David Bowie is made its Canadian debut at the Art Gallery of Ontario last week amidst a tsunami of hype, but it wasn’t without its controversy. As immeasurable as David Bowie’s impact has been over the past four decades of pop culture, there are a few stodgy art types (there’s always a few) who’d argue that his import is purely populist, to be kept as far away from the unsullied white walls of the art gallery as possible.
We’ll happily call bullshit on that notion. David Bowie is not just an artist, but a work of art. He may not have had provincial galleries in mind when he was reinventing himself as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane or the Thin White Duke, gathering influence from Andy Warhol, Klaus Nomi and other 20th century pop artists, but he certainly deserves them.
That said, you don’t need an art gallery membership to taste the spectrum of Bowie’s creative WTF-ery. All you need is YouTube. Bowie’s canvas has always been mass media, as much television and movies as the live stage. That’s more available than ever at a moment’s click, so what better time to revive Videoburn, our showcase of the best, weirdest stuff to be found in the streaming video abyss.
17-year-old Bowie's First TV Appearance
David Bowie has always been a master of media manipulation, even before he was David Bowie. This 1964 BBC interview is believed to be his first television appearance, billed as 17-year-old David Jones, founder of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men. Of course, the Society never existed beyond this interview. It was actually a publicity stunt cooked up to drum up publicity for his mod band, the Manish Boys. But Bowie’s long-haired image was no joke. A still from his first TV appearance as David Bowie, musician, playing "Space Oddity" a few years later might as well be the Getty Image for “hippie.”
Bowie on Soul Train
In 1975, at least three transformations into his career, David Bowie decided to try his hand at soul. The resulting "plastic soul" period is remembered now as one of his best, but at the time it was a big gamble. Legend has it Bowie was so nervous about being one of the first white singers on Soul Train that he got drunk before he got onstage. You'd never know it from this performance of "Fame," his inexplicably funky collaboration with John Lennon. Less than a year later, he'd be accused of giving a Nazi salute.
The Magic Dance
Like many of his ‘60s peers, Bowie became a bit of a caricature in the ‘80s. And sure, that resulted in one of the worst ever collaborations between two rock legends, but it also gifted YouTube with this gem: David Bowie doing “The Magic Dance” with a stuffed crotch and a cast of puppets in Jim Henson’s 1986 cult classic, Labyrinth. The image of Bowie with a baby is both hilarious and terrifying.
Fire Walk With Bowie
I've never seen Fire Walk With Me, the movie sequel to David Lynch's surreal TV masterpiece, Twin Peaks, so it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that Bowie is in it. But it's hardly a stretch. The musician's white jacket/white pants combo and exaggerated Southern accent fit right into Twin Peaks' fantastic, dreamlike tone - David Bowie's comfort zone.
Little Fat Man
Until his sudden reappearance with this year’s The Next Day, David Bowie has lain low for the last decade. One glorious exception is this cameo on on Extras, singing the hilarious Ricky Gervais-penned “Little Fat Man” and proving, despite other popular lampoons, the best David Bowie parodist is David Bowie. Gervais recounted the event in GQ:
I called him up and I’d written “Little Fat Man”… I said "Can you do something quite retro, like ‘Life On Mars’?" And he went [deadpan], “Oh, of course, yeah, sure. I’ll knock off a quick 'Life On Mars,' shall I?"