On the day Bowie died, the Internet collapsed in a rainbow of sparkles and alien hairdos, dress-like trousers and, well, a whole lot of stardust. The shadows of the cheekbones of a man-woman, woman-man thing with a guitar graced Facebook profiles, Twitter pages and news headlines. There was no denying the icon that was David Bowie, and how much the world was going to miss him/her/it/them/Ziggy/David/whatever.
David Bowie revolutionized the art of performance and the art of living through his onstage and offstage work– insinuating that everything one does in this life is simply a performance. Now, this is not a revolutionary thought– nor is it a cheap one. William Shakespeare nailed it on the head back in god-knows-when with his humble, “All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players”, and yet, there’s something about the way Bowie dedicated his life to performance that gave this ideal richness. His life is chronologically divided by the acts he’s played (Don’t believe me? Check Wikipedia), and yet, there are no headlines about “The Fake David Bowie”. Facebook did not implode with articles of “The Man Who Just Couldn’t Be Himself”. David Bowie was the sum of every role he played and every song he sang– a performance-filled life that simply made his life, well, a lot more lived.
His onstage performances transcended just about every border imaginable. It began with his sound– a ghouly, soul-filled voice with poppy, new instruments that transcended the decades he reigned atop music charts and the hearts of people everywhere. It was no mistaking, however, that his sound was only half of what made David Bowie great. The other half was directly rooted in his physical performances–
performances that appealed to every gender and those without one,
performances that appealed to every sexuality and those still questioning,
performances that can only be described as empathetic and totally feminist.
Judith Butler, an American gender theorist, once said in her book Gender Trouble, that gender is performative, that it is nothing but a well done, repetitive performance of how society thinks women or men ought to appear. Oftentimes, one could not tell what gender Bowie was going for in his acts– which was the point. By denying gender completely, Bowie diluted any sense of entitlement or superiority because of gender. He was not a great male performer. He was simply a great performer. Accordingly, in his off-stage life, Bowie “flip-flopped” (a term used in an article I just read), from being homo-sexual to bi-sexual to hetero-sexual. In sooth, did it really matter? Did Bowie’s sexuality detract from his talent, his performances, his perspective or his legacy? No. His sexuality was as superfluous as his gender identification. It simply did not matter.
On a personal note, I used David Bowie’s music everywhere– from waking up as an unemployed person to “Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere…” to hyping my teenage students down-trodden by school, hormones, parents and, well, life. My conversation with them went something like this,
“Alright, friends. I know it’s after lunch. I know you don’t want to be here. I know you think you don’t matter and that life doesn’t matter, and some parts totally don’t– but this part does: get up and Let’s Dance.”
RIP David Bowie
8 January 1947
10 January 2016