The award-winning documentary about Robert Crumb, Crumb, intended to illustrate how bizarre and eccentric the famous counter-cultural cartoonist was. I left with the opposite impression, recognizing that Crumb was raised around authentically mentally ill siblings and was exposed to degeneracy and madness. But he wasn’t actually all that degenerate or mentally imbalanced himself. Crumb was essentially a tour guide, a storyteller who offered guided tours into the defective and derelict underworld.
He was in it and not of it.
David Bowie, legal name “David Jones,” was an especially intelligent, well-bred, temperate, and talented man of essentially bourgeoisie instincts. He made a larger-than-life living of simulating a stylized and romanticized parody of the impulsive, indulgent, delusional, and delirious world of a self-destructive, drug-addled, and clinically insane gender-bending, sex-addicted glam rocker. He passed away yesterday of natural causes–liver disease–with his wife of 25 years at his side, his fan service obligations relating to his death carefully accounted for, his diversified investment portfolio and estate in immaculate order, and his outsized legacy locked in place.
Bowie was plenty talented, of course, but his real gift lied in presentation. His professional collaborations with Tony Visconti, Brian Eno, and several other men with musical gifts who lacked the capacity to effectively market their gifts was an artistic talent in itself. One of the greatest problems in modern media is that the creative genius typically arrives in the form of a boring and chubby middle-aged White guy, while the masses demand youth, danger, diversity, and sexiness.
In today’s industry, most creative artists just settle for becoming supporting artists for minority performers, cashing their checks in relative anonymity while Beyonce and Rihanna enjoy the fame and acclaim. Damon Albarn has solved this problem with the development of an elaborate alternative universe of racially diverse cartoon characters, The Gorillaz, to work around the grave challenge of being an agreeable and banal forty-something White guy. David Bowie, however, actually became the cartoon character in a profoundly comprehensive and consistent manner.
Who besides perhaps Lady Gaga bothers to be a truly consistent performer nowadays? Alice Cooper is all too eager to take us golfing. Marilyn Manson fetches every opportunity to rinse off the makeup and remind everybody that he’s indeed a boring and conventional dudebro. Ozzy invites you to join him as he awkwardly bumbles and mumbles about in his mansion. David Bowie’s alienated, mysterious, and mythic realm was all largely a performance, but what a commanding and consistent performance it was until the final act. Even as he was racked with advanced cancer, he kept up the act, relying on that most existentially provocative event, one’s own impending death, to engage and entertain his fans one last time.
Had Bowie actually been what he presented himself to be, he would’ve died of AIDS decades ago, would’ve squandered his wealth, would’ve destroyed the relationships with talented artists and producers with whom he enjoyed a series of symbiotic relationships, and would’ve left nothing of the influence and impact he left on popular culture. Those seeking authenticity in the artistic presentation of degeneracy and madness would do well to give up, as the real thing isn’t the least bit sexy, fun, compelling, or creative.
Many are searching for a political or philosophical context for Bowie’s life, but they’re searching in vain. There is none. He eagerly dug into every corner of politics and philosophy to construct his stage personae and thematic experiences, but that’s all they were. As a teenager, I immersed myself in his Man Who Sold the World album because that particular soundscape was constructed around Friedrich Nietzsche’s existentialism. Of course, Bowie had no real interest in Nietzsche’s ideas, but in his otherworldly presentation, most markedly in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
I can’t help feel that the Low album, Moonage Daydream, and Life On Mars all played a critical role in nudging me from my secular humanist stage into the nihilistic phase in my philosophical exploration. There’s nothing in the lyrics and little in Bowie’s life or words implying any of the depth I projected onto his work. I believe, despite an utter lack of evidence, that there’s an implied nihilism in Bowie’s discography and associated symbolism.
Peering into the abyss is a necessary step in the conversion from the secular humanist fedora-tipping normie into a rigorous Radical Traditionalist and an authentically Traditionalist Christian. And David Bowie delivered the perfect soundtrack for that experience. Bowie stole Nietzsche’s existentialist experience and the glamorous energy and symbolism of varied fascist movements as readily as he stole from the contemporary homosexual subculture, masterfully remixing and repackaging all of these experiences which would be otherwise inaccessible or disagreeable to the common man into a shrink-wrapped and marketable multimedia experience.
There never was a David Bowie. The man was a simulacrum of experiences and sensations from throughout history, across the political spectrum, and within numerous subcultures and scenes. David Bowie was a gifted storyteller pretending to be a degenerate rock star pretending to be an androgynous space alien.
Creativity creates while degeneracy degenerates. David Bowie marketed the big lie of the Modern Age better than perhaps any other man, selling the dissolution of gender roles, sanity, sobriety, faith, and tradition as a romantic experience of creative destruction rather than the miserable and depressing farce that’s instinctively revolting. Those seeking authenticity in degeneracy would do well to look to Jim Morrison’s bathtub, Elvis Presley’s toilet, or Kurt Cobain’s cabin.
The only thing authentic about David Bowie’s public life was his authentic desire to perform. The world’s most talented and effective salesman for degeneracy has passed away, and there’s no sign of an heir. I doubt there will be, as there are vanishingly few idols left to topple, norms to defy, and symbols to smash. Alienation and disorientation are no longer captivating escapes from the familiarity and sobriety of ordinary life, but have become ordinary life itself. Despite myself, this irrelevant celebrity news about this perfect stranger’s demise has sickened me. Even in his very last performance, David Bowie has managed to trick me into finding depth and profundity where there is none.