David Bowie dictionary

The legend’s life, his achievements, and his way of thinking are under the spotlight.

Text by Cem Kayıran, Busen Dostgül – Translated by Ebru Bayraktar, Illustration by Sadi Guran

David Bowie’s last album was released on January 10, 2016, the day he turned 69. Two days later he died. Throughout his career he triggered new trends and created new ways of approaching music. In this, our David Bowie dictionary, we remember once again the moments of his life, the events, the characters, the songs and the scenes from one the most important figures not only of popular culture, but also the history of art. He will be remember for his sophisticated, and creative approach to all his work.

Aleister Crowley

The Swedish director of the impressive clip for the exquisite song Blackstar, Johan Renck, often talked about the works of the British writer, poet and occultist Aleister Crowley. Crowley’s work and ideas were an important source of inspiration for Bowie’s view of art and life. Many of Bowie’s songs contain references to The Golden Dawn organization in the field of metaphysics, of which Crowley was also a member.

Buddha of Suburbia

The Buddha of Suburbia was a four-part mini-series broadcast on the BBC 2 in 1993. It followed the difficulties of a budding actor Karim, who lived in London. The series covered issues such as racism and the inequalities that the main character, who was of Indian heritage, experienced and had a prominent Bowie-led soundtrack.


Cane Hill

The first US edition of ‘The Man Who Sold the World’, 1970, features an artwork signed by Bowie’s friend Michael J. Weller. The work is of a London psychiatric hospital called Cane hill, in front of which is a cowboy, drawn by Weller. David Bowie had received treatment at Cane Hill, but an even more tragic story is attached to it.

Bowie’s step brother Terry Burns committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train in 1985, after escaping from Cane Hill where he had been receiving treatment.

David Robert Jones

Born David Robert Jones, he changed his name to David Bowie when he started making music. David Bowie was 18 when he took the step in order not to be confused with Davy Jones, a theatre actor who went on to join The Monkees. He had gone by the name Davie Jones for a short time in 1964 before settling on David Bowie.  

Everything’s Alright

His seventh album Pin Upsconsists of the reinterpreted versions of the songs by bands such as Pink Floyd, The Who, The Yardbirds and The Kinks. The fifth song of the album is the interpreted version of the Mojos’ 1964 song “Everything’s Alright” by David Bowie. Aynsley Dunbar, who played the drums on Bowie’s interpretation, is actually a member of The Mojos. However, Dunbar joined the group just after the single “Everything’s Alright” had been released.


The most successful single from the album Young Americans, a reflection of Bowie’s passion for soul music, is a song written in collaboration with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar. Bowie described “Fame” as an angry song. It peaked in the Billboard Hot 100 in the US nearly two months after it was released. Saying that his anger against the management company he had been working with at the time of writing, Bowie commented that the success of the song surprised him.

George Underwood

George Underwood changed Bowie’s life. He was a childhood friend and the two played together in the band “The King Bees”. As a result of a quarrel over a woman, Underwood hit Bowie’s left eye and caused it to turn to green. The friendship of the two remained the same after that punch – George Underwood did the cover design of David Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory.

High Line Festival

Held for the first time in New York in 2007, the High Line festival had a 10-day programme curated by David Bowie. Artists were chosen from many different areas such as comedy, music, visual arts and literature, and the events occurring in various venues in Manhattan. Arcade Fire, Deerhoof, Ricky Gervais, Claude Cahun and Daniel Johnston, were some of Bowie’s guests.

Ivo van Hove

The Belgian theater director Ivo van Hove, known for his off-Broadway plays, worked with Bowie towards the end of his life. There had been rehearsals for a while for a musical adapted from “Lazarus” from the album Blackstar (the lyrics to the song have an eerie feel of coming from beyond the grave).

The plans were originally for Bowie to take a greater part in the rehearsals, but he could not attend fully due to health problems. The Belgian director said that despite all the troubles Bowie went through, he was absolutely dedicated to the musical.


Jareth the Goblin King

Bowie was identified with many film roles through the years and one of the most memorable performances was no doubt in the 1986 film Labyrinth. The story of how Bowie landed the Role in the Jim Henson fantasy epic is interesting. The producer’s first choice for the character Jareth was Michael Jackson, but after turning down the role Henson approached Sting. It was Henson’s own children who persuaded him to make the film with Bowie.


David Bowie wrote “Kooks”, a song from the 1971 album Hunky Dory for his son Duncan Jones who was born in May that year. David Bowie got the news that his son had been born while he was listening to Neil Young at home. The song has been covered by several bands and singers such as the Tindersticks, Robbie Williams and The Smashing Pumpkins, and was inspiration behind the  name of the British band The Kooks.

Little Richard

As a child Bowie was impressed by Little Richard, one of the most energetic and popular musicians of the 1950s. The first instrument David Bowie received from his father was a saxophone, and he decided to become a musician at the age of 9, saying “I want to be in the band, too” after watching Little Richard. Bowie learned to play the saxophone by taking lessons from the British musician Ronnie Ross. 


Michael Jackson may have been the first person to be offered the role in Labyrinth, but David Bowie beat him to the moonwalk by about 10 years.

Inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984, and his own vision of a post-apocalyptic glam world, the concept album ‘Diamond Dogs’ was taken on tour the same year it was released, 1974. Bowie, who worked with Toni Basil for the stage show of that tour, used the famous dance step as part of the performance.

Nicolas Roeg

British Nicolas Roeg directed The Man Who Fell to Earth, the sci-fi film in which Bowie took the critically acclaimed lead role. Bowie played the humanoid alien character named Thomas Jerome Newton in the movie adapted from novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. Roeg’s other directing credits include Walkabout, Cold Heaven and Insignificance.

Omikron: The Nomad Soul

The video game released in 1999 by Microsoft Windows, Omikron: The music of the Nomad Soul includes songs that David Bowie composed and recorded specifically for the game. Some of the songs on Bowie’s album Hours …, which was released around the same time, had the versions written for that game and redone for the album. David Bowie, who worked with the team in the concept stage of The Nomad Soul, is represent as two different characters in the game.


Bowie worked with a number of different artists throughout his career. One such collaboration was backing vocals for a song off the 2006 album from TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain. David Bowie performed a duet with Tunde Adebimpe on “Province”, one of the most epic songs of the album. After Bowie had first expressed the desire to perform with the band, their then manager called guitarist Dave Sitek. Sitek could not believe what he had heard, and hung up the phone thinking that his manager was joking.

Robert Fripp

The legendary King Crimson guitarist, Robert Fripp has played on two of Bowie’s albums. Fripp played guitar on Heroes in 1977, then left his place to Adrian Belew, also of King Crimson for the Lodger. Fripp return for the 1980 album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). The recording of Heroes is one of the most popular stories of the music history. Fripp recorded the guitar parts for all the songs after flying in from the US as Brian Eno’s guest in one day in West Berlin.



A new species of spider discovered by German arachnologist Peter Jäger in Malaysia in 2008 was named the following year as Heteropoda Davidbowie in honor.. Not only has Bowie had references to spiders peppered throughout his career, but the face of the spider resembled David Bowie’s painted face at the beginning of his career.



Although Sake is the drink most associated with Japan, Bowie became known for another tipple during his stay in the country. Shōchū, and drink made from rice, sweet potato, brown sugar and brown wheat, first emerged around the middle of the 16th century. Bowie played a major role in the drink’s resurgence among the younger generation. In 1980, Bowie was seen with a glass of Shōchū glass on his piano in an advertisement that featured the song “Crystal Japan”.

Tony Visconti

According to Bowie, the song “Heroes” was inspired by lovers he saw in Berlin, a city that he resided in and became fond of. Talking about the affection between a couple in front of the Berlin Wall, Bowie later explained that this couple was in fact Tony Visconti and his German girlfriend. Visconti, worked with Bowie on a number of his albums from 1969 up towards the end of his career as both a musician and a producer. 

Tea phobia

Little David Jones went on a small trip with his family by the river Thames in London at the age of five. After a small accident during the trip, some tea was spilled on David Bowie. According to rumors, Bowie was never seen drinking tea after that day. Although it has been suggested that he had consumed Japanese tea on occasion, he seemed to avoid the traditional British cuppa.

Under Pressure

Bowie originally travelled to Montreux to work on the Queen song “Cool Cat” during the recording of the “Hot Space” album. However, his backing vocals were eventually dropped from the recording when he wasn’t pleased with the results. Deciding to continue recording, Bowie and Queen worked on a song called “Feel Like”, jamming it until “Under Pressure” emerged. The song carried Queen to the second and David Bowie to the third rank in the UK.


Victoria Station

In 1976, David Bowie arrived at Victoria Station in London in an open-top Mercedes, stood up and greeted his fans from the car. A photographer shooting Bowie took a photograph which seemed to show him doing a Nazi salute. The NME published this photo, stirring a great debate. Bowie insisted that the photographer had captured something unintentional. Gary Numan supported David Bowie in this argument. Numan accused the photographer of having bad motives and said that anyone waving hand can be shown with the Nazi salute with the right timing.

Weeping Wall

“Weeping Wall”, off the second side of David Bowie’s 11th studio album Low,was released in 1977. All the instruments on the song were played by Bowie. From the first of the Berlin Trilogy, the song, features strong rhythms, wonderful synth parts and atmospheric vocals. Bowie said that the song emphasizes the poverty that the Berlin Wall created.


Yassassin is from Lodger, one of the albums the legend recorded with Brian Eno.  In the song, the Turkish word “Yaşasın” (meaning Hooray) is repeated many times by Bowie, and the song itself contains plenty of influences from Turkey especially with the spring partitions. “Yassassin” also had a reggae influence, and was released as a single in the Netherlands and Turkey.

Ziggy Stardust

10 February 1972 was the day when one of rock’s best-known characters first appeared in front of an audience. David Bowie took to the stage with his red and brown colored hair and flashy costumes, creating Ziggy Stardust. First appearing as part of the tour for Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust became a fully established concept on the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,released in the summer of 1972. The album featured the songs such as “Moonage Daydream,” “Starman” and “Five Years” has become synonymous with David Bowie, and Ziggy Stardust is one of the most enduring symbols of the great man’s legacy.