“I am a generalist!”
Since Bowie's death last Sunday there has been a outpouring of stuff in the media and one was hoping that our finest writers would step up to the plate and deliver some eulogies and obituaries which combine style and insight. Instead by and large we got flatpack cliches and dull chronologies. It was if anything that could be said about Bowie had been said years before. The chameleon thing, constantly innovating etc. How awful to hear Cameron and other MPs jumping on the bandwagon with their meaningless schoolboy tributes. Most of the BBC coverage was also creepy, old-fashioned and a bit like listening to a straight aged uncle talking about hip hop.
So far the best overall obit I thought was Chris Salewicz's in The Independent. I liked Richard Williams original post on his Blue Moment blog and the inside story of the making of Blackstar by Andy Greene in Rolling Stone.
Also enjoyed reading 'Bowie in Berlin' by Rory McLean who was assistant director on David Hemmings' movie 'Just a Gigolo' in which Bowie starred with Marlene Dietrich in her last film appearance. The title of this post comes from the quote below:
“I am a generalist!” he told me one day on the set, meaning he was a Renaissance man, skilled in different fields and mediums. “Then why are you most associated with rock’n’roll?” I asked. “It is only a front,” he laughed.
But by far and away the most entertaining, insightful and fresh thing of all comes from a now defunct web mag called Grantland and was published on March 11th 2013. The previous June one of the mag's editors received a tip-off that Bowie was near death and it was decided that two writers Alex Pappademas and Chuck Klosterman should start a conversation on e-mail about Bowie's legacy which Grantland would publish immediately after he died.
The largely unedited text of their conversation stretched over seven months and reached 15,000 words. It was finally published under the title 'The Nobituary' the day before Bowie released his first surprise album 'The Next Day'. Reading it now makes it even more poignant. This is, to my mind, great journalism. Its exciting and original, irreverent, full of smart digressions and pin sharp insights. Both writers bounce off each others riffs and I just wish I could run all the best bits. Here's just a couple of edited extracts:
CHUCK K: 'For all those under the age of 45, Bowie was just there when you first became aware that popular culture was something to think about. He didn’t seem to be any age; it feels like he should subsist in static perpetuity. He was the first person to become a rock star in the era when rock music was not a new, radical, non-universal thing. He was working as a total original in an art form that was no longer limitless and undefined, and that forced him to be more intellectually creative than he already was. The fact that no one understood precisely what he was doing made him easier to understand, somehow. Bowie invented this insane state of being, and the planet just collectively thought, Yes. This is what we want. It’s like he was here just to do that (even though no one had asked for it, or even knew what to ask for)
ALEX P: Yes. Every obit’s going to have the word “chameleonic” in the first sentence; he’ll go down in history, the way Madonna will, as somebody who continually and restlessly reinvented himself.
He introduced the idea that an obviously contrived persona could be as much a part of the theatrics of rock performance as anything a rock star did physically or musically.
...with Bowie, the thrill was knowing that he was playing a part, that he obviously wasn’t from space or black or gay or the King of the Goblins, but that pretending to be those things allowed him to articulate what it was like to be David Bowie at the moment he was pretending to be them. And this spoke to people because everybody feels trapped by the dumb identity they were born with.
,...this all seems totally routine now; it’s in the groundwater of pop. Your pretensions are your art. Everybody’s an avatar.....Bowie’s legacy is this much bigger and more far-reaching idea about the role of gesture in pop music, which has emboldened and enabled a ton of people who may not even consider themselves Bowie disciples.
CHUCK K: You write, “I always took for granted that Bowie didn’t have a fixed identity,” and — in an explicit sense — that’s obviously true. But sometimes I feel like he did. Yes, he constantly toggled through this menagerie of characters. But wasn’t his central identity inevitably the same? It was always some version of, “I’m a bizarre, forward-thinking, consciously artificial life force.”
I think this is why he was better at these inventions than everyone else: There were unifying elements across all his constructions. They did not feel forced. He never became someone who didn’t seem like David Bowie.
ALEX P: I thought that basically there would be nothing about his death, when it finally happened, that would change the content of any kind of obituaric writing about Bowie, y’know? I figured it was already kind of a closed case.
I guarantee you that if the New York Times has an obituary or some kind of career-spanning post mortem David Bowie arts-section story on file right now, waiting for him to die, something fucking insane would have to happen for that story to change in a significant way....what would have to happen for a David Bowie obituary written today, in July, to be rendered not current? Bowie emerges from seclusion, decides that he’s not yet “said all he had to say” with Tin Machine, and cuts an album that critics almost universally agree is “at least as good as Low and totally better than Lodger“?
There’ll be a hundred Bowie obits and Bowie remembrances, half of them probably also written before the fact, years before the fact, carefully composed in the heads of ex–guitar techs and Mojo freelancers whose three-week stint embedded with the Glass Spider tour left them with notebooks full of unpublished anecdotes (and also hepatitis B). People who never even knew Bowie have thought about what they’ll write when Bowie dies. '
There's so much more to enjoy. Here's the whole thing.
PS: My favourite line of Chuck's:
'If Bowie was the architect of glam, Ronson was the dude pouring the concrete'
I also love Chuck's great piece on Lou Reed here
“What the music says may be serious, but as a medium it should not be questioned, analyzed, or taken so seriously. I think it should be tarted up, made into a prostitute, a parody of itself. it should be the clown, the pierrot medium. The music is the mask the message wears — music is the pierrot and I, the performer, am the message.”
- David Bowie
From 'Quotable Pop' by Phil Dellio and Scott Woods