The Aesthetics of Self-Invention: Oscar Wilde to David Bowie

By Shelton Waldrep | Go to book overview
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Public Encounters with
Private Bodies; or, Rent Music

Bowie's most famous album, Ziggy Stardust, presents an elaborate sci ence fiction scenario about the earth's depletion of natural resources and inevitable destruction in five years, the breakdown of the structures of society, the invasion by a group of living black holes who need human bodies to have material form, and the staging of a battle in which Ziggy is literally torn apart at the album's end. Bowie's eccentric and often arcane references in the lyrics to this story are minimal. The album is usually read instead as a parable or allegory about the relationship between a rock and roll singer and his fans. In this sense, Bowie's first major album is similar to the later album Diamond Dogs in that it is de signed to make his audience self-conscious about the process of their own identification with Bowie himself. The relationship between the performer and the fan is, of necessity, a power dynamic that is almost always sexual in its overtones. In his direct addresses to his fans, Bowie consciously keeps the gender of his fans ambiguous.

In “Music for Pleasure,” Simon Frith notes that “for thirty years now British pop iconography, our understanding of what makes music and musicians sexy, has depended on a confusion of sexual address. Since David Bowie, such ambiguity has been self-conscious.” Indeed, what Frith terms “the rent-boy act” results from the apparently well-known fact that some of the most famous rock managers—Bowie's Ken Pitt or the Beatles' Brian Epstein, for example—were gay.1 To “pose with the


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The Aesthetics of Self-Invention: Oscar Wilde to David Bowie


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