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How one punch defined David Bowie's career

On a US chat show, David Bowie once joked, “I reinvented my image so many times that I’m in denial that I was originally an overweight Korean woman.” The chameleonic and kaleidoscopic reinventions that Bowie swirled through like an alchemist of identity were a calling card for his otherworldly artistic talent. They were not just character studies or quirky conduits for creativity; they redefined what was possible in rock music. Bowie happened upon the powers of reinvention at an early age and quite by chance. 

“When you’re young, you’re still ‘becoming’,” Bowie once said, “Now I am more concerned with ‘being’.” While the Starman was still very much in the embryonic phases of ‘becoming’, a pivotal creative moment would be thrust upon him. As Bowie explains: “When I was about 12/13 years old, I had a fight. I was hit in the eye and it’s one of the muscles at the back of the eye that always holds the pupil open.”

The boy in question was George Underwood, a lifelong friend of Bowie’s. Underwood fleshed out the details behind the fight in an interview, stating: “Just to get the story straight, it was about a girl we both fancied,” artist Underwood told The Telegraph. “She came to my 15th birthday party – everyone was drunk at about eight, including David.

He added: “I was sensible and managed a date with her. David phoned me on the day and said she had told him she didn’t want to meet me because she wanted to go out with him.” This was, in fact, a wily old trick by Bowie who swooped in on Underwood’s patch and copped a blow to the eye for his troubles and nothing more.

“Neither of us had even kissed Carol Goldsmith,” Underwood told the BBC, “She was just a girl that we both fancied.” However, an innocuous schoolyard tiff, followed by a seemingly innocuous punch, ended up with Bowie in hospital a week later having suffered anisocoria, causing an enlarged pupil and the illusional appearance of different coloured eyes. This would be a defining moment in Bowie’s life as though it had been prognosticated by some otherworldly mystic figures of fate. 

Throughout Bowie’s career, his androgynous look imbued him with a captivating sense of enigma. He outwardly embodied his music and art with a miasma of creative mystique. It is fair to say that he seemed like some lauded pariah of humanity, a creative freak in the most endearing sense of the word. His unique eyes presented him with his first mask, and he wore them ever since. As he once told Cameron Crowe of Rolling Stone, “Don’t expect to find the real me… the David Jones underneath all this.”

His self-imposed pariah status from the status quo began with a reinvented appearance that caused quite a playground stir when he was around 14 years old latterly allowed him to fully inhabit characters and use them as a way of exhibiting something deeply personable, and usually unreachable, via the singular rock persona. His chameleonic ways were not the quirks of a turncoat, rather they allowed him to propagate something deeper with a sense of sincerity, he was able to invite fans into a world of fantasy. “I don’t want to climb out of my fantasies in order to go up on stage,” Bowie once said, “I want to take them on stage with me.”

His fantasies from a very early age involved being a musician of some sorts. George Underwood jokes that Bowie was in a line of boys being asked about what they’d like to be when they were older by and Bowie bucked the trend of conventional answers by declaring, “I want to be a saxophonist in a modern Jazz quartet.

Bowie was always determined to be different and having two different looking eyes made him inherently so. He was forced to embrace the pariah status of individuality from an early age and he propagated it ever since. As Underwood, the culprit behind the creative messiah’s inception, once revealed, “[Bowie] said to me later, I did him a favour [with the punch] it gave him that enigmatic look… ‘people always talk about the eyes’ he said.” 

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