Off The Record: David Bowie

Off The Record: David Bowie

Off the Record is a new in-depth music biography series that profiles the extraordinary life of an iconic artist over the course of each season. Music journalist Jordan Runtagh (People, Rolling Stone, EW and VH1) offers a revelatory look at the human behind the hits through rich, dramatic storytelling, extensive research, and interviews with those who knew them best. You know the songs, now meet the legends.

Episodes

May 3, 2021 80 min

Our final episode on the life (or lives) of David Bowie begins and ends with a birthday. We start in 2013, when David reentered public life nearly a decade after his heart attack with the surprise release of “Where Are We Now," his first new song in a decade. It was one of the most stunning comebacks in music history. Most fans assumed that David had simply retired from the industry, content to live out the rest of his days as ...

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We’re taking a brief break from the story this week. (We’ll be back with our final chapter on David Bowie on Monday, May 3rd!) But today we have something very special in store: a conversation with Carlos Alomar — a funk guitar icon, and one of David’s most crucial musical collaborators. He cut his teeth in the late ‘60s as one of the youngest players ever in the Apollo Theater’s house band, leading to stints backing James Brown, C...

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Our latest chapter covered David Bowie’s creative renaissance in the ‘90s and early 2000s. The records that he made in this period are often overlooked but rank among the most experimental of his career, as he rejoined formative ‘70s collaborators like Brian Eno and Tony Visconti to create some of the most daring music he ever made. But one crucial collaborator during this period was new to Bowie’s circle — bassist Gail Ann Dorsey....

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April 19, 2021 87 min

Today we’re looking at Bowie the Rock ‘n’ Roll Elder Statesman. Throughout the ‘90s, he continued to change and challenge, inspiring new generations with his work. Far be it from David to go gently into middle age. In this era, he produced later-career gems like '1. Outside,' 'The Buddha of Suburbia' and 'Heathen,' reconvening with creative partners like Brian Eno and Tony Visconti. But more than ever, he en...

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Today’s ‘Labyrinth’ Week guest is puppeteer Steve Whitmire, who performed several characters in this beloved film — including one of the fiery figures in the “Chilly Down” dance sequence, and (my favorite) Ambrosius, the trusty dog of Sir Didymus. But these roles, impressive though they are, are just a minuscule part of his resume. If you know anything about Muppet history, then this man needs no introduction. For 26 years he was t...

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This week on 'Off the Record,' we're playing special tribute to Jim Henson's 1986 film 'Labyrinth,' the beloved cult classic that introduced David Bowie to generations of kids. We're kicking off the festivities with conceptual designer Brian Froud, the man who imagined world of 'Labyrinth.' A legendary illustrator and painter, the movie began with Brian’s drawings of goblins, monsters and surreal...

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The climax of our last chapter is David Bowie’s set at Live Aid in the summer of 1985 . Our guest today was alongside him on the Live Aid stage – and in the helicopter on the nerve-wracking ride out to Wembley Stadium. His name is Thomas Dolby, and his time with Bowie is just one entry on his extremely lengthy resume. On his twitter bio, he describes himself as a recovering synth enthusiast, but even that barely scratches the surfa...

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April 5, 2021 85 min

Today’s episode looks at David in the ‘80s, a time that saw him grow from a famous artist to a global superstar — a one-man brand bolstered by the fresh force of MTV. David embraced the exponential growth of mass media, and shamelessly courted mass popularity with the Nile Rodgers-assisted ‘Let’s Dance.’ He got the success he craved, but it changed his reputation in a way that was irreversible. Up till then, he was the world’s most...

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So far we’ve discussed the making of Bowie’s landmark track “Heroes” — one of the most mythic songs in his cannon. Everything about its creation is loaded with drama. It was recorded in an old Nazi concert hall within sight of watchful East German snipers atop the Berlin Wall. And of course there was the famous kiss by the wall, which allegedly inspired one of the song’s best known verses. Jordan’s guest today not only worked at th...

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Our last two episodes followed David Bowie in the late ’70s as he recorded ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes,’ the twin pillars of his so-called Berlin Trilogy. (Sorry, ‘Lodger’ fans.) These records are an artistic triumph on nearly ever level, and contain the most innovative music Bowie ever made. In addition to co-producer Tony Visconti and mad musical scientist Brian Eno, another crucial collaborator during the German sessions was Edu Meyer. Ed...

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March 29, 2021 70 min

Today’s episode looks at Bowie’s years in Berlin. It was a time of tremendous personal and artistic growth as the newly minted 30-year-old escaped the trappings of his showiness bubble and re-entered reality. Holed up in a nondescript apartment with his friend Iggy Pop, Bowie lived a generally anonymous life in the German capital. The experience forced him to grow up and become an adult — a scary proposition for anyone involved in ...

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Our latest chapter chronicles The Thin White Duke, David Bowie’s most infamous and unsettling character. He makes his grand entrance on the title track to Bowie’s landmark 1976 album ‘Station to Station.’ Today we’re visited by Mr. Earl Slick, the man response for much of the album’s incendiary guitar work. Earl is a bonafide rock legend, and Bowie is just a part of his remarkable resume. That’s him on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘D...

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Today’s chapter is a portrait at The Thin White Duke, the manifestation of megalomania and paranoia that gripped David Bowie at his personal low. Among his most frightening creations, the icy character unveiled on the title track to 1976’s ‘Station to Station’ is the physical embodiment of the drug abuse and psychic darkness that threatened to destroy him following years of mired in the toxic hedonism of Hollywood. Thankfully, he w...

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Our latest chapter of ‘Off The Records’ delves into a dark era for David Bowie: the months spent in Los Angeles in 1975. Famously subsisting on a diet of cocaine, milk and red peppers, he stayed awake for days at a time, driving himself to the brink of sanity through malnutrition and sleep deprivation. “It was a dangerous period for me,” David would later say. “I was at the end of my tether physically and emotionally and had seriou...

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March 15, 2021 55 min

At the height of his fame in the mid-'70s, David Bowie battled his deepest demons in the City of Angels. After a costly split from his management company, he found himself adrift in Hollywood, driving himself to the brink of sanity with a diet of cocaine, milk and red peppers. Time passed in a breakneck blur as Bowie stayed up for three or four days at a stretch. The mix of sleep deprivation and drugs drove into a state almost ...

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In our latest chapter, David Bowie went from Starman to Soulman, trading high concept sci-fi tales and glam rock for the music that had enthralled him as a boy — rhythm and blues. David’s renewed love of R&B was stoked by his new girlfriend at the time, a striking young model and burgeoning singer named Ava Cherry. They’d met at a party in early 1973 and quickly hit it off. As she would later say, their romance had all the hall...

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In August 1974, Patti Brett was among the throngs of supremely devoted David Bowie fans camped outside of Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound while the man himself toiled inside, undergoing his transformation from Starman to Soulman. Bowie was hard at work recording ‘Young Americans,’ the funked-out R&B album that would mark his most abrupt musical shift to date. Seeking some instant feedback on his new sound, he invited a handful of fa...

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David Bowie arrived on U.S. shores in the spring of 1974 to launch the mammoth Diamond Dogs tour, the Broadway-style production inspired by Orwell’s 1984, and his own unnerving trip behind the Iron Curtain. The show was his most elaborate venture to date, epitomizing the dystopian drama that had made him a star. Yet as David spent more and more time in the States, he found himself reconnecting with the music that enthralled him as ...

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We’re taking a quick a quick midseason break from our story this week; we’ll have the next chapter of Bowie’s life for you on Monday, March 8th! But today we have something extra special in store — a conversation with Mr. Ken Scott, the man who co-produced a string of Bowie’s most beloved albums, including Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane. For most people, that’s enough bragging rights to last a lifetime, yet it’s just ...

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Tony Zanetta is a crucial figure in New York’s experimental downtown drama scene of late '60s and early ‘70s. He first entered David Bowie’s orbit as a cast member of Andy Warhol's play ‘Pork’ in 1971 (co-starring with last week's guest, Cherry Vanilla.) Soon he would be swept up in the whirlwind of David's management company, MainMan, headed up by Bowie's larger than life manager, Tony DeFries. In practice, the...

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