Professor Phil Auslander wrote a book in 2006 about Glam rock, a term coined in Great Britain in the 1970s to describe a style of rock and pop music played by artists who wore over-the-top clothes, make-up, hair and, well, more. The king was David Bowie, who died on Monday. Auslander says it’s hard to summarize such a massive career as Bowie’s in a few words.
There is a 1971 film of David Bowie’s visit to Andy Warhol’s Factory studio in New York City. Warhol was in the habit of filming his visitors without asking them to do anything in particular. Bowie, however, was not content to just stand and look into the camera – he insisted on doing something and launched into a mime routine. The restlessness Bowie displays in this clip, coupled with the desire to do something different from what was expected, would remain the hallmarks of a career that spanned five decades and many artistic fields, including music, acting, fashion, visual art and multimedia.
Bowie is perhaps best known, especially in the United States, for his creation of the gender-bending, glam rock alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, the first of a series of personae Bowie would enact in his music and the staging of his concerts through the ‘70s and ‘80s. Rock music, which has always been quite conservative at its core in matters of gender and sexuality, had never before seen anything quite like Ziggy or the highly theatrical events Bowie presented as concerts. Through his appearances on television, particularly in the United Kingdom, Bowie launched an unprecedented polymorphous, pansexual image into the public sphere, where it became an object of identification both for young people who felt disenfranchised by reason of their sexuality and for the more mainstream rock audience.
Ziggy is an important part of Bowie’s legacy. But even more important is the freedom that Ziggy and the Bowie alter egos that followed him represent – the freedom to define oneself however one sees fit, even if it goes against the social grain, and to redefine oneself at will.
Following a heart attack in 2004, Bowie became reclusive, but surprised everyone in 2013 with “The Next Day,” a new, particularly powerful and vehement album. It showed that he was still a voice to be reckoned with, capable of surprise and provocation. He remained a showman to the end. Even his death was stage-managed for maximum impact. First was a widely circulated announcement that a new Bowie album, “Blackstar,” would be released on his 69th birthday, January 8, 2016. Three days later, he was gone, the curtain brought down on his final masterly performance.
Auslander’s book, Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music, naturally, has Bowie on the cover.
For more information, or to schedule an interview, please contact: