Personalities | David Bowie | Early Life

As is the case with pretty much all stars, before the beautiful butterfly came the unremarkable caterpillar.

Bowie was born not on Mars but in Brixton, South London. He started life as David Robert Jones on 8 January 1947. 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, severe mental problems. By the time Bowie was six, the family had moved to Bromley in Kent.

School Up And Downs

Although he was precocious at the recorder and school mime lessons, young Jones was not so academically gifted as to pass the old eleven-plus exam. Aged fifteen, while he was at Bromley Technical High School, he got into a fight with one 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.

Another fellow alumnus of Bromley Technical High School was Peter Frampton, who credits Jones with setting him on the path to his own rock stardom – originally far greater than Bowie’s – via encouragement and informal lessons. Bowie would later help him again, recruiting him to tour in the Eighties when Frampton’s star had waned.

Convert To Rock

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. Britain duly bequeathed a wave of its own rock heroes, thanks to a musical do-it-yourself craze for skiffle. Bowie was no exception to this fashion for taking up a makeshift instrument with a group of mates. He soon graduated from tea-chest bass to proper instruments, dabbling in several but becoming adept at guitar and saxophone.

Bowie was in musical groups called The Konrads, The King Bees, The Manish Boys and The Lower Third. Some of them got music press notices and others even record releases but none lasted long. It was always Jones who caught the eye: a good-looking young peacock and would-be polymath (even then he was publicly talking about a desire to act).

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. The nom de guerre was taken from Jim Bowie, legendary American frontiersman who died at the battle of the Alamo and gave his name to the formidable-looking Bowie...

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