As is the case with pretty much all stars, before the beautiful butterfly came the unremarkable caterpillar. Bowie was born in Brixton, South London on 8 January 1947, and named David Robert Jones. His father was a promotions officer for the children’s charity Barnardo’s and his mother a cinema usherette. He had one sibling – half-brother Terry – who had, like much of the extended family, sadly suffered from severe mental problems.
School Up And Downs
Whilst a skilled recorder player and an enthusiastic performer in mime lessons (sounds like a fun school, doesn’t it?), a young Jones was not so academically gifted as to pass the old eleven-plus exam. Later, aged fifteen at Bromley Technical High School, he got into a fight with George Underwood over a girl. A facial punch saw Jones hospitalized for several months with what eventually turned out to be a permanently injured eye. The consequent dilation of its pupil gives the illusion in photographs of it being a different colour to his other eye. This surreal sight aided his attempt to portray himself as an extra-terrestrial rocker in the early Seventies. Amazingly, Jones and Underwood remained friendly, with the latter designing the artwork for early Bowie albums.
‘It’s odd but even when I was a kid, I would write about “old and other times” as though I had a lot of years behind me.’
- David Bowie
As had been the case with a vast swathe of his generation, David Jones was instantly converted to the status of True Believer in Rock ’N’ Roll by the excitement of hearing the first wave of rock heroes – in his case particularly Elvis, Little Richard and Fats Domino.
Bowie was in musical groups called The Konrads, The King Bees, The Manish Boys and The Lower Third. While some of these acts got music press notices and others even record releases, none lasted long. However, it was always Jones who caught the eye: a good-looking young peacock and would-be polymath.
What’s In A Name?
Somewhere in all this, Jones became Bowie to avoid confusion with a contemporary thespian called David Jones, better known as Davy Jones of The Monkees. He took inspiration from Jim Bowie, a legendary American frontiersman who died at the battle of the Alamo and gave his name to the formidable-looking Bowie knife. Despite this, the name’s masculine connotations were rather wasted on Bowie. Instead he chose to mould himself into a performer that challenged ideas of gender image.
By 1967 Bowie had graduated to the solo career that was perhaps always inevitable for a man of such singular vision. His first record was the whimsical ‘The Laughing Gnome’, a tale of being stalked by a little person with a laughing-gas voice. Was this a clear precursor to a life of prodigious achievement? Hardly. But then, it was also so Bowie. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
This post is based off text from our popular title David Bowie, Ever Changing Hero. The book features even more detailed information, all set alongside stunning photography. Take a closer look here.