Dialectics, Dynamism and David Bowie
“I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and T.V.’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people.”
David Bowie died in 2016. Or did he? David Bowie is still very much alive, but not in the same way as we usually think of this. David Bowie never actually existed, but for millions around the globe he was very real in both corporeal form and in culture. His cultural existence continues for the moment, and is still capable of change depending on who you are, where you are and what you believe. There are some objective facts, but these are also constructed facts whose materiality and meaning are fleeting. His digital fact, his musical and artistic digital footprint is a facsimile of the human, both real and imagined, transient and eternal as long as there is a human culture to exist alongside it. David Jones was David Bowie was Ziggy Stardust was the Thin White Duke was no one and was everyone.
There is no story here, just words that say nothing but might say everything. You choose what you want to create out of nothing and where that creation then goes. If you want a biography, go and buy one or search wikipedia. I’m not interested in empirical facts, verifiable and measurable and refutable. I am searching for a personal meaning that relates to me only but which might resonate with anyone else before it disappears into nothing.
More than 5 years ago I heard “Pushing through the market square…” which was instantly so ordinary and recognisable and then came the realisation that this ordinariness was extraordinary, it was producing conditions of its own demise in its depiction of dull modernity. We had just 5 years left to cry in, and I’ve been crying ever since. Bowie published the song in 1972, and later in an interview said:
“The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock & roll band and the kids no longer want rock & roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ’cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. “All the Young Dudes” is a song about this news. It is no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite.”
That is very nearly 50 years ago, ten times the time we had left to cry in, if you are of a literal mind, but the words could have been written 5 minutes ago. The lack of natural resources has been been shown to be false, and yet it is is utterly and terribly true for not only human civilisation but for the whole biosphere. Time is indeed running out, and only recently have some scientists tried to quantify what is the ‘safe operating space for humanity’ by identifying and measuring crucial material changes in the physical world.
If the kids had access to everything they wanted in the 1970s, what do they have now? Material abundance and opportunity amid gross poverty and the death of hope. The same false choice exists. Things we think we want are not the things we need, and even things we need we often do not want. Unless it has a price, it has no value and the natural is being reconstructed into the unnatural, including youth in its embodiment of Kardashasian culture. False breasts, false dreams and false consciousness. All is vanity. At the same time as being mired in shame, stigma and, if not rock and roll suicide, self harm. Individuality being strived for while displaying none of it. The kids are alright but they are also totally fucked.
Many older people have lost touch with reality, both spatial and temporal. They live in places unrecognisable. A combination of the deindustrialization, the Luftwaffe, town planning and the importation of United States’ penchant for malls destroyed any semblance of individuality in our towns and cities. Too may older people pine for a past that did not exist, a glorious prosperous peaceful past when we knew what was what. Art was ‘proper art’ when you recognised a horse or a tree or a landscape. When ‘Third World’ countries were better off under colonial rule and we could call people niggers and pooftahs without some snowflake getting upset. They have voted for the return of something that never existed in the first place. I am old, we either did not listen or were not told. Or both. Ziggy warned us, but we thought he was just kidding.
What have we left the kids with? Armed with hand held technology that once could wage a world war, they are trapped in not so much a gilded cage but a digital one. They plunder what is left of their souls and instagram them for a fleeting moment of appreciation and validation, which has the shelf life no longer than the transient quantum fluctuation of a virtual particle.
Now, there is Panic in Detroit.
And Copenhagen. And in Paris. There is Fire in Sydney.
Post modern, financial, rentier capitalisms are creative/dynamic and chaotic/destructive. There are no Golden Years left except for the very very few. We created something and its nemesis at the same time, the very creativity of human culture is also destroying it. Look out of your window, and what do you really see? Look beyond the surface, the superstructure of ordinariness. Has your neighbourhood changed that much really? Of course there are superficial changes, and we talk endlessly about a digital revolution. But we are still working 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week for the best part of 48 weeks a year (if you are ‘lucky’). Are we really better clothed and better fed? We still clog the sky and cities with cars, while we avoid old age and its needs. The middle class can’t see through the chilled glass of chablis they drink, they cannot see affluence built on poverty. They fail to see that our everyday commodities are imported from parts of the world riven by authoritarian dictators, deadly class conflict, poverty, inequality and environmental destruction, in which child labour, human trafficking and modern slavery still create their stench in any humanitarian nose pointed its way. Look below the superficial appearance of your town or city street, and you might see a very human global underclass who are otherwise invisible, unheard and unloved, whose wage or slave labour bring you baubles. Then a global pandemic shows us who is really valuable.
The Man Who Sold the World runs the biggest countries on the planet, he sees but has no vision beyond the bottom line. He is both politician and buys politicians, and has muddied politics, its death agonies most visible in democratic forms around the planet. He preaches affluence and prosperity for all if only we believe and unleash our potentials. He trusts in God, but there is no God. Certainly not one remotely interested in the actuality of human existence.
David Bowie personified faux and contradiction, deliberately androgynous, straight, gay or malleable according to taste. His music was transformational and at times utter predictable and boring. A revolutionary counter cultural icon that was thoroughly bourgeois in origin and destination. We learned everything and nothing from him. We get the culture we deserve perhaps but not the culture we need.
“We got 5 years, my brain hurts a lot.”
(The Dialectic: Thesis – Antithesis – Synthesis)