Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Weird, Queer, Socially Defective, and Alone -- Like Everybody Else

James Wolcott has a nice tribute to the late David Bowie in his blog at Vanity Fair, but this brought me up short.  Recalling his initial infatuation with Bowie's music in the early 70s, Wolcott writes:
Ziggy Stardust was a powering up, a declaration of conquering intent. No album since Sgt. Pepper had had such dramatic buildup and crescendo release, the exultant, messiah cry of “You’re not alone!” at the end a clarion call of comfort and inclusion to anyone who felt weird, queer, socially defective, and alone, and believe me back then there was a lot more of that around.
Oh no, I don't think so.  There's at least as much of that around now as ever.  If you don't feel weird, queer, socially defective, and alone, there must be something wrong with you.  All the cool kids feel weird, queer, socially defective, and alone, so get with the program and fall into line.  Two of the most popular book-and-movie franchises today are built on kids who feel WQSD&A, and those trying to imitate them and their success start from there.  Alienation sells.  It seems to me that that "exultant, messiah cry of 'You're not alone!'" leaves those who thrill to it still isolated in the crowd of the isolated.

And then Wolcott said this:
... I marvel at how beautifully, elegantly Bowie moved onstage and in videos. It wasn’t the herky-jerky mugging of Mick Jagger or the heavy shouldering of Bruce Springsteen, but something far more air-slicing and Zen succinct; his gestures were like cosmic salutations.
Oh, no no no.  This is a matter of opinion, of course: if that's what Wolcott sees when he watches Bowie moving, it what he sees. I first saw Bowie performing on TV after reading a lot about his theatricality in the rock press, and I was taken aback by his awkwardness, his jerkiness, his lack of sensuousness.  (But then I was never much impressed by Jagger's moves either.)  I've been haunted by this clip from the 70s ever since I first stumbled on it last year:

Zen-succinct?  No, that's showbiz.  Not that there's anything wrong with that!  Looking again at the Goblin Dance number from Labyrinth, I suddenly thought of someone like Rex Harrison: a nonsinger and nondancer stuck in a musical.