom on a scale new to him. And it certainly worked. The 97-date Serious Moonlight tour was the biggest rock show of 1983, seen by nearly 3 million concertgoers. To this day Let’s Dance remains the biggest commercial strike of Bowie’s career.
Essential tracks: Let’s Dance/ China Girl/ Modern Love
YouTube search: Golden Years 83 Live Vancouver