Monday, January 9, 2012

Acres of Glitter and Denim: David Bowie's Age of Fracture?

Randall Stephens

Art rock chameleon David Bowie turned 65 yesterday. The BBC has a slew of programs that it lined up to celebrate the star's reaching that milestone. An original 1973 TV performance of "The Jean Geanie," presumed lost, has been rediscovered and re-aired.

At the Guardian Alexis Petridis reflects on the unlikely longevity of Bowie:

It wasn't just the drugs: there was something about the intensity with which he worked during that decade - the scarcely-believable ten-year creative streak that begins with the 1970s The Man Who Sold The World and ends with the 1980's Scary Monsters And Super-Creeps – that suggests an early demise. Someone that burns that brightly probably isn't going to burn for long.

And the Telegraph reports that fans are clamoring for a tour: "Dozens of music industry celebrities from Boy George to Gary Barlow took to the online social networking site Twitter to congratulate him on a remarkable career."

One of the more interesting historical perspectives on the gender-bending, shape-shifting Bowie comes from Peter Doggett, author of The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie And The 1970s
(Random House, 2012), who argues that, in hindsight, the Thin White Duke was the most influential rock star of the 1970s. Certainly, when looking at how instrumental Bowie was in creating the rock persona and inspiring so much music in the 1980s, there's a case to be made here.

Writes Doggett in the intro to his book:

Fragmentation was central to Bowie's seventies. He pursued it in artistic terms by applying cut-up techniques to his language, subverting musical expectations, employing noise as a way of augmenting and substituting for melody, using a familiar formula and distorting it into an alarming new shape. He applied the same tools to his identities and images, assembling each different persona from the remnants of the past. Even Ziggy Stardust, the guise in which Bowie left his most enduring mark on the decade, was assembled like a collage from a bewildering variety of sources, despite his appearance of having stepped fully formed from a passing flying saucer. Elements of Ziggy came from pop: from Judy Garland, the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Little Richard. Strands of pop art were also visible in his disguise, from Richard Hamilton's assimilation of science fact and science fiction to Andy Warhol's obsession with surface and the borrowed sheen of stardom.

Do we have enough perspective on the 1970s to make those kinds of broad claims? The Age of Fracture through David Bowie's career and music?

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