“… 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.