Remembering Fellow MINIAC David Bowie
Conceptualized and created in 1999 for the brand’s 40th Birthday, the David Bowie Art Mini remains an eccentric reflection of both the musician and brand’s tie-in with modern music culture. Photo credit: autocar.co.uk
Way before the fame – the glam rock image, flamboyance, Space Oddity and Ziggy Stardust – David Bowie was a creative teenager with a plastic saxophone and a love for MINI. Having grown up with a penchant for music, his enthusiasm for players such as Charles Mingus and John Coltrane paved an early road for his transition to fame at an early age. At 15 years old, Bowie formed his first band, the Konrads, playing mostly at family gatherings and weddings.
During this time, though specifics are unclear, Bowie was seen as an assembly line worker at the British Motor Corporation (BMC)’s plant, building Mark-I (1959-1967) MINIs. Characterized by sliding windows, external door hinges and a “moustache” grille, the Mark-I kicked off an automotive revolution proving that, indeed, less can be more.
David Bowie on the BMC Mark-I MINI assembly line, some time in the mid-1960s. Photo credit MOTORGRAPHS and classic1275cc.tumblr.com.
It wasn’t until 1967, when Bowie enrolled in a dance class at the London Dance Centre, that he began developing his trademark eccentricity. Studying dramatic arts under dancer Lindsay Kemp, he learned avant-garde theatre and mime performance. His penchant for acting landed a few starring roles including a Lyons Maid Ice Cream commercial and a popular mime act. On July 11, 1969, his album “Space Oddity” was released, ironically just five days ahead of the Apollo 11 launch, and reached the top five on charts in the UK.
As time progressed, Bowie ran a folk club with friends on Sunday nights. Influenced by the Arts Lab Movement, the club developed into the Beckenham Arts Lab and popularized. From that point forward, his popularity came in waves, and the success of his albums began to steady.
It didn’t take long before David Bowie refreshed his management and bandmates, and returned to the sound which was so original to “Space Oddity.” Combined with his refined eccentric mindset and penchant for acting, he took off on his first US tour in 1971, promoting his new album “The Man Who Sold the World.” The original cover of the UK version depicted Bowie wearing a dress which he took with him and wore to interviews.
During that tour, Bowie laid eyes on two American porto-punk artists, which eventually paved the way for his development of the “Ziggy Stardust” alter ego. In 1972, “Ziggy” took the stage, donning a unique costume and dyed-red hair. Citing an American influence, Bowie churned out numerous hits including contributions to other artists’ records. There was no turning back – David Bowie and his alter ego were out to conquer the world of music with a style which was tremendously ahead of its time.
Bowie was talented, with an ability to play much more than guitar and plastic saxophone. In addition to the aforementioned, plus keyboards and harmonica, he played stylophone, viola, cello, koto, thumb piano, drums, and percussion. Vocal instructors described his range as expansive, with an ability to vary his tonality across multiple musical genres and styles.
Though details of David Bowie’s love for all things MINI are scarce, his employment at the BMC factory, along with his chrome-plated contribution to the brand’s 40th birthday gala in 1999, assure us that he at the very least had a passion for the cars. David, you will be missed, and your impact on music and culture will be everlasting.