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Friday, 14 January, 2000, 18:14 GMT
David Bowie: Banking on success
By BBC News's Andrew Walker

"Fame," wrote John Milton in Paradise Lost, "is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise." In the case of David Bowie, who has just announced that he is to open his own online bank, fame has gone hand in hand with an almost continuous need to reinvent himself.
David Bowie Factfile
Born David Jones, 8 January 1947
Studied with mime artist Lindsay Kemp
Changed his name to avoid confusion with The Monkees' singer
The Man Who Sold The World was covered by Lulu and Nirvana
Married to the supermodel Iman

The man who once admitted that "I'm just not content writing songs" and who has amassed an estimated fortune of at least 150m has moved beyond the sort of fame usually accorded to a rock star.

He now finds himself, not just a singer, musician, actor and noted connoisseur of the arts, but a brand in himself, giving his blessing to a website, an internet service provider and, now, Bowiebanc.com

The man who once gave us The Laughing Gnome is now laughing all the way to the bank, his own bank.

Paul Trynka, editor of the influential Mojo Magazine, is not surprised that Bowie has embraced the internet.

"Good rock stars devour new experiences," he says, "He's not exploiting his name, he's too switched on for that. I think that its all part of his wish to try to keep surprising people."

David Bowie today
His new persona: Bowie the Banker
Customers of Bowiebanc.com will be issued with cheques and bank cards bearing the singer's portrait: a far cry from the days when only monarchs' faces adorned currency.

Bowie's career has been punctuated with breathtaking changes of direction.

He killed off Ziggy Stardust, a major influence on glam rock and perhaps his greatest creation, at the height of his powers and followed him up with Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke.


He's not exploiting his name, he's too switched-on for that.

Paul Trynka, Mojo Magazine
His work with Brian Eno, on albums like Low and Heroes, prefigured a popular explosion in electronic music and the New Romantic movement.

Then he turned to acting, in roles as varied as the stranded alien in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth, and the tormented yet dignified prisoner of war in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.

Ziggy Stardust
King of Glam: Ziggy Stardust
And not just on film but on the more demanding stage too, twisting his body to play the deformed John Merrick in the 1980 Broadway production of The Elephant Man.

But there was a price to pay for his near-manic creativity. Drink, drugs and the failure of his first marriage had left him emotionally damaged. Today David Bowie acknowledges that cocaine use has left his memory 'like Swiss cheese'.

More recently, with his musical prowess waning, Bowie has turned to other forms of expression: painting, sculpture and the internet where you can even buy and download his latest album.

Is this latest move just a cynical ploy to recoup his career?


Branding can be important but there has to be more behind it.

Michael O'Sullivan, Internet investment specialist
Ernesto Schmitt, President of peoplesound.com, which promotes and markets new bands on the internet, says no.

'David Bowie's a bit of a pioneer. Along with a select few, like Madonna, he doesn't need publicity to distribute his music."

"But," adds Schmitt "he's between a rock and a hard place. He's been so successful on the internet that some US and European distributors have de-listed him because they fear the power of the internet to kill off CDs and tapes."

Aladdin Sane
Aladdin Sane

After pocketing an estimated 30m by selling off his back catalogue of hits, Bowie is now in a position to market his music directly to the public, cutting out music distributors altogether, as well as providing a raft of other online services.

Central to this is the cachet which comes with the Bowie name: the seal of approval which the brand signifies.

"Branding's worth is high in generating publicity, especially in a market where there are 50 to 100 companies trying to sell the same thing", says Michael O'Sullivan, Head of eCommerce at Bain and Company, an investment firm specialising in internet stocks.

David Bowie in Berlin
He spent three years in Berlin
He adds, "Branding can be important on the internet but there has to be more behind it. Consumers will be intrigued by brands, but if the proposition stinks then there's no future in it."

By embracing the internet in this way, David Bowie has again gone one step further than the competition. But the unpredictable nature of that medium may be so great that even he, with all his vision and creative energy, may have his work cut out taming it.

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David Bowie and the BBC's Jeremy Paxman discuss the internet
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