Illustration: Toby Thane Neighbors. Copyright Toby Thane Neighbors.
My essay springboarding off Mark Spitz’s new Bowie biography—called, for some incalculable reason, Bowie: A Biography—is live at the Las Vegas Weekly.
Attention Conservation Synopsis: Ideas discussed include boomer Bowiemania, The David’s effect on male-boomer notions of the heteronormative, the Death of the ’60s/Birth of the ’70s, Why Glam Rock is Not Only More Profound Than You Know But More Profound Than You Can Know, and, crucially,
How did a snaggletoothed twink with a larval pallor, the physique of a stick insect and shaved eyebrows (for that transgendered mantid effect) became the improbable object of one-handed fantasies for millions of “boys and girls and everything in between,” as Ziggy photographer Mick Rock puts it?
What makes Bowie’s story fascinating is the dissonances between the plastic idol and the mousy-haired earthling who plays him. As the Thin White Duke of his 1976 Station to Station tour, Bowie was the brilliantined, clench-jawed embodiment of Weimar nightcrawler cool, a curlicue of smoke wisping off his ever-present Gitane. But the same man, in his earlier days, worshipped the leprously uncool Anthony Newley, a fixation immortalized in “The Laughing Gnome,” a chipmunk-voiced novelty song calculated to make even the staunchest Bowiephile cringe. The same Bowie who pushed the envelope of pop by using William S. Burroughs’s cut-up method of collage composition to generate lyrics like “you’re dancing where the dogs decay, defecating ecstasy” (“We are the Dead,” Diamond Dogs) would pass the schmaltz on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, dueting with Der Bingle on “Little Drummer Boy.”