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[Xmca-l] Re: Collective moments and perezhivanie - the Bowie phenomenon


I'm glad to have Bruce's comments about Bowie and fascism, because as I said before, that is something I would like to understand. It's the fly in the ointment (or the milk). Being reminded of the times in the UK isn't something I have access to. I appreciate those insights/explanations.

Certainly Bowie was an individual with contradictions, as many of us have. His experiments in fascism could have just been a mistake, along the lines of young people today who post things on the indelible Internet and must be marked for the rest of their lives because of it.

As this thread has extended, I was thinking about Michael's and other's comparisons to other celebrity-deaths such as Princess Diana and Michael Jackson and what makes David Bowie's death different or the same. 

It may have to do with each individual's kind of demise. One could say all three were "too young", but Bowie was older then the others. His death seems more removed from the self-inflicted fall of Michael Jackson, and accidental tragedy of Diana. Dying of cancer is no walk in the park, and it's likely his past addictions contributed, but somehow dying of an illness is something more accessible to us, because many of us have friends and loved ones that have suffered and lost the battle against cancer.

There is also the fact that we are living on a "smaller planet." With news traveling over the globe with less friction, the pulse of emotion feels more palpable, just like that pulse of emotion created by watching the Vietnam war on evening news television in the 60s and 70s was its own kind of phenomenon, and contributed to our sense of a shrinking planet back then.

But after considering these things, there also appears to be several other kinds of factors that contribute to these " global happenings" concerning David Bowie's passing. 

One comes from his artistry, and while disputing its quality seems to be a matter of personal taste, the fact is, he was a working artist for several decades. Unlike like Madonna who really does have other people do A LOT of work in her name, identical to the po-mo way of Jeff Koons, David Bowie had an excellent singing voice, he was an accomplished musician, and he was also a successful music producer who helped other artists succeed. Then he was also an actor, and who knows what else we might learn about. But in addition to that, he was well known for collaborating equally with other not-known and well-known musicians, the list is quite long. In the celebrity writes ups, while it would be caddish for anyone to do it days after the news, I've yet to notice anyone who feels legitimate bitterness toward him. If someone wanted to settle the score it'll happen soon. Still, I don't recall any artist ever complaining about being ripped off by David Bowie even while he was alive and kicking.

The second is that the length of his working career crossed over three, maybe four generations, and each of those generations has a different kind of relationship to him because of the historical period and persona of his work at the time they came to know of him. That is something unusual in the lives of artists. This didn't happen with Elvis, for example. Bowie's trans-generational quality is quite unusual.

The third element I see to contributing to this "phenomenon" is that he adapted to the technology of the Internet. I think I can make this argument just on his BowieBonds, which was selling futures of his song royalties for 10 years, back in 2000 (I think it was). I don't think anything about this venture would have been feasible before the Internet. I'm sure many musicians envied his privilege to make such a move. I would.

The fourth element has to do with something discussed quite openly right now, and that has to do with the nature of questions his work raised with regard to gender and sexuality, and also race, long before it was "what people did." He challenged those limits. Many people are grateful to him for doing it.

A fifth element is the lack of friction in the media machine itself, always looking for the next "event" upon which to capitalize. Bowie's work and life is bursting of sound-byte-able material. These combined make great 3 minute videos and 1,000-word webpages.

Then we have his death occurring days after the release of his last album, which, to a person who stopped following him a few years ago, makes me consider how does an artist work on an album and music videos with cancer eating away at his body? And keeping all that under wraps? It must have not been easy. It doesn't seem to be sheer vanity. Marlene Dietrich not leaving her Paris apartment for fear of being seen is vanity.

Last of this list of elements is the oblique title of his last album "Blackstar" which can be deconstructed on a few levels. A somewhat anemic possibility: he is a "black star" as attributed to his roots in soul, R&B, and jazz. But this seems too facile. 
But! More likely it is better to see it as an astronomical term (from wikipedia) and which is alluded to in his music video of that name:
• Dark star (Newtonian mechanics), a theoretical star that has a surface escape velocity that equals or exceeds the speed of light
• Dark star (dark matter), a theoretical star heated by dark matter annihilation in the early universe
• Dark-energy star, a hypothetical alternative to black holes
• Black star (semiclassical gravity), a theoretical star built using semiclassical gravity as an alternative to a black hole
• Black hole, any region of space time where escape to the outside universe is impossible
• Black dwarf, a type of degenerate dwarf star, specifically, a cold white dwarf

These definitions indicate unknowable astro-masses where light doesn't/cannot penetrate. As a poetical device, it is the most elegant metaphor I have ever heard used to symbolize death. While he posits/posited himself as a blackstar, as is customary with David Bowie's work, he leaves a gap for us to fill, for ourselves, which is to consider our own blackstar-ness. He is tapping into our own mortality. My reading of it, there is desire for pity from him, but instead he wants/wanted us to celebrate life while we still have it. This is his gift to me, how I read it. For me, all this is evidence of his generosity as an artist, and what paradigm the artist *should* fulfill in human society. 

Considering ALL these factors, I don't actually find the "phenomenon" that surprising, it seems reasonable that these consequences transpired, if I think of it as a coalescing of these different developments coming from different directions and locations.

Kind regards,