DO WE KNOW BOWIE?
If you listened to the Lou Reed back catalogue through headphones, which always give good music an intimacy, you might at the end of the marathon listening session feel like you've developed a basic understanding of the Americans nature. The same goes for Lennon, the confessor, Dylan, the cryptic jester and most of the singer/songwriters we know and have loved throughout the years.
Is the same true of David Bowie?
He has been described in review of his music as an "Ice-Man", "Calculating", "Detached", "Depressed" even "Sinister" and for a lot of his albums these descriptions are accurate and helped form the coming image of "The Thin White Duke" even while Ziggy still played his twelve string guitar.
Bowie is unlike most other musicians and more like an actor in the sense that he has never consistently given us the "Real" him.
After watching Marlon Brando's old movies would you know what to expect if he sat down to lunch with you? (Apart from a creaking chair and a hefty bill).
After listening to Morrissey, or Mark E Smith or any of the above "Legends" I mentioned, you would have a pretty good idea of what to expect from a meeting, you may and would probably be wrong, but the point is you'd have an idea.
Like a good actor, Bowie remains a true enigma.
He along with few others understood the tides of fame and their true nature. Being real in the theater of madness was always an option, but historically a risky one. The public always turns.
And when they do, is it better not to have them turn on an illusion?
Narcissism is compulsory in the fame game, and the same narcissism is usually what breaks a star in two when the public cool to their particular act.
But narcissism within a role is a far safer option, provided the "act" is first rate.
And so it is with David Bowie.
We don't dislike Al Pacino when he plays a bad guy, however evil that bad guy may be. We might not like the movie, but we figure there's always next time and our image of Al is still safe and warm.
I'm stretching the comparison with Music and Film I know, but then so did Bowie.
If you met David Bowie in a real environment, (not backstage or at a record signing) would you have a good idea of the mans nature? Does listening to his latest album and reading "Hello" magazine fill in the blanks with him? Or would it be like meeting a long lost relative, of whom your mother always spoke ill of, but of which that only served to fire your imagination? I don't think we know.
We Imagine Iggy drinking the bar dry with us and then taking us to a TV strip club, and we imagine Lou bing surly, boring us with electronic jargon, Jagger not making eye contact whilst looking for someone more important to talk to, Morrissey depressed that we even feel the need to open our savage mouths, Elton courteous but shallow, but Bowie?
That is probably his greatest achievement....we still don't know him after all these years.
26th June 2003.
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