Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David, We Hardly Knew You

Here is a photograph of David Bowie, taken last week.  

Bowie knew he was dying when the picture was taken, but he chose not to share that with admirers and friends.  Instead he posed for the picture and then released a final album, his 25th, two days before before his death.

The "Fresh Air" Interview

In 2002, Bowie sat with Terry Gross, the perceptive NPR interviewer.  She asked about his early work -- Ziggy Stardust, glam rock -- which was so different from from the rock esthetic of its moment. He said this:

   DB: I guess a certain contingent of the musicians in London at the beginning of the '70s were
   fed up with denim and the hippies. And I think we kind of wanted to go somewhere else.
   And some of us, I think, us small, pompous arty ones... kind of got the idea that we were
   entering to this kind of post-culture age and that we'd better do something postmodernist
   (laughter) - quickly, before somebody else did.

Gross continued, and this exchange followed.

   TG: So let me stop and see if I have this right - wearing a T-shirt and jeans seem phony to you?
   DB: Yeah.
   TG: But wearing mascara and eye makeup seem right.
   DB: I didn't say that wearing a glamorization of the rock artist was any truer from the other thing...
   TG: Oh, OK, right. It's artifice....
   DB:  It's all artifice.... I think my main point would be that the T-shirt and denims thing, in my
           mind, was also an artifice.

Another bit:

   TG: Did you see the gender stuff as being a statement about postmodernism or a statement
           about sexuality?
   DB: Well, neither -- I think they were just devices to create this new distancing from the
           subject matter....

And finally, this: 

   DB: I'm not actually a very keen performer. I like putting shows together. I like putting events
   together. In fact, everything I do is about the conceptualizing and realization of a piece of work, 
   whether it's the recording or the performance side. And kind of when I put the thing together, 
   I don't mind doing it for a few weeks, but then, quite frankly, I get incredibly, incredibly bored
   because . . . I don't live for the stage.

When you get right down to it, David Bowie was a public artist -- projecting many images as an artist -- but personally a private man.

Bowie the Artist

If you asked any novelist or painter or any other artist about that artist's life, the answer you would get is this:  Look at my work; that is what I want to share.

So it was with David Bowie.  He kept his apparently happy family life separate from his music and acting.  

Still, people who love an artist's work want more.  Because the work has moved them, fans invent a personal connection that isn't really there.  They want to participate in the artist's life and even his death.

This is why a gathering pile of candles and flowers has built over the last couple days in front of Bowie's SoHo home.  It is why so many people have written articles that seem to be about Bowie's life and work but are really about how his work affected them.       

My guess is that Bowie would care little for these displays.   He wanted to be remembered as the smartly dressed, energetic fellow in the final photograph, even if posing for the picture cost more energy than he could spare in his last days.

He treated death as a subject in the strange song, "Lazarus," from his final album, "Darkstar," using music and imagery to say all that he was willing to share with the public about his death, which turns out not to be much.

But it will have to be enough.

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