|David Bowie in 2002. |
Photo Credit:Adam Bielawski/Creative Commons
William Ward, London Correspondent for Italian publications Panorama and Il Foglio, writes a personal reminiscence of David Bowie:
As an avid teenage reader of the pop/rock press since the time of Sgt Pepper’s, nothing ever struck me quite so much as the cover story in the Melody Maker of January 22nd 1972: David Bowie in one of his slightly dodgy, but by then familiar, Japanese-inspired skin-tight onesies, and a few smears of make up, blithely announcing to the general public that he was gay. With all the studied nonchalance of a 1950s Hollywood diva announcing her fifth marriage: next!
Of course he’d acting up on stage like a flaming poof for at least a year already, but back then – the era of Dick Emery, Kenneth Williams and Mrs Slocum’s Pussy – full on showbiz campness was something that just flew under the radar. Following in the footsteps of Liberace or Little Richard, you could be as outrageous as you liked, no questions were asked.
His coming out in the MM was as ground-breaking as Kenneth Tynan’s having said “fuck” on live BBC tv a couple of years beforehand. But unlike that arch theatre critic, the creator of “Oh! Calcutta!”, (or indeed, the hopelessly overstated mime pageants of one of his teachers, Lindsay Kemp) Beckenham’s star child wasn’t so much out to épater la bourgeoisie, as to establish himself as a truly original, utterly autonomous figure, spanning the then unbridgeable Berlin Wall between cool, cutting edge youth counter culture, and the venerable traditions of Kabuki, music hall and French mime.
Although he later discarded his “gay” - soon corrected to “bisexual” - mask, just as he was to do with almost all his subsequent stage personae (and this might be a moment to overlook his most ill-judged stunt, the return to Victoria station from the continent in 1976, wearing his Thin White Duke outfit, and giving a Nazi salute from the back of an open topped vintage Mercedes “Hitler was the first rock star” – in order to publicize his then latest album, “Station to Station”), he set the stage for more recent high impact, high concept stars such as Madonna and Lady Gaga – or self-referential, needy sissy boys like Prince, with extraordinary prescience.
Bowie also seemed to have very good judgement in choosing his collaborators (whose careers he enhanced, rather than sucked dry and cast off like Madonna tends to) – Nile Rodgers being perhaps the best example; he was supremely lucky in having Tony Visconti (who produced album as different as “Space Oddity”, the Berlin albums“Low” and "Heroes" as well as his final albums, “The Next Day” and this year's “Blackstar”, and also Gus Dudgeon, Lou Reed, Brian Eno and Klaus Nomi.
Sometimes his artistic flights of fancy was less inspired than his best work, but he was never a jerk, and there was always an integrity and a coherence to his oeuvre that other, often more commercially successful artists, can only look upon in silent awe.
LINK: Commencement Address given by David Bowie at Berklee in 1999