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Why David Bowie Mattered

Why David Bowie Mattered published on

As everyone knows by now, poor old David Jones has died a somewhat untimely death thanks to that bastard thing called cancer. As has become de rigeur on such occasions, everyone has taken to social media to bemoan the passing of someone whose work they probably haven’t given a shit about in years. Hell, I would be willing to bet a lot of the younger attention seekers didn’t even know who Bowie was until the news hit, or simply thought of him as “Some old guy that my dad likes.” As usual, everyone loves you once you are dead…

I am not about to eulogize Bowie. I am not going to go on about how remarkable it is that he managed to turn out so many good songs over so many decades, or how big an influence he was on today’s rather inferior crop of singer-“song-writers.” Like most people, I didn’t even pay any real attention to his last album release – but unlike so many of those people I am not about to pretend I bought it soon as it hit the stores. Hell, I just looked it up and “Blackstar,” the single, peaked at only 129 in the UK! Yet, now that the poor bastard has kicked the bucket, everyone is acting like he was Jesus in order to horn in on the nigh-pornographic thrill of yet another celebrity death. Like I said, everyone loves you once you are dead…

What I will do is go on about how Bowie mattered as a human male. To me, and I am far from alone in this, Bowie was an icon of two things – male creativity and male rebellion against gender roles. In a world in which most of the creative people are male, yet in which, paradoxically, being creative is seen as not such a male thing to do, Bowie was one of the few male figures known primarily for his creativity. Not his popularity, or his good looks, or his ability to take a lot of drugs and then die young, but primarily for being one incredibly creative bastard. The willfully eccentric music; the wild costumes; the makeup; the use of different personas at a time when such things could still be called creativity rather than mere cheap ploys for attention; even the unexpectedly skillful acting, especially notable in pieces like The Man Who Fell To Earth, all these things labeled David Bowie as “an artist” and a male one at that. This then, is the first reason why Bowie mattered – his full-on commitment to creativity made it more okay for a man to be “artsy” in a world where most people would still prefer that we played football instead.

Then there’s that gender rebellion thing. Eccentric even for an Englishman, Bowie gave the impression that he didn’t care in the slightest if you thought he was some poofy weirdo. He dressed different, acted different, and he was even – Shock! Horror! – a bit on the effeminate and delicate side! Other than what appears to have been a very brief flirtation with bisexuality, Bowie seems to have been basically heterosexual – all those wives and kids, you know – and this made his somewhat delicate ways much more subversive than those of gay stars. For gay males to be rather…er…gay means little – for a man with a wife and kids to be acting a bit “fruity” is a real kick in the teeth of those who would prefer men to stay in their place. That is true even today, but even more so in the old days when a teenage Bowie set up the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men because he was sick of people calling him “darling”! Nowadays, nobody gives a shit if a man has long hair, in part because men like Bowie have made it a bit more acceptable for men to express themselves and their individuality in a variety of ways. The gender cage is still there, but thanks to Bowie and others like him, it is a bit bigger than it used to be.

And that folks, is why I think Bowie mattered – not because of his great music, but because he made the lives of men and boys a bit better, a bit freer, a bit happier, in a society that really couldn’t care less about the happiness of men and boys. For that, we owe old Dave a nod of respect and the wish that, if the religious people are right and there is life after death, he ends up in the right place!