“… over in Detroit Bowie’s followers were like something out of Fellini’s Satyricon: full tilt pleasure seekers devoid of anything resemlbing shame, limits, caution and moral scruples. I distinctly remember a local lesbian bike gang riding their bikes into the foyer of the concert hall and revving them loudly just prior to Bowie’s arrival onstage. This had not been pre-arranged.. Meanwhile, the toilets were literally crammed with people either having sex or necking pills. The whole building was like some epic porn film brought to twitching life. “ – Nick Kent, Apathy for the devil
The old guard, who were all in their early thirties when Bowie broke in the early seventies, hated him. Lester Bangs’s contempt for Bowie’s inauthenticity, as he saw it, was never surprised into reconsideration by anything Bowie ever did. Christgau, in a telling phrase, spoke of Bowie’s relationship to rock as “expedient”. In other words, there was always a distance, the distance of a man choosing. Bowie was always a changeling and never a convert. That put a huge bug up their asses. This was considered not the mark of higher artistry, by these guys, but the mark of a phoney. If you trawl through reviews of Bowie from the early seventies, you can come up with astonishing stuff – astonishingly stupid stuff. Martin Amis, for instance, reviewed a Bowie concert in 1973 by channeling his father, Kingsley Amis’s, voice and gags – it makes for painful reading, as though Amis were already the superannuated clubman he has since become. It is as if he listened to the concert through an ear trumpet.
Usually, when a singer dies, one goes through memory’s rolodex: I remembering hearing song x here, or song y there, or this concert, etc. The death of celebrities brings out our own narcissism in spades.
But Bowie was always a master of distances, and I’m not sure an album of fan experiences does him justice. What Kent saw, in Detroit, was a part of the same effect that repulsed the rock critics. In the underhistory of the 70s, where lesbian biker gangs are as important as Oil shocks, Bowie is onof the great monument – similar, in his mastery of the uses to which alienation could be put, to Foucault.  Foucault debated Noam Chomsky in 1971 on a Dutch talk show hosted by an anarchist. Afterwards, Chomsky said of Foucault, “ I’d never met anyone who was so totally amoral.” This, I think, comments on a style of presentation – and in that sense, Foucault and Bowie were on the same wavelength.
Of course, it was a moment, a brief throb. Disorder is all too pitiably subject to order – a sort of reverse or negative entropy. Bowie moved on. The forces unleashed in that historic moment had their effect, but the larger forces that we contend with, now, every day, either confronted and defeated them or poisoned them through all the institutions at the disposal of the establishment. But I like to think about how he had this moment.

And now he’s  shockingly dead and all.


Anonymous said…

---So the idea of a gay fascist seems ridiculous. Yet when the British National Party - our own home-grown Holocaust-denying bigots - announced it was fielding an openly gay candidate in the European elections this June, dedicated followers of fascism didn't blink. The twisted truth is that gay men have been at the heart of every major fascist movement that ever was - including the gay-gassing, homo-cidal Third Reich. With the exception of Jean-Marie Le Pen, all the most high-profile fascists in Europe in the past thirty years have been gay. ---

Roger Gathman said…
No, the twisted truth is that what is at the center of fascism is fascism. Gay fetishism of nazi paraphernalia was pretty common in the pop culture of the 70s. Also, of course, in the cold war, Naziism stood for all the crimes, and so for years it was emphasized that Hitler, for instance, had to be homosexual, since he was a pervert, obviously. There was no attempt to disentangle that idea from the actual policy of Naziism, with its emphasis on degenerate art and degenerates in general as the enemy. Marine Le Pen has two advisers who are gay, even as the FN has been at the heart of the very anti-gay protests against gay marriage in France.
As for Bowie, here is an interview with him and a DJ Goodman from MTV. The interview occured in 1983, after Bowie singehandedly elected Adolph Hitler's grandson to the Prime ministership of the UK:

Bowie’s exchange with Goodman is recounted in R. Serge Denisoff’s “Inside MTV.” According to the book, Bowie asked: “Why are there practically no blacks on the network?”

Goodman, who merely introduced the clips and announced the concert dates, explained, “We seem to be doing music that fits into what we want to play on MTV. The company is thinking in terms of narrowcasting.” Bowie pressed on. “There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV.”

Goodman, placed in the highly uncomfortable position of defending a format totally beyond his control, echoed the company’s demographic policy: “We have to try and do what we think not only New York and Los Angeles will appreciate, but also Poughkeepsie or the Midwest. Pick some town in the Midwest which would be scared to death by … a string of other black faces, or black music.” He went on, “We have to play music we think an entire country is going to like, and certainly we’re a rock-and-roll station.”

The exchange got hotter. Bowie asked: “Don’t you think it’s a frightening predicament to be in?” The intimidated veejay resorted to the radio analogy, “Yeah, but no less so here than in radio.”

The British singer pounced on the reply: “Don’t say, ‘Well, it’s not me, it’s them.’ Is it not possible it should be a conviction of the station and of the radio stations to be fair … to make the media more integrated?”

Spot the fascism: the attack on racism (obviously disguised fascism), the offense taken by the very idea that rock music owes nothing to black musicians (obviously disguising his real idea, that Aryan musicians should be imprisoning and killing untermenschen), and of course the ubercapitalist, and totally fascist, attack on MTV, which in the eighties made or broke albums. Guess he miscalculated there, but probably he was distracted by the project of buying stock in war industries or something...

No. The ridiculousness of hanging a fascist label on Bowie is ridiculous all the way down. He definitely had a fascist moment in his career, but the career was far from defined by that stance. Politically, he exemplifies a pattern in post-war liberalism that emerged after the collapse of a labor centered opposition to capital.