Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

David Bowie: Finding Fame

This is an interesting documentary on Bowie’s fledgling career between 1965 and 1971 – when he was 18 to 24 years old. What’s fascinating about it is this: He failed in every way possible until the single Space Oddity succeeded in 1969 (the album it was on, however, sunk without a trace). I’m not just talking about a lack of sales – I mean really failed, as in the songs sucked (sorry, just my opinion), his image was completely ill-defined, and he was this kind of marginal character on the London scene that was completely second rate and totally inconsequential. WTF! But he kept plugging away – even if no one else did, he believed in himself.

It’s really astonishing – for the most part, the film doesn’t try to portray his struggles as anything other than what they were – a young artist trying to find himself in the most public way possible. It’s a messy business…

Finally, in 1971, he recorded his fourth album “Hunky Dory,” and the rest, as they say, is history. “Changes” and “Life on Mars” certainly saw to that. The album might not have been a huge hit, but those songs made people stand up and take notice. What happened? Artistic growth, that’s what.

1972 saw the release of Ziggy Stardust and he more or less achieved world domination at the age of 25. I thought I knew quite a bit about Bowie’s career, but this documentary showed me how little I really did know.

It can be hard to differentiate self-belief from delusion, especially when you’re failing. But sometimes the artist is right, even if everyone else disagrees. It’s just that there are very few artists who can take this kind of rejection for years without giving up. Bowie eventually proved himself right, but recognition doesn’t come for every artist. This begs the question:

Where does all the great art go to die when no one hears or sees it?