David Bowie: The golden years of rock and roll

Whatever happened to live fast and die young? 


Rock and roll was once a rebellion against adulthood, an ode to youth. In the 1965 song, My Generation, The Who’s Roger Daltrey famously sang: “I hope I die before I get old.”

But, like many other rock stars of his day, Roger inevitably did get old (he’s 69 this month).

In our youth-obsessed society where young people dominate pop culture, do the Roger Daltreys, Mick Jaggers and David Bowies of the world still hold a place?

As it turns out, they do.

To the delight of fans worldwide, David Bowie – who turned 66 in January and was long-presumed retired – released his first album in ten years on March 11, titled The Next Day. The immediate success of this album makes Bowie a leading light on a list of old rockers who just keep on going.

The rocker’s timely return has sparked a huge demand for all things Bowie. In May of this year, a documentary about the singer’s life will air on BBC 2, and from March 23 to August 11, London’s V&A museum will host a retrospective exhibition of his life, style and career.

The  show has already sold a record 26,000 tickets, the museum’s highest-ever number of advance ticket sales.

“David Bowie is a story of Britain and a bespoke 20th-century cultural history,” says Victoria Broakes, co-curator of the V&A’s exhibit.

“He is a pioneer not just in music, but also of rock theatre, videos, internet and digital downloads.

“He took influences from an extraordinarily wide range of sources including Kabuki theatre, German Expressionism, film, William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Nietzsche.

“By absorbing ideas from around him and introducing them in his own innovative way to a very large number of people, he has had a huge impact on millions.

“The breadth of Bowie’s interests and influences, the longevity of his career (spanning 50 years) and his cultural relevance now, gives him appeal to a very broad range of people.”

As the years go on, Bowie continues to gain new fans from younger generations, thus increasing his popularity.

“Bowie’s music is so ingrained within popular culture now, you would definitely struggle to find someone my age who hasn’t heard of him,” says Chris Taylor, a 25-year-old who has a degree in pop music and record production.

 “Growing up, my mum and dad would play Bowie around the house, so I fell in love with it from a young age. I think that’s how a lot of people from my generation got into him, through our parents.”

Although most fans were ecstatic about the release of Bowie’s new album, many say that, in general, they prefer his classic hits.

“It’s the original sound that made him so popular,” says John Patterson, the new vinyl manager at Flashback Records, a north London shop that specialises in both new release and classic vinyl records.

“Bowie’s still popular because he was one of the classic acts of his generation that has influenced other artists,” continues Patterson. “At the end of the day, if most people were going to pick their favourite Bowie album, it’s not going to be this new one, it’s going to be Low, Heroes, Diamond Dogs or Ziggy Stardust.”

That said, fans, both young and old continue to love Bowie and his music.

“Throughout his career Bowie has transformed himself into many different characters,” says graduate Taylor.

“It seems like with this most recent album, he is really just being himself – an ageing man who still has some great songs left in the bag. It’s great to hear his voice on something new.”