Friday, July 27, 2007
Music Stands for Comfort 5: David Bowie
My last post, about the Au Pairs, neglected to mention that they covered a Bowie song on there first album: the song is called 'Repetition' and is about a woman who is beaten by her husband. It is a sympathetic portrait of both characters: the woman covers her black eyes, desperately trying to keep up appearances, while her husband is haunted by the thoughts of what his life could have been, had he had a better education, had he married a different woman- and how he takes it out on his wife. It portrays the manner in which life becomes ground down into repetition.
I had always liked the song, but I didn't understand it until I moved to San Diego for a year. In San Diego, I felt like my life (by which I mean, the things I loved in it- shopping, travel, adventure, art, the recognition of peers) was dying, and I was afraid that it was over- that I couldn't leave San Diego, not at least without having to give up a lot of privelage, and having to make my life much harder. I was enraged at most everyone in my life- I was angry all the time at Erica, at my uncle (who I'm still furious at), at my parents- the only people who I was OK with were my brother (because we mainly did fun things together- like watch Robotech) and my friends in SF, who obviously I didn't see much, though I talked to them a lot. It always sounded like they were having a lot of fun, and there lives seemed sexier and more fashionable. Mine just seemed awful. My workplace was hideously dirty, and so I could never where anything fun, and it felt like nothing ever got accomplished. Plus I worked fifty hours a week in a job I hated, and never had any money.
What I realize now, having moved back to SF and repaired my relationship with Erica, is that I should not have stayed down there for even a minute: like high school, I should have bounced from the first moment I got down there. I knew it wasn't a good idea. I knew it wasn't a good idea because I realized, quickly, that my uncle had no real desire to either (a) improve his own lot, or (b) improve mine.
I should have known, that lacking this desire, nothing I was going to do was going to help.
I think we as humans, are defined primarily by our desires, and how far we are willing to go for them. I think my uncle's primary desire was to be left in peace, not you know, grow his business (though he told us he wanted to grow his business- in fact had me move to San Diego to do just that- but- when it came time to actually start making unpleasent changes that *might* impinge on his free time or peace of mind, he threw a hissy).
I think it is this combination- interesting, ambitious desires married to an iron will- that can describe the best celebrities: F.D.R., Lil Wayne, Kate Moss, and, yeah, David Bowie.
David Bowie has a vast body of work: he was one of pop's most compulsive workers, and he was constantly shifting persona and style. I think though, that too much has been put into these shifts, they've been made too important. I think they have been made important by a post-60's critical estlabishment, in which pop stars are supposed to be fixed into some sort of 'authentic' self, and are not supposed to change, except to become more 'authentic'. This is why critics are endlessly calling albums either 'returns to form' or 'explorations' as if whatever was done on the first record is the true nature of the band, and anything deviating from it is some sort of temporary violation against there true nature.
I think though, that this rigidity of style is actually false, and that Bowie's constant change (he approached every record like it was a debut, with a fresh sound, style, iconography and symbol system) is actually truer to human life. While we are ourselves, we are always changing. People who are fixed are junkies and nostalgics: people who live in repetitions of old rituals, attempting to live each day the same as the last. What stays the same within all of us are our core desires: to be loved, to be powerful, to be recognized and admired- at least those are my desires. Other people may want to love, may want to be submissive, and spend there lives trying to find a situation where they can be that. Children have these desires- the ones who are always attempting to dominate the other children, the ones who search for excitement, the ones who try to get along- I think this part of us doesn't change.
Bowie was adapting to the world as it happened, throwing off one costume and personality for another as he thought it would help him. He dominated his personalities, destroying them (Ziggy, Alladin Sane, the Thin White Duke) as they became dangerous or calcifying. His albums then, are wonderful pagentries of creation- Ziggy Stardust is one long definition of personality, as he creates and destroys a version of himself- and if one listens to the record, none of it is from Ziggy's perspective, except possibly the last song. Every other song is from someone else- someone looking at Ziggy- and in this, we see that we are being told how to look at Ziggy/Bowie, how to view this being. He is defining himself through our eyes. He is asserting himself into us.
This is of course, what anyone who impacts us does- inserts there personalities, becomes one of the voices in our heads telling us what to do. This is why so many of us have trouble with our parents- we hear them constantly telling us what to do, and since parents and children are often poorly matched, it becomes an intrusive voice. Friends and lovers do this to us to- tell us about ourselves, define us and become a part of the way we make decisions.
At its best, art does this also- it gives us license or takes it away to be ourselves. It can oppress or liberate, depending on its perspective and statements. I find indie rock to be very oppressive because it celebrates failure as an- authentic- experience, and success as something to be avoided, a sign of 'selling out'- though I don't believe in selling out. I think it is a fake idea that is also a selfish idea- someone only sells out because they take themselves out of a context in which you were able to be close to them, and puts themselves fara way- and it does not take into account the real needs of the people who are 'selling out'. I think its stupid that Fugazi acts like its 'ethical' they only play $5 shows that are all ages. Why is it ethical ? I hate it when people say music should be free- so where are they when I need to buy guitar strings ? Or buy tape to record an album or print it or promote so that someone besides me hears it ?
Bowie re-made himself in order to pursue his dreams- he afterall started as some awkward middle class kid with a crazy brother- and he continued re-inventing himself in order to maintain. He was lucky that people wanted to listen to and buy his records, he was lucky to be good looking and to have a powerful, commercial voice- but he also pursued his goals with a powerful will that got him through challenges and transitions that dwarf a lot of others.
We all make ourselves everyday- every decision- salad vs. french fries, television vs. blog, phone call vs. silence- determine who we are. Our ability to direct these decisions towards the fulfillment of a goal that satisfies a desire determines who we become.