January 8: David Bowie

ziggy-stadustDavid Jones, supreme icon of coolness and king of rock and roll reinvention ws born today in 1947. Of course, you know him better as David Bowie.

Bowie released a self-titled psychedelic folk pop record in 1967, but he first caught the public eye in 1969 when he released his trippy single “Space Oddity” on the eve of the moon landing. From there, Bowie dabbled in a variety of genres (folk, hard rock, glam, even shades of cabaret) until eventually emerging in 1972 as Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy was a kind of alien messiah; dreamt up by Bowie as the ultimate decadent rock star who in the end would be destroyed by his fans.

The gospel of Ziggy Stardust was spread on Bowie’s record The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. The record was a smash success and the character  returned in a transformed form as the title character of 1973’s Aladdin Sane. For over a year, Bowie essentially was Ziggy Stardust, performing and appearing in public in Stardust drag. This persona began to be a bit too much for Bowie, and at the end of the final show of the 1973 English tour, Bowie surprised his fans, the media and most of his band by announcing “Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.” This announcement was only meant to signal the end of Ziggy Stardust, but many assumed Bowie was announcing his retirement.

However, Bowie stayed in the business. He released a few more glam flavored records and then dabbled in a “plastic” kind of soul before unleashing his next persona upon the world: For the excellent Station To Station record, Bowie became The Thin White Duke. Gone were Ziggy Stardust’s multicolored jumpsuits and flaming red hair; now Bowie’s hair was platinum blonde and his outfit was simple and stylish: Black trousers, white dress shirt and a black waistcoat. Bowie’s heavy cocaine use during the Thin White Duke era made this persona more detached and meaner. Bowie would later describe the Duke as “a nasty character indeed” and claim that he remembered very little about recording Station To Station.

Although he quickly dropped the Thin White Duke, some of the darkness inherent in the character found its way into Bowie’s brilliant and experimental “Berlin Trilogy” of records. These three albums (Low, “Heroes” and Lodger) were inspired by Bowie’s time in Berlin and the avant-garde sounds he heard from bands like Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk. Of course, this was just another instance of Bowie playing with the musical zeitgeist and over the ensuing years he put his stamp on everything from New Wave (Let’s Dance) to Industrial (Earthling).

On this day in 2013, Bowie shocked the world by announcing his first record in nearly ten years. The Next Day is a fantastic record featuring Bowie revisiting a few old tricks and exploring new sounds; but the thing I find the most fascinating about the record is its cover. Bowie hired designer Jonathan Barnbrook to subvert one of Bowie’s old record covers. So, Barnbrook took the cover to Bowie’s “Heroes” and added a plain white square with “The Next Day” written on it. At first glance it seems like a joke on Bowie’s legacy, but then you should remember the lyrics from “Heroes”: “We could be heroes; just for one day,” making this what comes after; The Next Day.

How about a nice Bowie inspired cocktail? The Gin Genie is obviously inspired by Bowie’s bluesy 1972 track “The Jean Genie.” The Gin Genie was created by bartender Wayne Collins and it in fact won Drinks International’s 2001 Cocktail Challenge. It’s a crips gin based cocktail that’s nice and refreshing.

Gin Genie

  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 ounce Sloe Gin
  • 1 ounce Gin
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 8 mint leaves

Muddle the mint in a highball glass, then add the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup and stir. Add crushed ice and stir again. Top with more crushed ice and the sloe gin.

Tomorrow: Is Winston Churchill’s mother responsible for a cocktail?
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