Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The connection between Bowie and punk

It's something that looks unlikely at first glance. After all, part of punk is about being your own hero and not living vicariously through others, about getting beyond the notion of big stars dominating everything, and Bowie appears at first glance to embody that totally and completely. However, the link between Bowie and Iggy Pop, one of the god fathers of punk, sheds more light on the situation.

Why exactly would Bowie, who depended on presenting himself as sophisticated and arty, take Iggy Pop, a guy who wasn't sophisticated, at least initially, and who wasn't particularly art inclined, under his wing? If you look at Bowie's creative output, even from Space Oddity but particularly from Ziggy Stardust onward, much of it has to do with figures who are literally alienated from everything by being, well, aliens, or something similar as in the Halloween Jack character from "Diamond Dogs", a leader of a post-apocalyptic mutant gang. Bowie's characters may have a big presence on the stage, but in and of themselves they speak of individuals being personally alienated from the society they live in, of being out of place, awkward, not privileged, to use a loaded word. Bowie's sexuality is another great example of this, and it's striking that on the same record where the Halloween Jack character is introduced there's a long, over ten minute, ode to anonymous gay sex, in one of the most explicit terms ever recorded by a major artist.

Bowie comes, and came, at things not only from the perspective of a star who enjoys being on stage, but as an artist who's alienated from the rest of society for a variety of reasons who is expressing that alienation and presenting it on stage, dramatizing it in the character of Ziggy Stardust and others. Bowie performs stories of personal alienation on the stage, inviting people to identify their own alienation with it.

Iggy Pop coming from a poor background, being creative and having to fight against the system to get his place in society has much in common with this perspective. Although from different social backgrounds, Bowie being middle class and into the art scene, they must have been kindred spirits to a certain degree. Bowie helped Iggy Pop to get the cultural background that he never got a chance to acquire, teaching him about art and culture, presenting him to the European scene, getting him up to speed on things.

From Iggy Pop and his "Raw Power", and stories of alienation came punk and the punk movement to a large degree. Pop as a transitional figure was and is a star on the stage but engages in anti-star behavior, attacking the notion of stardom and of big figures on stage, and instead trying to include the audience in the show. It's a small step from that to the Ramones, for instance, who dispensed with the star motif altogether and said get a guitar, learn three chords, and start a band.

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