Tales of Rock – The remarkable story behind David Bowie’s most iconic feature

At the centre of it all, your eyes, your eyes …”

Many aspects of the life and incredible achievements of David Bowie will be considered in the weeks and months ahead following the news of his death. Yet the cryptic lyric above from the lead single on David Bowie’s new album is a reminder that the unusual appearance of his eyes was a key part of the singer’s star persona.

Indeed their iconic presence features in the advertising campaign for ★[Blackstar]. For many people it is that look – that the eyes formed a core part of – that will be an abiding memory of Bowie.

So, why were they apparently two different colours?

Complete heterochromia is a fairly rare condition (in humans) whereby each iris is a distinctly different colour, such as having one blue iris and the other brown.

But this isn’t why Bowie’s eyes looked different.

Instead, the unusual appearance of Bowie’s eyes were due to a condition called anisocoria. Anisocoria is a condition characterized by an unequal size in a person’s pupils. In Bowie’s case, his left pupil was permanently dilated.

This can create the illusion of having different coloured eyes because the fixed pupil does not respond to changes in light, while the right pupil does. So Bowie’s left eye often appeared to be quite dark, due to the blackness of his dilated pupil, when compared to the blue of his right iris.

The dilated pupil of his left eye was also potentially more prone to the effect of “red eye”. This sometimes adds to the appearance of a different color when contrasted to his right eye.

Red eye occurs when light reflects off of the fundus (the back of the eye), through an open pupil, and captures a red coloration by picking up tonality from the blood in the choroid lining of the eyeball.

This can clearly be seen in the Aladdin Sane – Eyes Open photograph by Brian Duffy (shot in 1973 but unpublished until 2011) that was used as the lead image on the posters for the V&A David Bowie is (2013) exhibition.

So what happened?

Anecdotally, the cause of Bowie’s anisocoria was attributed to the fallout from a lusty scrap in the spring of 1962. Bowie had come to blows with a friend, George Underwood, over a girl they were both hoping to date.

Both were just 15 at the time and their friendship seemingly remained intact. The two performed together in various bands before Underwood turned from music to painting and graphics. But Bowie’s left eye remained seriously damaged.

An impulsive punch had accidentally scratched the eyeball, resulting in paralysis of the muscles that contract the iris. From that day, Bowie’s left pupil remained in a fixed open position.

Over time, Bowie apparently thanked his friend for his notorious eye injury, telling Underwood that it gave him “a kind of mystique”. This mystique helped fuel some of Bowie’s greatest creations and enhance iconic images, such as the album cover for Heroes (1977).

His eyes could appear eerie and mismatched, producing a captivating or mesmeric gaze from on stage or through the lens of a camera. And the uncanny appearance of Bowie’s eyes was ideal for a performer who embraced ideas of the alien, the outsider, the otherworldly and the occult.

In an increasingly visual world seemingly preoccupied by perfection, Bowie’s damaged left pupil became an intrinsic and arresting part of his enigmatic identity.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day at 8am & 12pm EST.

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly    Twitter: @phicklephilly

Advertisements

Tales of Rock – David Bowie

David Robert Jones was born on 8 January 1947, in Brixton, south London, England. His mother, Margaret Mary “Peggy” (née Burns; 1913–2001),[3][4] was born in Kent, and had Irish ancestry;[5] she worked as a waitress.[6] His father, Haywood Stenton “John” Jones (1912–1969),[3][4] from Yorkshire,[7] was a promotions officer for the children’s charity Barnardo’s. The family lived at 40 Stansfield Road, near the border of the south London areas of Brixton and Stockwell. Bowie attended Stockwell Infants School until he was six years old, acquiring a reputation as a gifted and single-minded child—and a defiant brawler.[8]

In 1953, Bowie moved with his family to the suburb of Bromley, where, two years later, he started attending Burnt Ash Junior School. His voice was considered “adequate” by the school choir, and he demonstrated above-average abilities in playing the recorder.[9] At the age of nine, his dancing during the newly introduced music and movement classes was strikingly imaginative: teachers called his interpretations “vividly artistic” and his poise “astonishing” for a child.[9] The same year, his interest in music was further stimulated when his father brought home a collection of American 45s by artists including the Teenagers, the Platters, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley and Little Richard.[10][11] Upon listening to Little Richard’s song “Tutti Frutti“, Bowie would later say, “I had heard God”.[12]

Presley’s impact on him was likewise emphatic: “I saw a cousin of mine dance to … ‘Hound Dog‘ and I had never seen her get up and be moved so much by anything. It really impressed me, the power of the music. I started getting records immediately after that.”[11] By the end of the following year he had taken up the ukulele and tea-chest bass, begun to participate in skiffle sessions with friends, and had started to play the piano; meanwhile his stage presentation of numbers by both Presley and Chuck Berry—complete with gyrations in tribute to the original artists—to his local Wolf Cub group was described as “mesmerizing … like someone from another planet.”[11] After taking his eleven-plus exam at the conclusion of his Burnt Ash Junior education, Bowie went to Bromley Technical High School.[13]

It was an unusual technical school, as biographer Christopher Sandford wrote:

Despite its status it was, by the time David arrived in 1958, as rich in arcane ritual as any [English] public school. There were houses, named after eighteenth-century statesmen like Pitt and Wilberforce. There was a uniform, and an elaborate system of rewards and punishments. There was also an accent on languages, science and particularly design, where a collegiate atmosphere flourished under the tutorship of Owen Frampton. In David’s account, Frampton led through force of personality, not intellect; his colleagues at Bromley Tech were famous for neither, and yielded the school’s most gifted pupils to the arts, a regime so liberal that Frampton actively encouraged his own son, Peter, to pursue a musical career with David, a partnership briefly intact thirty years later.[13]

Bowie studied art, music and design, including layout and typesetting. After Terry Burns, his half-brother, introduced him to modern jazz, his enthusiasm for players like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane led his mother to give him a plastic alto saxophone in 1961; he was soon receiving lessons from a local musician.[14] Bowie received a serious injury at school in 1962 when his friend George Underwood punched him in the left eye during a fight over a girl. After a series of operations during a four-month hospitalisation,[15] his doctors determined that the damage could not be fully repaired and Bowie was left with faulty depth perception and a permanently dilated pupil, which gave a false impression of a change in the iris’ colour.[16] Despite their altercation, Underwood and Bowie remained good friends, and Underwood went on to create the artwork for Bowie’s early albums.[17]

David Robert Jones was an English singer, songwriter and actor. He was a figure in popular music for over five decades, regarded by critics and musicians as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. His career was marked by reinvention and visual presentation, his music and stagecraft significantly influencing popular music. During his lifetime, his record sales, estimated at 140 million worldwide, made him one of the world’s best-selling music artists. In the UK, he was awarded nine platinum album certifications, eleven gold and eight silver, releasing eleven number-one albums. In the US, he received five platinum and seven gold certifications. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Born in Brixton, South London, Bowie developed an interest in music as a child, eventually studying art, music and design before embarking on a professional career as a musician in 1963. “Space Oddity” became his first top-five entry on the UK Singles Chart after its release in July 1969. After a period of experimentation, he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era with his flamboyant and androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust. The character was spearheaded by the success of his single “Starman” and album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which won him widespread popularity. In 1975, Bowie’s style shifted radically towards a sound he characterised as “plastic soul“, initially alienating many of his UK devotees but garnering him his first major US crossover success with the number-one single “Fame” and the album Young Americans. In 1976, Bowie starred in the cult film The Man Who Fell to Earth and released Station to Station. The following year, he further confounded musical expectations with the electronic-inflected album Low (1977), the first of three collaborations with Brian Eno that would come to be known as the “Berlin Trilogy“. “Heroes” (1977) and Lodger (1979) followed; each album reached the UK top five and received lasting critical praise.

After uneven commercial success in the late 1970s, Bowie had UK number ones with the 1980 single “Ashes to Ashes“, its parent album Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, and “Under Pressure“, a 1981 collaboration with Queen. He then reached his commercial peak in 1983 with Let’s Dance, with its title track topping both UK and US charts. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Bowie continued to experiment with musical styles, including industrial and jungle. He also continued acting; his roles included Major Celliers in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), the Goblin King Jareth in Labyrinth (1986), Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006), among other film and television appearances and cameos. He stopped concert touring after 2004, and his last live performance was at a charity event in 2006. In 2013, Bowie returned from a decade-long recording hiatus with the release of The Next Day. He remained musically active until he died of liver cancer two days after the release of his final album, Blackstar (2016).

I love this song. That’s Stevie Ray Vaughn on guitar!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day at 8am & 12pm EST.

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly

 

Tales of Rock – Elvis Almost Had An Album Produced By David Bowie

Dreams can still come true, especially when you’re David Bowie. In the winter of ’77, Bowie received a phone call from Elvis himself.

In 1997, country star and occasional actor Dwight Yoakam met David Bowie, and the pair got to talking about their mutual love for Elvis Presley, which, despite being a music legend, is generally not a person you expect to find yourself talking about while locked in conversation with David Bowie. As Yoakam tells it, Bowie related a story from 20 years prior, when Elvis had approached him to produce his upcoming album.

This happened in 1976, when Bowie had just released “Golden Years,” a song he’d originally intended to ask Elvis to record. But legend has it that when Bowie asked his then-wife Angie to deliver the request, Angie got so nervous about meeting the rock ‘n’ roll legend that she chickened out and never delivered the message.

However, dreams can still come true, especially when you’re David Bowie. In the winter of ’77, Bowie received a phone call from Elvis himself. He had heard Bowie’s latest hit, “Golden Years,” and was apparently so blown away by it he wanted the pop icon to produce his next album. However, because the universe was not satisfied by the current level of irony present in this interaction, Elvis died of a heart attack that same summer, and the two never got to work together.

However, many critics have speculated that the Duke’s last album, Black Star, was a tribute to Presley, who had a little-known song of the same name. So maybe they’ll do some kind of ghost collaboration, which would be an absolute treat to listen to.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day at 8am EST.

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly

Tales of Rock – Bowie and Jagger in Bed

David Bowie is an innovative English musician that has sold over 140 million albums. He is an extremely popular singer and has done a lot of work to help fight important world issues. In 1972, Bowie became one of the first popular singers to reveal to the public that he was bisexual. Bowie gave an interview that was broadcast around the world. Since that time he has bounced back and forth on the issue and remains married to Somali-American model Iman.

In 1970, David Bowie was married to a woman named Angela and the couple divorced in 1980. In 1990, after a ten-year gag order ended, Angela Bowie appeared on The Joan Rivers Show and gave some controversial details about her time with David. She is quoted: “I caught him in bed with men several times. In fact the best time I caught him in bed was with Mick Jagger.” At this point, Howard Stern, who was involved with the interview, asked Angela if Jagger and Bowie had their clothes off. She said: “They certainly did.” The accusation became international news and Jagger released a statement that dismissed the claim.

A week after the interview, Angela Bowie went on television and said that although she had seen Mick Jagger and Bowie naked, it didn’t necessarily mean they weren’t sleeping. She clarified: “I certainly didn’t catch anyone in the act.” Some people have linked the event to the 1973 Rolling Stones hit song Angie. However, David Bowie said it best: “About 15 or 16 years ago, I really got pretty tired of fending off questions about what I used to do with my penis in the early ’70s. My suggestion for people with a prurient interest is to go through the 30 or 40 bios on me and pick out the rumor of their choice.”

Check out the video below.

This is the gayest thing I’ve ever seen.

Enjoy!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday at 8am EST.

Instagram: @phicklephilly    Facebook: phicklephilly