Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
`As an adolescent, I was painfully shy, withdrawn. I didn't really have the nerve to sing my songs on-stage and nobody else was doing them. I decided to do them in disguise so I didn't have to go through the humiliation of going on-stage and being myself. I continued designing characters with their own complete personalities and environments.'
In the mid-sixties, popular music became a vehicle for the West's modern `poets' to make public their statements to the world. This was an inevitable consequence following the relative demise of print and proliferation of radio. Lately, this form of media-communication has been visually developed through television and video and more recently, interactive computers.
In a sense, tomorrow's literary historians will therefore be greatly aided by a wealth of audible and pictorial information in much the same way that water-coloured drawings of Keats, photographs of Wilfred Owen, and film of Ezra Pound help today in giving tangible evidence of the face behind the work. Selection of material is, however, as constant today as it ever has been.
From the hundreds of poets writing throughout the centuries, only a few have filtered down into the libraries of today. Similarly, over the past 30 years, only a handful of modern popular lyricists have emerged from a shortlist of thousands: Lennon, Davies, Dylan, Townshend, Sting, Womack etc. This list would also have to include David Bowie; a man of enigmatic charisma and forceful opinion, who has displayed a singular penetration and strength of judgement.
When I first began this account of Bowie's work, I had in my mind pre-conceived notions of it's subject matter. My initial aim was to cast an objective eye over the writer's work. The actual manner in which the appraisal was investigated, however, became increasingly more biographical as I continued. Although I think the man would shudder at the very thought, I believe that in many ways the artist's lyrical work did follow a parallel route with much of his personal and emotional meanderings. His awareness of being able to project himself, in terms of the future, became in itself the mirror to this concept. For example, `Ziggy Stardust's' principal and most pertinent asset was that it correctly predicted the course which Bowie's musical life was to take. And, because it was written in such a fantasy/narrative fashion, the resulting success and truisms it related, presented his audience with great credibility in the man, forming a large proportion of the reputation and notoriety he holds today.
It was therefore highly ironic that his earlier idealistic beliefs and `doubtful future' doctrines, were ousted by an album which rightly foresaw a capitalistic rise to fame. His material was unlike that of his contemporaries, his lyrics reflected an ongoing personal progression as opposed to non-correlated pieces. That is not to say that his work was in any way better, in many respects his writings were devoid of deep, sensual passion, but Bowie was singing from his heart with sincerity. What renders his work more cosmopolitan, is that it lacked a one-to-one, human, emotional flavour. Bowie was far more concerned with his environment than his relationships. This trait continued, with one or two slight deviations, until the release of the `Let's Dance' LP in 1983. This fact presents the reader of his work with nearly 15 years of material that was written subjectively, by a man fascinated by his own environmental place.
Thus, as I progressed with the book, I found myself inexplicably discovering a pseudo- biographical account of the man's life and philosophy. There have been several attempts to produce a biography of Bowie's life. Unfortunately, many are of a confusing, misinformed nature, often being swamped beneath mountains of glossy photographs which his public have already seen in one form or another. My prime concern in this study was that of interpretation and translating his lyrics into a cognitive pattern. In this respect the book has to be speculative. Bowie typically offers his gracious, unassuming acquiescence to such a venture thus:
"All I try to do in my writing is to assemble points which interest me and puzzle through them, and that becomes a song. Other people who listen to that song must take what they can from it, and see if the information that they've assembled fits in with anything I've assembled."
He is profoundly intelligent. Angus Mackinnon sees his hyper- active mind as being an `entropic vortex that pulls a bewildering succession of variety of ideas, interests and influences into it's orbit, arranging and disarranging them at lightspeed.' Yet Bowie possesses that rare trait of being able to manipulate received information in the calculated fashion of a prophet, nothing is ever done `out of the blue.' Extremely well-informed his fame is attributed to immense hard work and experimentation on grand scales.
He symbolised how people would aspire to think, and for thousands, sat by their music systems, hanging on to every word, this was and remains the source of his fascination.