David Bowie Didn’t Die

by DEZisdesign.com

by DEZisdesign.com

By Nichole Fernández (Editor)

Those of you who know me are aware of my undying love for David Bowie. My well-known fascination (slightly bordering on blind obsession) with the artist can be described as being so ingrained in my daily life that my college roommate once lovingly made me a bracelet with the letters WWDBD, or What Would David Bowie Do? And, yes, I wore it and I of course still live by the mantra. While I love his music and have listened to pretty much every song on every one of the prolific artist’s albums, you won’t find me regularly listening to his music because David Bowie’s music, while undoubtedly amazing, is just the vehicle for the creation of an iconic pop star.

David Bowie shot to fame in the 70s with his iconic Ziggy Stardust persona. He created an image that defied the norm by wearing eccentric costumes with colorful hair and makeup creating what music critics would later refer to as glam rock. Ziggy Stardust bent gender, musical, and artistic expectations, pushing the boundaries of popular culture.

After Ziggy Stardust, Bowie continued to change his image and sound from Aladdin Sane to The Thin White Duke. David Bowie reached widespread fame for creating a persona that represented the confusing, fragmented, paranoid, and hyperreal emerging postmodern society. David Bowie was one of the first postmodern pop stars.

His music was interpreted in many ways, but his image was what stirred up the greatest social analysis. His androgynous Ziggy persona was said to be a critique of the gender binary, an expression of sexual liberation, and an icon of the LGBT community [1]. But these were all interpretations of his image, his characters, and his music.

David Bowie described in an interview that these gender interpretations applied to his music “were just devices to create this new distancing from the subject matter. There was a kind of a diffidence, an idea that really hadn't been thought of before, that the history of rock could be recycled in a different way, and brought back into focus without the luggage that comes along with it. It was a very strong sense of irony.”[2] That quote could have been taken straight from a Wikipedia page defining postmodernism itself.

David Bowie created these hyperreal identities that recycled what had already been seen without any context or consideration of their previous meanings. He created an image characterized by surreal interpretation of a nonexistent reality.  His image was fragmented, and his fashion mixed styles and gender in a confusing and incoherent manner. His appropriation of space age imagery created a reference that was separate from time and place, a decontextualized timelessness where the future exists mixed with the past in the present.

As an artist, Bowie had an undefined image and musical genre. He was constantly changing and reinventing both himself and the themes he reproduced. The distinction between Bowie’s characters and himself is blurred in this postmodern image, making it impossible to draw a line between the real Bowie and his image. He thus created an image that is without a doubt textbook postmodern.

With all the hyperreality, fragmentation, and discontinuity that hopelessly define postmodernity, there is an optimistic outcome. Bowie’s postmodernism contradicts the rigidness of art and music that existed in modernity. It is an example of how art does not need to be new, pure, and accomplished. Art can be commercial and tacky, artists can be untrained and undefined, the audience can be uninformed and indistinguishable.

What has emerged from postmodern depictions such as Bowie’s is an image free of intent, which can consequently be interpreted freely. Postmodernity can describe a society that lacks emotion, community, and progress. But it also describes a society that can allow for plural and alternative identities. These identities are mutable and can challenge traditional social structures. This is how a rejection of gender norms and the concept of sexual liberation can be so easily applied to Bowie’s image.

I can now thank David Bowie for my unnecessary and often misguided love of postmodern social theory. So in his honor, and in true postmodern fashion, I will provocatively declare that David Bowie didn’t die. Or at least, the David Bowie that we saw, the David Bowie that became Ziggy Stardust, the David Bowie on album covers, and the David Bowie preforming on stage. That David Bowie, the one we call iconic and whose music we sing along to was never based on reality. His existence is a carefully crafted image, a postmodern simulacrum that was reinforced through media representation and popular culture.

While we can say that this Bowie that we all love never really existed, I prefer to say he didn’t actually die. The David Bowie of pop culture is just an image and that image still exists. As David Bowie himself said, “It is merely representation… it’s all artifice”[3].  You can still find his Ziggy character in interviews, you can watch him dance in the Labyrinth, and you can listen to him sing in his 2016 Blackstar album (released just a few days before his death) because just as much as that postmodern representation never reflected a reality, it is also the only place the real existence of the pop star David Bowie lives. And that will never die.

[1] Oppenheim, Maya. 11 Jan 2016. “David Bowie: How the glam rock artist became an LGBT icon”. The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/how-david-bowie-became-a-gay-icon-a6806041.html

[2] 2002. “David Bowie On The Ziggy Stardust Years: 'We Were Creating The 21st Century In 1971'”.  Fresh Air. http://www.npr.org/2003/09/19/1436453/musician-and-songwriter-david-bowie

[3] ibid