David Bowie - Finding Fame is the last in a trilogy of documentary films by Francis Whately, all of which are covering various parts of Bowie’s life. This final film could easily be called the first five years and focuses on Bowie’s early days, from his humble beginnings and his attempt after attempt to be successful. There can surely be no-one more determined or passionate than David Bowie to achieve fame. No doubt there will be lots of media talking about this documentary which aired for the first time yesterday, but I bet no one has written from a fan’s point of view. I thought it was an excellent documentary. It told us his story from the birth of Bowie in Brixton through to his move to the suburbs and his several attempts at stardom. I have visited Beckenham and his first home in Stansfield Road several times so it was wonderful to see it all in context. I have always loved ‘60’s Bowie’. I think it’s fun and some of it quite different from other songs of its time.
There were some heartfelt moments such as David’s cousin Kristina, who talked about how David loved Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men, and David himself talked about how much he loved the Danny Kaye film, Hans Christian Andersen. It was also very sad to hear David say how cold his parents were emotionally towards him, especially his mum. He said he craved affection because of that. That is just heart-breaking as he had so many people love him, especially the love Bowie receives from his fans, which had never faltered, even now. Kristina disclosed that David was always trying to win his mum’s approval and that he worried that he may be given away as his family was very transient.
Hermione was his first love and to hear her say how much they loved each other was special. It was lovely to hear Ching-A-Ling again with Hermione and Hutch in Feathers, which David describes as a mixed media group. Hutch was also on the original demo of Space Oddity as David wrote it for two people, but of course Hutch wasn’t on the final version that we all know.
The documentary jumped around on the timeline, starting in 1973 when he kills off Ziggy after being a star, then jumping back to 1965. We have Davy Jones and the Lower Third, but David had been in several bands before this and they get a mention including The Konrad’s, The King Bees and The Mannish Boys. With the Lower Third, they were offered an audition at the BBC. However, the BBC categorically said no, stating that Bowie sings wrong notes out of tune and that the singer is a cockney type but not outstanding enough; a singer devoid of personality. Can you just imagine?!!
Lindsay Kemp tells of David Bowie sitting in the audience, when he used to use When I Live My Dream in his performance. Lindsay says David was funny. David wanted to learn mime so in exchange for this he wrote Lindsay some songs for his show. They played the West End, at the Mercury Theatre. Sadly, nobody came at all to see them. Can you imagine if that was on 10 or 15 years ago it would be a national sell out! To see this clip is phenomenal. It’s just a wonderful moment in time captured and is magical. It was also funny to hear Lindsay say that David’s mime was dreadful and that he cringed.
David clearly hated suburbia and how bland it was. He considered it a wasteland so you can imagine how much he loved London – and London Boys is a great example of how it filtered into his song writing. There were obvious gaps in the documentary, such as no mention of the Arts Lab or the bandstand in Beckenham (where he wrote the beginnings of Life On Mars) but there was plenty to be thrilled about. The clip from Russel Harty showing David singing My Death is a standout moment. Many Bowie fans have that as the song they want at their funeral. The clip is really far too short and fans are left wanting more. Bowie’s voice always touches my heart so to hear him talk over some of the documentary was beautiful.
Angie is mentioned briefly, mainly as the person who got Mick Ronson involved and along with Tony Visconti and Trevor Boulder with John Cambridge on drums were briefly known as Hype. In April 1970 Woody Woodmansey took over on drums and then The Spiders as you know them were born. The Man Who Sold The World album was not successful and Hunky Dory didn’t enter the charts on its initial release either. What was wrong with people at that time?
To give up the success of Ziggy when you know how long and how hard he worked to get there is just the bravest thing. It was a rock n roll suicide. I love Ziggy but I love David even more for being so brave. He taught us not to be afraid. To keep persevering and this documentary shows just that. How determined he was.
Looking back on some of those brilliant early songs such as Love you til Tuesday, When I Live My Dream and Did You Ever Have A Dream? are wonderfully written songs. Even when you get on to Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud and All The Madmen you can still see his storytelling style. Anyone today would be laughing if they could write like this. He is and always will be a genius.
This is a wonderful glimpse into how Bowie grew into the superstar we know him as. After all he would say everybody knows me now – but how many knew his beginnings? Thank you David Bowie, for never giving up and for all the joy you brought to our lives.