The artist of the space age

By Heiko Khoo
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, January 12, 2016
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Bowie developed characters that smashed the taboos of the time. Unconstrained by sexual norms he adopted androgynous, sexual and wild dramatic personas that were both glamorous and utterly unconventional. His various alter egos combined with debauched adventures, and the destabilizing effects on the individual mind of global stardom, drove him to the edge of insanity. Indeed, the popular music industry is littered with the dead corpses of artists that it mentally or physically destroyed. Talented musicians often lose their creative flair if they become rich and famous. But Bowie's chameleon like capacity to change his focus and identity ensured that creative endeavour kept him alive - even though he did experience several bouts of drug-induced madness.

In 1976 Bowie moved to the walled city of West Berlin located 130 km inside East Germany. Berlin was the center of the world's geo-political contradictions and West Berlin was a truly surreal environment. It was imprisoned and characterized by its historical scars. Its people, its buildings, and its dynamic cultural and political movements encapsulated the concentrated essence of the twentieth century. Here Bowie worked with Iggy Pop, Tony Visconti and Brian Eno producing sophisticated instrumental pieces using the latest electronic music technology as well as intense and dramatic songs like Heroes.

After conquering drug addiction he toured the world and released the Scary Monsters album - returning to the theme of space and aliens. He took to the stage, acting in the Elephant Man and in Baal (one of Bertolt Brecht's early plays) and he performed in a number of films, notably The Man Who Fell to Earth. In the early 1980s he settled in New York. He became absorbed in electronic music and his orientation shifted towards collaborative projects. He made film music, worked with a "democratic" band called Tin Machine, and performed multiple world tours.

In 2004 he suffered a heart attack and reduced his public performances. But he surprised everyone in 2013 by releasing a deeply personal song remembering his days in West Berlin. In it he speaks reflectively to an old friend about the dramatic and discreet changes to Berlin life since 1989 and he recalls the fate of places they both knew: and then repeatedly asks "Where are we now?"

Heiko Khoo is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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