Why David Bowie Is Important to Me

The Thin White Duke

The sickness of my generation is a zealous attachment to “authenticity.” It is stultifying, oppressive, maybe even deadly, and premised on false assumptions about the nature of personal identity. Bowie is the antidote. He taught that persona is performance. If there is anything like authenticity, it is fidelity to a higher-order sensibility, a sort of governing taste, which is mutable but in some sense still coherent, which regulates the style in which you perform yourself, but leaves open the question, maybe even sets aside the question, of who you really are. Rather than demanding authenticity, which is inherently paradoxical–trying to be real is embarrassing and fake–Bowie-ism instead asks for playful imagination in the artful construction and performance of persona. You can’t aspire to Bowie’s level of virtuosity in this regard, but it is liberating, especially for a Gen X-er drawn toward the grimly earnest misguided intensity of the authenticity cult, to see life as a playful pageant of role-playing that can be done with more or less art. Bowie is why I tell my writing students that there is no “voice” to find, no voice that belongs to the true you, because there is no true you, only ever versions of yourself you have learned to perform, and the voice of the character you play on the page is up to you. The question is not who you are but what connects, how much courage you have, how much guile, what you can manage to get away with.

4 thoughts on “Why David Bowie Is Important to Me”

  1. …or as David Byrne put it in “Angels” — I am just an advertisement for a version of myself.

  2. Thank you. Someone else had posted that David Bowie was true to himself, but I disagree. He was true to himself only in the sense that he followed his genius. Iman said that she fell in love with David Jones, not David Bowie, that Bowie was a persona.

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