Here’s my deal today. I’ve started probably three separate posts and can’t stay on task and finish a single one. Maybe this post will kick me in the arse to get moving?
Leave it to David Bowie to motivate me, right? So yeah, apparently Mr. Jones hails a cab just like everyone else (including my four old grandson, Felix!). I have photos to prove it–of both of them!
A new book by Peter Doggett is available now in the U.S. about Bowie’s strong and steady presence in the 1970s. The book recognizes that where some British icons faded a bit over time, Bowie has remained iconic during every change in music and society over the past four decades. Even more-so than Mick Jagger or any of The Beatles as solo artists, Bowie stood out with his ART and truly made us think.
FROM THE INTRODUCTION:
“Like the Beatles in the decade before him, Bowie was popular culture’s most reliable guide to the fever of the seventies. The Beatles’ lives and music had reflected a series of shifts and surges in the mood of their generation, through youthful exuberance, satirical mischievousness, spiritual and chemical exploration, political and cultural dissent, and finally depression and fragmentation. The decade of David Bowie was altogether more challenging to track. It was not fired by idealism or optimism, but by dread and misgiving. Perhaps because the sixties had felt like an era of progress, the seventies was a time of stasis, of dead ends and power failures, of reckless hedonism and sharp reprisals. The words that haunted the culture were ‘decline’, ‘depression’, ‘despair’: the energy of society was running out, literally (as environmentalists proclaimed the imminent exhaustion of fossil fuel supplies) and metaphorically. By the decade’s end, cultural commentators were already defining the era in strictly negative terms: the chief characteristic of the seventies was that it was not what the prime movers of the sixties had hoped it would be.
“This was not, at first sight, the stuff of pop stardom. The Beatles would have struggled to capture the hearts of their generation had they preached a message of conflict and decay, rather than idealism and love. What enabled David Bowie to reflect the fear and chaos of the new decade was precisely the fact that he had been so out of tune with the sixties. He was one of the first pop commentators to complain that the optimism that enraptured the youth of the West in the mid-sixties was hollow and illusory. His negativity seemed anachronistic; but it merely anticipated the realisation that Western society could not fuel and satisfy the optimism of sixties youth culture. ‘Space Oddity’ aside, his work of 1969/70 failed to reach the millions who heard the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed or John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, two albums that also tore away the pretensions of the recent past. But even those two records paled alongside the nihilistic determinism of Bowie’s first two albums in his new guise as cultural prophet and doom-monger.
“Bowie might have maintained a fashionable gloom for the next decade, and turned his sourness into a calling. Instead, he embarked on a far more risky and ambitious course. Unable to secure a mass audience for his explorations of a society in the process of fragmentation, he decided to create an imaginary hero who could entrance and then educate the pop audience – and play the leading role himself. Since the start of his professional career as an entertainer in 1964, he had used his brief experience as a visualiser in an advertising agency to rebrand himself in a dozen different disguises. Now he would concentrate on a single product, and establish a brand so powerful that it would be impossible to ignore. The creation of Ziggy Stardust in 1972 amounted to a conceptual art statement: rather than pursuing fame, as he had in the past, Bowie would act as if he were already famous beyond dispute, and present himself to the masses as an exotic creature from another planet. Ziggy would live outside the norms of earthly society: he would be male and female, gay and straight, human and alien, an eternal outsider who could act as a beacon for anyone who felt ostracised from the world around them. Aimed at a generation of adolescents emerging into an unsettling and fearful world, his hero could not help but become a superstar. Whereupon Bowie removed him from circulation, destroying the illusion that had made him famous.
“What happened next was what made Bowie not just a canny manipulator of pop tastes, but a significant and enduring figure in twentieth-century popular culture . . .”
FROM THE ENTRY FOR ‘THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD’:
“There were precursors: a Robert Heinlein science-fiction tale from 1949 entitled ‘The Man Who Sold The Moon’; a 1954 DC comic, ‘The Man Who Sold The Earth’; a 1968 Brazilian political satire that flitted across the arthouse movie circuit, The Man Who Bought The World. None of them has an apparent thematic link to one of Bowie’s most enigmatic songs, written and vocalised over an existing backing track while the clock counted down for completion of the album to which it lent its name. Its lyrics have proved to be infuriatingly evocative, begging but defying interpretation. (. . .) Like the question of who killed President Kennedy or what happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste, the mystery is more satisfying than any solution.
“But not as satisfying as the track, a compact, elegantly assembled piece that featured none of the metallic theatrics found elsewhere on the album …”
I look forward to reading this new book. I appreciate the philosophy that Bowie wasn’t all love and peace in his Ziggy Stardust period. We felt a darkness which continued on into the mid-to-late 70’s Thin White Duke persona. Longing, misery, addiction, love, lust, dance…and Fame were ubiquitous if one allowed the words and rhythm to seep inside. Try listening to Station to Station and not feel an icy fever in the R&B “plastic soul” wooziness in the atmospheric drama pounding from the speakers. A prime example is “Stay“, which is probably my favorite Bowie song…today, anyway.
Oh dear…there I go again. Loving the Alien…