I must admit, that though for this Christmas I told my friends and family to buy me David Bowie themed things, I’m actually a very late comer to the David Bowie fandom.
My brief love affair with Bowie didn’t start until March of 2015, when I took a class on Progressive Rock. One week I was assigned to present on whether or not David Bowie should be understood prog (he’s not and I will fight you). To be honest, I really only know Bowie’s early work through the Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane era.
And yet, for all this brevity I found myself weeping yesterday morning as I listened to Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars, offering up my meek cry-singing rendition of “Starman,” as my own private requiem.
So how is it that a singer who only seriously entered my rogue’s gallery of counter culture icons ten months ago could unhinge my entire day? For that, I think I need to turn to two quotes by noted French post-modern philosopher Michel Foucault.
1. What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life.
2. It’s not enough to affirm that we are gay, but we must also create a gay life.
Of course it’s really unclear what exactly Bowie’s sexual preference was. Around the Ziggy Stardust era he came out as gay, then he said bi. He might’ve dated Mick Jagger. According to his wife he’s had way more sex with women than men, and he may or may not at some point have also come out as a closet heterosexual. At any rate I feel as though the word queer sticks to Bowie’s gendered and sexual life regardless of any “real” sexual preference he might have. His was a queer life, not just a life that happened to include gay sex.
Bowie’s power over me, then, comes from his ability to so combine both the gay-as-life and life-as-art so beautifully. With his flowing blouses, his painted face and his adopted year of alien-androgyny.
His fashionable embrace of cocaine and triumphant victory over the ensuing addiction. His ability to reinvent himself as bigger and more interesting characters at will. His mastery of music and acting, conquering many genres and deftly
portraying Goblin Kings and Roman Governors perfectly.
This was queer life and art life seamlessly blended. His concerns were not those of white-bread life, and we trapped in the middle bourgeoisie were elevated for it.
But then, there’s plenty of bold faggots from that time I could have rallied around. David Bowie’s true draw to me comes from a third element he brought to bear: science fiction. David Bowie in many of his incarnations, is a god of science fiction. Space Oddity is a fantastic Science Fiction short-story-as-ballad. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a brilliant Space Opera. In fact “There’s a Starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us but he thinks he’ll blow our mind,” may end up being the overlong title to my master’s thesis.
Bowie was one of the great science fiction authors along with Samuel Delaney and Octavia Butler. But to simply think of him as a Sci-fi author is not enough. Here, I must adapt my first Foucault quote again to really appreciate Bowie’s Sci-fi genius.
All life is full of bizarre and unexplainable happenings. We live through Sci-Fi scenarios every day, if were willing to see them. Bowie was able to take all this bizarreness and wear it on his gay-ass art-house sleeve. As Ziggy Stardust, he was an androgynous Alien Rockstar. I can think of no reason to believe otherwise. He didn’t simply imagine the characters of Ziggy Stardust or the Spider from Mars. He created them as real living beings we could meet, listen to, and experience for ourselves.
In death too he was artful. With an artist’s flourish of a life well lived, would there have been a more fitting time to die then directly on the wave of the hauntingly beautiful Black Star. Religion and science fiction come together, in the title track’s music video. Full of dead astronauts, blind Bowies, holy books, and dark rituals, it was funeral rite only science fiction’s greatest queer artist could ever live out.