Article Title:Obituary: Modern Love? David Bowie: 1947-2016
Author or Credit:Craig Young
Published on:14th January 2016 - 09:37 am
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Story ID:17776
Text:David Bowie was musical impresario, whose creative work ranged from songwriting to acting, a talented performer until his recent death from cancer, just after the release of what turned out to be his valedictory album. Born and raised in Brixton, in working-class South London, Bowie had his first hit in 1969, with Space Oddity, and became one of the core figures of 'glam rock,' in which male figures donned long hair, mascara, lipstick and skirts, and there was space to come out as gay or bisexual; Bowie did so early on, draping his hand over a fellow male musician and staring intently into his eyes during an interview within the defunct British music magazine Melody Maker. During his early days, his surrealist gender fluid persona was "Ziggy Stardust," he was very much instrumental in popularising changing social attitudes toward gender and sexuality, although there was a troubling side to that persona that more awkwardly and initially negotiated ethnicity and immigration, refugee status and asylum seeking within the troubled United Kingdom of the recession-hit seventies. Despite growing social conservatism within the United States and United Kingdom, Bowie had a rather better time in Berlin, which was a centre of social radicalism and early European LGBT liberation. One emblematic song of that period was Heroes(1977), sung during a bleak noir film about a West German teenager's descent into prostitution and heroin addiction,Christiane F, during the same period. It was a grim time, with the shipwreck of seventies romanticism, idealism and hopes of radical social change evident across the western world, with preparation for the onslaught of religious social conservatism against feminism and LGBT rights during the eighties, except in New Zealand, where it had already arrived, in the porcine form of Sir Robert Muldoon, New Zealand Prime Minister. Some unfortunate racist comments Bowie made in 1976 led to the formation of the anti-racist Rock Against Racism movement of that time within the United Kingdom, during his controversial "Thin White Duke" 'heroin chic' phase. Bowie also acted in the Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) as the titular alien character; in Absolute Beginners(1983) as Bendis, a predatory and nihilistic gay advertising executive in fifties London; in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence as a gay British army officer in a World War II Japanese prisoner of war camp; and several other films. While on tour in New York in 2004, he experienced the first signs of cardiovascular problems that may have also signaled the arrival of the cancer that would ultimately kill. After his heart attack,he reduced his hectic touring and record producing schedule to deal with the task of recovery during the consequent decade. On January 10, he died of cancer. Obituary tributes have been prolific, both from his grieving fans and from those who considered him a trendsetter in terms of his early gender fluidity and ambiguous sexual identity. Others are slightly more skeptical, noting that he seemed to give priority and openness to his relationships with women, as opposed to those with men, which were apparently anonymous and casual, while acknowledging his musical versatility, prowess and aptitude. Arguably, Freddie Mercury, Jimmy Somerville and Elton John have been more open about their gay sexuality, although not HIV status until the very end of his life when it came to Mercury's death in the eighties, but it could be argued that bisexuality contains a fluid range of sexual preferences and Bowie was under no obligation not to engage in a public persona that became what some might call 'heteronormative'. None of his song lyrics reflected his bisexuality, unlike those of another notable contemporary and less mainstream figure, Tom Robinson, a gay-identified British bisexual and radical musical figure of the seventies and early eighties. But did he give others the courage to come out? Yes, undoubtedly. Was his initial self-representation radical in its time? Yes. And does he leave a magnificent playlist legacy of numerous meaningful and inspiring songs? Yes. Perhaps that is what we should be remembering.     Craig Young - 14th January 2016
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