With David Bowie there is always a bridge between the past and the future. We have to distract you from the temporal dimension, because here we talk about music that is timeless, and Bowie was a man from space, futuristic.
The “Thin White Duke”, one of his many nicknames, was a precursor, open-minded, master of youth emotions, carrier of cosmic messages. That’s just the main theme on Starman, the single from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. A radio broadcast is interrupted by the arrival of a Starman.
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There were many interpretations for these lyrics. Who’s the Starman? Bowie sees in him a man in our own image, who basically suggests us to enjoy life: “Let the children lose it, Let the children use it, Let all the children boogie”. Much simpler than what we could believe, much more direct and therefore much more effective, but at the same time full of lessons for us.
It’s no coincidence that the Starman is addressing young people, as the author himself. Teenagers, children (see Life on Mars), are endowed with much more immediate perception, without the intellectual superstructures typical of the bourgeois England. Bowie himself said he belonged to that bourgeois, even if he didn’t marry it, he couldn’t understand its way of communicating.
There is a meaningful conversation, between David Bowie and the writer Williams S. Burroughs, where the White Duke describes precisely his own method of writing: the artist says that what he wants to share are images, and the object is young people. Those are the ones – the Duke explained – who sent him interpretations of his lyrics, in some way assimilated by them and re-expressed in their own words. The youth, he said, is endowed with a much more sincere, forward-looking, immediate interpretation. Bowie ended up writing what the audience wanted. In that conversation, the artist took as example Lou Reed, who created a real “rock movement”, because his rock came from the road: it was true, coming from the hearts of people.
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
This is what the Starman says. He’s sharing fresh and young human sentiment, futuristic, dreamlike visions. Starman is a message of hope, it’s something that awaits us, and it’s more similar to us than what we can think. At the same time, it’s reassuring: it connects with our nature. It’s afraid to upset us, so it’s delicate, sincere. Starman is what young people feel, the new proposal, their future. It is a Bowie-proposed image that is assimilated by each of us. Everyone has their own starman. And so did Bowie: he threw important messages through a light image, allowing to us the possibility of a personal interpretation. A bit like he did with one of his favourite writers, Jack Kerouac: he was reading his works and he was embracing the message in his own way. It’s was the only reading that influenced him and at the same time let him free himself.
The fresh generation is both the recipient and the author of his lyrics. It’s the reason and the inspiration at the same time. From this point of view, Bowie is an artist who challenge himself, using images (primarily his own) to convey messages of change, innovation. A man who’s not afraid to break into a table and messing up the cards, a man who lends his irreverence to his elegance (you may think to Glam Rock, to him in the UK, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop in the USA, among the others), who talks about a reassuring future, sharing confidence and power. Bowie didn’t care about taboos, he knew the evolution of the costumes so much to foresee and face it, using even his own body. He spectacularized on stage (like many others in Glam Rock) a sexuality which was deliberately ambiguous, in order to clear topics like homosexuality, transsexualism and sexual freedom, which started to spread at that time. What, for that matter, would a Starman do?
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie
This never ending propulsion to the new is what makes Bowie a star who turned the music into a demolition force of temporal structures, into a dimension where everything is possible. Even predicting the future and delivering it to the new generations, letting them take it in hands. This is the role of Bowie in music and costume: a figure of immense relevance, who raised issues about our life and proposed solutions that live in the light spirit of his performances.