Archive for January, 2013

Aladdin Sane_ 30th Anniversary

How many greater rebels are there than musician David Bowie? Bowie didn’t just break taboos. No, he picked up the pieces of the broken taboos and wore them as clothes. When he wasn’t destroying fashion taboos, he was destroying musical taboos and even the invisible taboos that we, as a society, drape upon one another:

David Bowie’s androgynous persona was an underground sensation […]. The glam rock scene in London started happening in 1971 when rock musicians like Bolan and David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars began mocking sexual taboos while churning out throbbing hard rock. [They] evolved into Warholesque collages of cross-dressing and gay impersonation that proceeded to take over the rock world, the fashion industry, and the avant-garde on both sides of the Atlantic.1

Bowie practically made it cool to fellate a guitar when he was Ziggy Stardust in the 70’s. (This is something we’d see once again in Prince’s hit movie Purple Rain in the 80’s.) Ziggy Stardust helped make it normal to be different, to be individualistic, to love aliens. Ziggy Stardust was a mixture of earthling idiosyncrasies and space-infused intricacies. There was a reason that his backing band the Spiders were from Mars, a planet very much different from Earth and yet still in the same galaxy. Much of what we see in Lady Gaga can be traced directly back to Ziggy; and yet Lady Gaga is still seen as taboo breaker although she breaks what has already been broken.

On January 22, 1972 in the United Kingdom magazine Melody Maker Ziggy Stardust/David Bowie/David Jones informed the world of his sexual predilections: “I’m gay and I always have been, even when I was David Jones.”2 In the 70’s this was a daring confession, and perhaps even today it still is, if not somewhat less taboo. Nevertheless, “Bowie rode the shockwaves of this announcement to new levels of notoriety. His professed homosexuality/bisexuality added an element of danger and taboo that only enhanced his stature among music fans.”3

This “element of danger and taboo” should not be overlooked. The power of taboo in art is as interesting an infusion as any other, and the effects can be twofold: 1) taboo as mere spectacle 2) taboo as statement of truth. In other words, the first effect is simply reworded as being controversial just to be controversial, to incite attention. Both effects seem true in the case of Bowie’s career, but it is hard to say if either effect is the lesser of the other. In the best parts of lowbrow culture you’ll find the best aspects of highbrow culture. The intellectual and the un-intellectual are, in most cases, not divorced from each other. Shakespeare, like Bowie, learned how to marry the two in order to create something better.

David Bowie is a master of creating himself in the image of the unknown until the unknown becomes the known. One that could turn heads and keep them turned by just the color of his hair or lack of eyebrows.  As much as Bowie seems to be a lover of controversy, he is also really a questioner of life. And perhaps one of the best ways to examine life is to examine life’s taboos. Bowie is one of music’s all-time taboo artists. Everyone can ask: “Why?” But how many ask: “Why not?”  What makes a great taboo artist is not their ability to simply break a taboo, but rather their ability to mutate taboos into accepted taboos.


1 Aerosmith & Stephen Davis, Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith (HarperCollins: New York, 2003), 151-152.

2 Alan Cross, David Bowie: the secret history, (HarperCollins: New York, 2012), eBook.

3 Ibid.

“I rebel, therefore I am,” says the great French novelist, playwright, essayist, and philosopher Albert Camus. According to this idea, rebellion is essential to realizing our existence. Here existence is closely aligned not only with choice, but also with resistance.

As taboo concerns itself with the restriction of certain practices, rebellion, on the other hand, concerns itself with the dissection of these practices. But more than just the dissection of any restriction we find perhaps the examination of such restrictions. Rebellion at its center is the examination of limitations. In more than one way, the act of opposing separates us from the actor, the actor being one who behaves in a manner of disingenuousness. To act is to be dishonest, duplicitous. And the actor is constricted in their role, unable to rebel. The actor does exist and yet the character being acted out does not really exist in our limited definition of existence.

Yet it is from the rebel’s need for rebellion that we find humankind’s state of living— what will and will not be tolerated. Although an actor may not necessarily be a rebel, the action of acting re-emphasizes our ability to rebel. In life we should not be actors so much as rebels.