Remembering the brilliance of David Bowie
British photographer Mick Rock and fashion designer John Varvatos reflect on what the iconic performer meant to them
The Rise of David Bowie, 1972-1973 is a collection of images by the musician's official photographer of the era, Mick Rock. The book was presented at an in-conversation event at the London store of Rock's friend, US fashion designer (and avid music fan) John Varvatos, earlier this month. Here, the two share their personal memories of the musical and cultural icon.
The first time I ever saw David Bowie, he was playing in front of about 400 people. He twinkled like a star from the beginning. I wasn't really aware of him until someone gave me a press copy of Hunky Dory. I played Life on Mars so many times - in the end, I messed up the vinyl and actually had to buy another, which is really saying something, as I was so into getting freebies in those days.
I was overwhelmed with the sheer originality of the man. He was very charming and bright and when I first met him it was not just to photograph him, but also to interview him. I did a number of articles on him for Club International and Rolling Stone, as well as for teen rock magazines such as Rock Scene. I'd occasionally see him put people through the ringer (although he never did with me), especially interviewers who he regarded as being ignorant or ill-informed.
He used to say to me: "I'm the most uncool person you'll ever meet," and I sat there thinking: "I don't know, David, I think we know a lot more people who are a lot less cool."
It was the mutation into Ziggy Stardust that somehow synthesised all of his elements. He was fun to hang out with, with an infinite curiosity and playful personality. It was interesting to see the contrast between him and Lou Reed. Lou was highly educated while David was more self-educated. It was like dark and light, New York and London.
I learned a lot about sensibility from them. It was always there - you can see it in my pictures of Syd Barrett - but I became more finely tuned as a photographer through focusing on those two particularly.
As a young guy of about 14 in Detroit, I wasn't aware of Bowie, especially musically. I'd seen images in some of the British magazines such as Melody Maker and the New Musical Express, but I didn't really take much notice until Ziggy Stardust came out. That album was an immediate smack-me-in-the-head love affair. I went to see him on that tour, with Roxy Music opening for him, and it was mind-blowing. I'd been to some interesting shows, even seeing the likes of Led Zeppelin, but nothing came close.
His transformation into Ziggy Stardust was a complete phenomenon and Mick caught it right at the cusp before it turned into a massive deal. This was the moment Bowie sucked me in as a fan – from then on, I wanted to consume everything he had ever produced because I was so intrigued.
That album is still one of my favourites of all time. I just love everything about it – the guitars, the vocals, the production…