The Radical Individualism of David Bowie

And my brother’s back at home with his Beatles and his Stones
We never got it off on that revolution stuff
What a drag, too many snags
Now I’ve drunk a lot of wine and I’m feeling fine
Got to race some cat to bed
Oh is that concrete all around
Or is it in my head?

— All the Young Dudes

Though Lurie is on the right track I’m not at all convinced as this piece stands. Yes, Bowie is the most naturally philosophical and literate of song-writers (i.e. not of the sloganeering Lennonesque variety) but the philosophical explication on offer here seems very slight to me. It’s trying way too hard to find stuff to support the individualism thesis (which as I’ve indicated is there in Bowie). No conceptual distinction is drawn between individualism and individuality as well as the notion that the individual vs. collective is not as stark a contrast as inferred — the individual and the group are in some sense ontologically on a par and of course the relationship is complex and in tension. When Lurie writes: “To assist with this endeavor I have enlisted a number of fellow writers and artists across the ideological spectrum to weigh in on the hidden meanings of these gems” (emphasis added) — I get worried. Maybe Lurie’s book We Can Be Heroes: The Radical Individualism of David Bowie does delve into these issues and maybe he does present a compelling case for Bowie’s so-called “social-libertarian proclivities”. What’s the approach? Unearthing “hidden meanings” via a Freudo-Marxist, hermeneutic, semiotic analyses . . . or just by wishful thinking? In any event I’d caution that if art is to maintain its authenticity, it should not be subject to propositional incursions. Second, as an experience of delight it does not involve the bifurcation of first the experience and contemplation thereof, followed by a rendering (expressed, conveyed, mimicked, copied, reproduced, exhibited): there is no undifferentiated poetic imagination, never mere entertainment nor merely the conveyor of wisdom.

For those who want to nerd out on Bowie, I suggest a two-fold approach: Simon Critchley’s book (the philosophical) and Tony Visconti’s autobiography (the practical).