Artist Disillusionment: Narrowly averted. After the Glass Spider Tour, Bowie seriously considered focusing on his hobby of painting instead of music, having found so little lasting satisfaction in trying to please the fans Let's Dance had brought him. Reeves Gabrels convinced him that he could learn to love his work again if he just focused on what made him happy, and from there the seeds of Tin Machine were planted...
Awesome, Dear Boy: Inverted — he turned down the role of Max Zorin in A View to a Kill because he hated the script and didn't think it would be fun to work on ("I didn't want to spend five months watching my stunt double fall off cliffs"). Played straight with several of his film roles, which he usually picked over other, more conventional star vehicle offers because he wanted to work with their directors, performers, or simply liked the concepts.
Breakthrough Hit: "Starman". In the U.K., his Top of the Popsperformance of this song, complete with some Faux Yay between him and guitarist Mick Ronson, is as fondly recalled as a superstar-making moment as Michael Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean" on Motown 25 is everywhere else. His U.S. breakthrough was "Young Americans" in 1975.
Cash Cow Franchise: While he no longer tours and The Next Day was his first studio album in a decade, the bulk of his back catalog is still in print and often receives elaborate reissues (particularly his Glam Rock works), there's a good deal of merchandising surrounding him, and new documentaries and/or books about his career (especially the latter) come along every year. The David Bowie Is retrospective of costumes and other memorabilia from his personal archive smashed attendance records at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2013 and will be touring the world's premier museums well into 2016.
Creator Breakdown: Low was written and recorded while Bowie was starting to wean himself off cocaine, and while his marriage to Angela was showing fissures that would soon lead to divorce. That set the tone for both the album and its title.
And this was the album where Bowie was recovering (it has been described, not inaccurately, as "a cocaine come down put to music"). His previous album, Station to Station, was recorded in LA while Bowie was suffering a full-blown cocaine-induced psychotic breakdown. He has claimed in interviews he remembers nothing about the recording other than describing the guitar sound he wanted on the title track to the session musician, but there are many stories about his behaviour at the time.
Dye Hard: His dark blonde locks were dyed very red to help complete Ziggy Stardust's look in 1972; even after he dropped the character he would stick with predominantly red hair until the end of The Thin White Duke's reign in 1976.
Executive Meddling: A rare positive example of this came with Ziggy Stardust when RCA execs liked it, but also wanted a song that they could push as a single. So Bowie wrote "Starman", which replaced a cover of Chuck Berry's "Around and Around" on the album and turned out to be the song that made his career.
Fan Nickname: His crotch has been deified and named The Area by fans. It has its own website and religion.
Bowie himself is called "The Dame" in the British music press. This dates back to The Eighties and the height of his mainstream success, and was initially used as a putdown (according to journalist Charles Sharr Murray). Likely inspired by the "Dame" character in British Pantomime, who is a comic old woman played by a beloved, famous Large Ham male performer in drag.
Hey, It's That Guy!: Notable guests/backup performers in Bowie's work (beyond duets and his well-established collaborative efforts with Iggy Pop and Brian Eno) include:
Rick Wakeman on piano on Hunky Dory, ladies and gentlemen! He also provides the Mellotron in "Space Oddity", bringing him into the limelight for the first time.
In addition to providing backing vocals, Luther Vandross co-wrote a song on Young Americans ("Fascination"). Over a decade later, he contributed to the backing vocals on "Underground"...as did Chaka Khan and Cissy Houston (who is probably best known to the general public as Whitney's mom, but is an accomplished singer in her own right).
Also from Young Americans: John Lennon not only co-wrote "Fame" but provided backing vocals and guitar work on that and Bowie's cover of "Across the Universe".
Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar on Let's Dance.
Peter Frampton on guitar for both Never Let Me Down and the supporting Glass Spider Tour. Fun fact: he and Bowie were schoolmates back in the day.
Robert Fripp on guitar for "Heroes" and Adrian Belew for Lodger, the follow-up Isolar II tour, and (much later) the Sound+Vision tour.
Pete Townshend, Robert Fripp and Chuck Hammer on guitar for Scary Monsters. Townshend would come back for Heathen.
Just a Gigolo never had a DVD release beyond Germany, and VHS copies date back to The Eighties and are tough to find.
The BBC production of Bertolt Brecht's Baal he toplined in 1982 has never been released on video anywhere, and the tie-in EP never had a CD release (though two of the five songs can be found on official best-of sets).
No reissue of Never Let Me Down includes "Too Dizzy". Bowie historian Nicholas Pegg theorizes in The Complete David Bowie that Bowie sees it as Old Shame since it's a Silly Love Song that can be interpreted as a rapist's monologue: she's reluctant and already has a lover, but the singer is determined to make her his...
While most of his music videos have been officially released on various formats, a few slipped through the cracks — including the handful of videos he made with Tin Machine. The videos from the first album can be seen legally on YouTube via VEVO, since EMI uploaded them, but since Bowie and co. did Tin Machine II on another label, those videos are MIA.
Magnum Opus Dissonance: His entire career is rife with this, as the songs/albums he wrote for art are generally in the shadow of those he wrote for commerce. However, the first and biggest example for him would be a little song he slapped together out of boredom... he was actually embarrassed by it. "Space Oddity", his first hit — and still popular to this day.
Money, Dear Boy: Bowie was pretty open that the purpose of Let's Dance was "to have hits". (Although a big seller in the 1970s, a disastrous deal with his manager meant he saw very little of the money.) He also cited this trope when explaining why he did the Pepsi ad...indeed, he said it's probably the only reason anyone would do an ad.
No Budget: The video for "Love Is Lost" cost only $12.99 according to the official press release! The life-sized puppets? They were actually created for an unreleased 1999 video (see What Could Have Been below) and taken out of mothballs in 2013. The three-person crew included himself!
He was the first mainstream artist to release both a single ("Telling Lies" in 1996) and a full album (hours... in 1999) for download. His official website also served as an ISP in its early days...just as New Media Are Evil was gripping the music industry again. During the salad days of Bowienet, he participated in online chats with members and, under the handle "Sailor", frequented its message boards.
He's something of a Japanophile — Ziggy Stardust's look owes a lot to kabuki theater — and has demonstrated surprisingly insightful knowledge of Japanese politics and philosophy in interviews.
Much of hours...'s music first appeared in Omikron: The Nomad Soul, in which he plays two different characters. He even claimed in an interview promoting the game that he not only plays video games but briefly nursed a crush on Lara Croft before remembering she wasn't real!
Playing Against Type: He made his Broadway debut as the title character of the play The Elephant Man in 1980. While he didn't use prosthetics (as per the play's instructions, he distorted his body language and voice instead), the gentle grotesque definitely contrasted to his usual bold, sexy image. In Jazzin' for Blue Jean, dorky Vic is also absent Bowie's usual charms, and is deliberately contrasted with Screamin' Lord Byron, a more conventionally Bowie-esque figure, albeit one who's Played for Laughs.
Reclusive Artist: Became this in the late '00s — he only occasionally surfaced in public (usually attending the odd charity fundraiser) and hadn't performed live, recorded, or granted an interview in years. In 2011 biographer Paul Trynka effectively confirmed that Bowie had indeed quietly retired, unlikely to make another record unless it's "seismic"...and then came the announcement of The Next Day in 2013. He may be keeping to himself, but he certainly isn't "retired" anymore.
Troubled Production: The Diamond Dogs and Glass Spider Tours (1974 and 1987, respectively), the two most elaborately staged of his tours. Both had numerous technical/logistical challenges to face just for starters.
Not to mention A Reality Tour. A stagehand met an accidental death before one show, Bowie was struck in the eye with a lollipop at another, and ultimately, the last few dates of the tour were cancelled due to Bowie's heart attack.
Type Casting: Most of his roles, be they goodies or baddies, human or inhuman, are linked by a cool, mysterious aura — the trailer for the movie The Hunger referred to this as "cruel elegance".
He was preparing a musical version of 1984 as a post-Ziggy Stardust project, but couldn't get the rights from Orwell's widow; some of the songs he wrote for it were recorded and released on Music/Diamond Dogs. A 1980 New Music Express interview revealed he actually worked on a surreal, partially-animated film based on the album, intending to release it Direct-to-Video.
He was announced as a cast member for the 1976 film version of The Blue Bird (perhaps as Fire — the only major role fit for someone his age), but didn't like the script enough to go through with it.
"Golden Years" was written for Elvis Presley, but he turned it down. (Fun fact: Presley and Bowie were both born on January 8.)
He worked on a musical score for The Man Who Fell to Earth with Paul Buckmaster, but it didn't pan out. Aside from a bass part that, played backward, was incorporated into the Low track "Subterraneans", none of this music has been made available. It would have included a song called "Wheels" (referencing the train imagery in the film).
He wanted to be in The Eagle Has Landed but the director went on record as saying his audition wasn't good. Other could-have-been movie projects in the late 1970s included:
Wally, in which he would have played painter Egon Schiele (this came very close to being a reality).
Director Lina Wertmueller wanted to work with him, but he didn't want to work with her.
David Hemmings, who directed Bowie in Just a Gigolo, also filmed one of his 1978 concerts, but Bowie wasn't happy with the result and it was never released.
There is evidence that Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon, considered murdering Bowie, who was also in New York City at the end of 1980 (performing in The Elephant Man on Broadway). He apparently made a choice between killing Bowie or Lennon — what if he'd gone with the former? Or much worse, decided to kill both men?
He planned to tour in 1981 in the wake of Scary Monsters but never did.
He bid for the rights to Metropolis in the early '80s, but was outbid by Giorgio Moroder. As the trope page for the film puts it, "God knows what he...scratch that, probably even God doesn't know what Bowie would have done with Metropolis."
His busy schedule in The Eighties not only forced him to drop out of the title role in the Faerie Tale Theatre adaptation of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" (Eric Idle took over the part), but also kept the Doctor Who producers from casting him as Sharaz Jek in "The Caves of Androzani" (the Fifth Doctor's final serial)!
His participation in Live Aid was supposed to include a live trans-Atlantic duet with Mick Jagger on "Dancing in the Street", but this proved technologically impossible; instead, they made the infamous video for it that aired during the broadcast. Also, Bowie's set was going to include five songs rather than four, but he chose to give up the time so a montage of video footage of the suffering Ethiopians the concert was benefiting could be aired instead.
He was sought for the title role in Hook but turned it down — he probably came closer to being in a Peter Pan movie than Michael Jackson ever was.
2.Contamination and 3.Africaans, the planned continuations of 1.Outside, were never recorded. (Supposedly some of 2.Contamination was recorded onto tape, but will never see daylight.)
A Concept Video was shot for "The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell" (hours...), with Bowie encountering several of his past personas as "played" by life-sized puppets, but he wasn't happy with the result and it remains unreleased. Two of the puppets — The Thin White Duke and Pierrot — got their closeups in 2013, when he reused them for the "Love Is Lost" video.
In the lead up to the 30th anniversary of Ziggy Stardust in 2002, he considered such ideas as a stage musical about the character or outright reviving him on the concert stage, none of which came to pass.
Toy was intended to be the album between hours... and Heathen and it would've featured newly rearranged versions of his obscure mid-'60s stuff, with a few new tracks tossed in as well. Two of the new songs ("Slip Away" and "Afraid") made it onto Heathen, and a few other tracks appeared in the U.K. or Japan as B-sides. And then in the spring of 2011, the album was leaked online and generated enough press that it was formally reviewed by Classic Rock magazine.
He declined to cover one of Peter Gabriel's songs for his Scratch My Back companion project I'll Scratch Yours, where each of the artists he covered covers one of his songs in turn. We got Brian Eno instead.
The world might have come to call him Sir David Bowie, but he turned down the opportunity to be knighted.
He was asked to perform at the 2012 Olympics, but declined. That didn't stop ""Heroes"" from serving as the unofficial theme song of the British athletes, and several of his other songs were incorporated into the opening and closing ceremonies.
In the late '70s and The Eighties, he frequently expressed a desire to direct movies as well as act in them. Although he did receive co-director credit on several of his videos, he never would direct a feature. (His son Duncan, on the other hand...)
The creators of The Venture Bros. tried to get Bowie to voice himself, but never heard back from him/his agent.
Word of God: 'All The Young Dudes' is not a song celebrating youth according to Bowie but the very opposite.
Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: On many albums, Bowie went into the studio with a few chord changes and wrote the songs on the hoof (""Heroes"" was being written as it was recorded). Averted, however, on Hunky Dory on which Bowie carefully crafted the songs on the piano before entering the studio.