An exclusive excerpt from the new ebook "We Can Be Heroes: The Radical Individualism of David Bowie"
How David Bowie Kicked Off A One-Man Revolution
1173 Words | May 4 2016 |
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Now published by Liberty Island Media and available on Amazon. Here is the beginning of Chapter 1:

Baby I dream between the blade and the tongue
Of the rose on your cheek, the wounded and dumb

These lines, crooned out in a slinky reptilian voice over crashing drums, a loping bassline, and a guitar pattern that alternates between sharp, Stevie Ray Vaughan-style blues and outer-space reverb, comprise the opening salvo of Tin Machine, the 1989 debut album by the band of the same name featuring David Bowie on vocals, Reeves Gabrels on guitar, and the Sales brothers--Hunt and Tony--bringing up the rhythm section. The song is unabashedly about sex, but with lyrics like "Crucifix hangs / My heart's in my mouth," it stands out from such contemporary fare as Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me."

These days, Tin Machine is not fondly remembered by many Bowie fans or critics. But something about the sheer audacity of the endeavor excites. It remains as one of the most radical about-faces ever made by a massively popular entertainer. Just a year prior, David Bowie had been traversing the planet peddling the overblown spectacle of the Glass Spider tour, which featured a stage crowded with bouncing eyeballs, hordes of dancers descending from the ceiling via ropes and pulleys, a slick backing band delivering unthreatening pop in carefully choreographed movements, and Bowie himself, prancing about in bright clothes with a head mic fastened to his overflowing blond mullet. Now, with Tin Machine, Bowie resurfaced in a brutal hard rock band that specialized in fuzzed-out, atonal noise of the Sonic Youth school. They played club gigs that leaned heavily toward improvisation. On any given night Tin Machine could scrape the ceiling of greatness or collapse into chaos.

Tin Machine could be considered one of David Bowie's "Howard Roark" moves. In Ayn Rand's popular but wildly polarizing novel The Fountainhead, Roark, the book's strong-willed protagonist, dynamites a housing complex he had designed in order to prevent it from getting compromised by third-party add-ons. In a metaphorical sense, Bowie dynamited his own career with the Tin Machine project, and it cost him considerably in the short term. Although a modest success in terms of sales, the band's stridently noncommercial debut led to a split between Bowie and his label, EMI. Furthermore, the follow-up albums Tin Machine II and Oy Vey Baby (a live set) literally bankrupted Victory Records, the band's subsequent label. Bowie's audience, too, abandoned him in droves.

Yet in a 2003 interview, one of Bowie's last in-depth conversations with a journalist prior to going publicly silent for the remainder of his life, the former architect of Tin Machine remained defiant. "I love Tin Machine," he told Paul Du Noyer of the U.K. magazine The Word. "It was a terrific experience... because now I felt I could make decisions about what I wanted to do over the coming years. There was nowhere to hide with that band. We had everything against us--and it was good!"

At surface level, Tin Machine was the height of career folly, and Bowie's intransigence in the face of widespread derision seemed to confirm the worst cliches of the "difficult artist." But at another level, it was an act of creative survival. Bowie had been here before. His action with Tin Machine was, in fact, the resurgence of a fiercely individualistic streak in his personality and artmaking that had been present since the dawn of his career. In life, David Bowie tended to make his own rules. And creatively, he could be similarly fearless. "In art you can crash your plane and just walk away from it," he told a journalist, paraphrasing his friend and collaborator Brian Eno. For him, the crashing was crucial.

There is no direct evidence that David Bowie ever read The Fountainhead, though it is probable he did, given his lifelong love of books. Nor is there any evidence that Bowie ever felt any affinity for objectivism, the ethical, aesthetic, and political philosophy based around "laissez-faire capitalism" that Rand later developed and promulgated in works such as Atlas Shrugged and The Virtue of Selfishness. All things considered, it seems likely that Bowie would have had no truck with this group, given his disdain for movements in general and his lack of interest in politics and economic theory. But The Fountainhead is different from those later works in that it does not directly address politics or economics, focusing instead on the theme of individualism vs. collectivism. And through the character of Roark, the fiercely independent architect at the book's center, Rand presents a clear vision of what she considers the ideal artist hero: a creator who makes art exclusively for his own pleasure, who is not concerned with awards, critical reception, or even popular recognition, who doesn't waste time skirmishing with his adversaries because he doesn't think about them at all. Roark eschews the ordinary for the extraordinary, what is for what ought to be. This is a man concerned with the fortification of his own integrity rather than the acquisition of power. He takes what he wants from life, neither coercing others nor giving them undue consideration. He is the hero of his own journey, the sole judge of his own worth.

Roark is, of course, a fictional character, and a rather static one at that: He acts essentially the same at the end of The Fountainhead as he does at the beginning. David Bowie, of course, was not a cardboard cutout or stock literary character. He was, rather, a deeply divided human being. His fiercely independent streak had to contend not only with the external forces of societal constraints, rigid-minded record executives, and the expectations of his audience, but also with a strong internal craving for acceptance and popularity that often ran counter to his more radical impulses. Indeed, when Bowie took the extreme action of "dynamiting" his career with Tin Machine, the soulenslaving compromise he was reacting against was largely one of his own making. In this perpetual inner battle, the better angels of his nature did not always win.

Nevertheless, in that rarified atmosphere occupied by the most successful popular entertainers of all time--artists such as Sinatra, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Madonna-- David Bowie came closer to consistently embodying the Randian artist-hero ideal, as exemplified by the tenets listed above, than any other entertainer working at his level of success. It's also intriguing, on a superficial level at least, that Rand's description of Howard Roark as having a gaunt body, piercing eyes, and hair "the exact color of a ripe orange rind" conjures to mind David Bowie's alter-ego Ziggy Stardust without the makeup. In any case, the Howard Roark template, while rigid and not always applicable, can be a useful prism through which to view Bowie's career. David Bowie, quite simply, was the most radically individualistic popular entertainer we have ever seen. He took individualism to a place where he gave himself nearly complete artistic freedom, while still working within the bounds of taste and beauty. We don't get Howard Roarks in real life. But we did get David Bowie.

Robert Dean Lurie is a writer and musician based in Tempe, Arizona. He is the author of "We Can Be Heroes: The Radical Individualism of David Bowie" published by Liberty Island on May 2, 2016.

Review by AudieCockings
May 4 2016
 
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Great synopsis of a true artist
I'm rarely taken with entertainers in general because they often lack the ability to transform themselves through the decades and produce relevant music on such a broad spectrum. Collaboration with Mic Jagger aside, Bowie's sound is all its own, his artistic style redifining the standards of beauty, both physically and musically.

I was talking with my husband in the truck last night about how dignified a death Bowie had--On his own terms, without the need for the brief gasps and mass Lamentations from strangers on social media, in print, etc. That in itself exalts him among his generational cohorts and musical contemporaries. He seemed to understand the blessing of a quiet life and a small circle.

I enjoyed this chapter. Great argument for eschewing the collective!