The Thin White Duke Is Stardust: An Essay On Bowie

Every year, CJSF, a radio station which I’ve been affiliated for six years has maintained a float and marched in Vancouver’s pride parade. As a social justice lover, I look forward to walking side-by-side with my queer friends. As an actor and showman, I always look at this as an opportunity to dress up in wild costumes. In 2010, my first year, I became Freddie Mercury. The following year – continuing with my theme of LGBT Rockstars – I caked my face in white make-up, bought some flared pants, and marched the streets of downtown Vancouver as Bowie. Specifically his Aladdin Sane persona.

I try not to get too caught up in pop culture and the lives and deaths of celebrities. Plus, I tend not to get emotional about anything; I’m stoic to a fault. I didn’t have a visceral reaction when Lemmy passed away because I was never into Moorhead growing up. Same goes for Natalie Cole and countless other actors, musicians, athletes, and famous personas. But David Bowie was different. Shock. Pure, utter shock. Sure, I don’t own his entire discography like I do with Green Day, or know all the lyrics to his songs like I do with Queen, but to me Bowie was always more than just a singer, just a musician. He was a transformative and trailblazing genderqueer performance artist, who not only created several iconic characters and stage personas, but actually lived them, became them.

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept and idea of identity, and a lot of the fiction writing I do seems to centre on that topic – whether emotional, physical or psychological. The Thin White Duke was the master of identity. In creating so many different identities for himself, he managed to obtain a separate, one-of-a-kind unique self-presence.

While I am too young to have experience Bowie’s peak in the 70s and 80s, I still appreciate and acknowledge what this Starman did as an artistic pioneer. Space Oddity is still one of the most unique videos ever made and did inspire a certain astronaut to create the first ever music video shot entirely in space. Even his last single – Lazarus – shot just weeks before his death , is a wildly inventive piece, not in the least because it’s a self-reflective curtain call from a musical wunderkind.

But Bowie’s talent stretched far beyond music and songwriting. In his early days, he studied avant-garde theatre and mime with Lindsay Kemp and has portrayed some of the iconic figures of the 20th century onscreen including Andy Warhol in the beautifully unheralded film Basquiat, as well as scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. Not to mention that he also worked with Scorcese, Jim Henson, Susan Sarandon, David Lynch, and Monty Python. His role on Broadway in the seminal The Elephant Man still ranks as one of the all-time great performances.

And that seems to be the crux of who Bowie was, a sort of musical and artistic mad-scientist who was only made better by the types of people he associated with. Being a great man and visionary, he knew how to identify those traits in other people. And yet, what made him even greater was that his tastes were always just outside the mainstream. He didn’t want to be part of culture, he wanted to create it. He wanted to be it, live it.

As you can probably ascertain, I have many friends that are part of the LGBT and Queer communities. And perhaps no one is mourning this trailblazing gender-queer glam rocker more than this group of people. I’m not one to speak for them, but, from a cis person’s perspective, that because of Bowie, these “Queerdos” ( a term that I already love) found someone who, through his words, gave them uncategorical and unilateral acceptance to be themselves in whatever way, shape or form that happened to choose.

This again is why The Man From Mars transcends music and art. He was for many, a subtle yet wildly transgressive rock star. With the Duke’s death, rock icons from the 70s and 80s are rapidly fading and with it, true style and substance are evaporating into Stardust. David Bowie was a rockstar the way rockstars were meant to be: stunningly inventive yet amazingly poignant and self-possessed. Unlike many of the cock-rockers and Yeezuses out spoiling our world today.

Bowie also wasn’t afraid to give music to other artists, he did, after all, pen the great Mott The Hoople hit All The Young Dudes. He was also incredibly spontaneous. Under Pressure is evidence of that. Queen was recording an earlier version of the song at time at Bowie’s studio and he dropped in on them. Initially, he was going to collaborate on another song which was ultimately scrapped because The Man Who Fell To Earth wasn’t happy with his performance. So they just started jamming and improvising. John Deacon already had the bass line down. You know that when Freddie Mercury and David Bowie start an improvised scat, that great things are about to happen. And they did. Under Pressure became Queen’s second number one hit in the UK and became a staple of their live shows. In 1992, the band and Bowie performed it at the tribute concert to Freddie Mercury. Let’s hope it will make an appearance again at the same concert for Bowie.

In closing, Bowie was the last of his kind. Heck, he was the only one of his kind. He was a true artist in a day and age where authenticity is increasingly becoming a myth. He was, quite simply the best. And now he becomes one with the stars. Goodnight Duke, may your stardust ever watch over us.


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