Turn myself to face me: David Bowie and the discovery of the authentic self

Stephanie Fremaux, Bethany Usher

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    Abstract

    Over the past year there has been renewed media interest in David Bowie’s career due to two important milestones: the 40th anniversary of the release of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and the celebration of Bowie’s 65th birthday. However, while largely focusing on Bowie as the red haired, spandex clad icon of the 1970s, recent retrospectives have overlooked what is arguably one of the most important phases of Bowie’s development as an autonomous musician: self discovery during the formation and performance of Tin Machine and Bowie’s solo output of the 1990s. This paper seeks to examine Bowie’s movement from performance of ‘the other’ (Hegel in Taylor 1975) to performance of an image of self during the period of 1989 to 1999, arguing that while the band Tin Machine, which he fronted from 1988-1992, was a commercial and critical failure, it acted as a catalyst to a cathartic cleansing of the performance of characters that had dominated his music so far. This enabled Bowie to regain artistic control over his image and output. Furthermore, this paper posits this, and Bowie’s decision to eschew artifice for self-reflective authenticity, was in fact another performance: a simulacrum through which Bowie performed a “hyperreal” version of self (Baudrillard 1994). Through a theoretical framework of performance theory and a detailed textual analysis of all Bowie interviews and feature articles in Q Magazine from 1989-1999, as well as a critical examination of Bowie’s 1990s image, this paper argues that through his final performance Bowie was finally able to emerge as a musician entirely on his own terms. This freed him from the expectations of the personae from the 1970s and the commercial pressures of the 1980s. By performing this hyperreal version of self instead of constructed characters, he was finally able to reveal his authentic self to audience as the 21st century approached.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationDavid Bowie: Critical Perspectives
    Pages56-81
    Number of pages0
    Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2015

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    Fremaux, S., & Usher, B. (2015). Turn myself to face me: David Bowie and the discovery of the authentic self. In David Bowie: Critical Perspectives (pp. 56-81)