On Bowie and Narrative

If you clicked on this blog, chances are you are a little bit weird. It’s hard to argue that anyone did more to allow you (and me, us) to be weird than David Bowie. Fluid in gender and sexuality when it was still a crime in Britain to be homosexual, his mere presence allowed us to explore our individuality.

Other people have written better than I could about his impact on them and music, fashion, art and cinema. I’ve been thinking about the analysis of his work and Blackstar in particular, especially as an artist who celebrated the individual in the way he did and resisted analysis to the extent he did. I think celebration of the individual and resisting analysis are two sides of the same coin.

The great modernist writers, the ones who wrote for the future, as Bowie did, Beckett and Joyce and Faulkner, wrote oblique, plot-less fictions that allowed the consumer to imbue them with their own meaning, there was no right interpretation, no didacticism in a work like Waiting for Godot or Ulysses, they were for a moment theirs and then, eternally, ours. I think there are parallels with Bowie here, at one point he assembled lyrics from cut up newspapers, so they were deliberately nonsensical. However, even then, they meant something to me, to us, maybe not the same thing, but a thing that helped us navigate our world. That’s what Bowie did, after all, help us to navigate the world as if it was our own.

Before Bowie’s death, I was talking to a friend about Blackstar, in fact last Friday I spoke to everyone who I thought would care about Blackstar, they said that Lazarus had been making him feel things, it made me feel things too and still does, I’m not sure if the emotions are different now than they were before his death, but I’m relatively sure that they will be different six months from now. Blackstar is an amazing record and its impact is changed by knowing that Bowie knew it would be his last, but I’m trying very hard not to refract it through the lens of knowing that he knew he was to die. Applying knowledge that you have after the fact is a dangerous path to tread, as is applying facts to a conclusion you’ve already drawn. Any facts can be bent into a narrative if you want them to be. David Icke has convinced himself, and others, that most powerful people are secret reptilians, and, more dangerously, selective reading of evidence is leading to a recurrence of measles in anti-vaccination circles.

It’s only human to search for meaning, just as it’s only human to want to take comfort in a time of grief. If you want to believe that Blackstar is Bowie’s eulogy or his goodbye to us, or you in particular, you can, because that’s your truth, just remember that it’s your truth and might not be mine, or the bloke next to you at the pubs. In fact, remember that about everything, you’re you and I’m me and they’re them and that’s OK, because, ultimately, wouldn’t the great weirdo want you to celebrate your own individuality and allow others to celebrate theirs? Except Trump voters and lazy journalists, fuck them.

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