Queer Star, David Bowie and Gender Anarchy
by Jimmi Shrode
At the age of 10, I had discovered David Bowie in the pages of 16 Magazine. The wholesome safe pop idols; David Cassidy, The Osmonds and The Jackson 5 were giving way to the Glam Rockers; Lou Reed, Alice Cooper and David Bowie. Bowie was the ring leader with a shocking vermillion rooster cut and tight satin pants. With shocking blue eyeshadow highlighting his mismatched eyes and lipstick, he lead the way for the Sexual Revolution by way of Gender Anarchy and Queerness.
As David Jones, young Bowie couldn’t get arrested with a string of forgettable Anthony Newley meets The Beatles songs that were too twee. Later he would don a maxi dress and sing folkish rock songs, some notice but not quite. The novelty of ‘Space Oddity‘ coincided with America’s Moon Landing brought minor fame, introducing us to Major Tom, an astronaut lost forever in the stars. It was Ziggy Stardust, a rock and roll messiah who came just in time for the end of the world to lead us to Mars, the world of Sexual Chaos. David had announced he was Gay despite being in a marriage with Angie Bowie and son Zowie (now filmmaker Duncan Jones). Bowie was launched into the stratosphere.
Bowie became godlike and seduced the teens of Britain and America. A clever ruse in an age where news traveled slowly. Bowie arrived on the shores of America with an entourage, claiming great status abroad in Europe. The record executives bought it all. Global success at last. Bowie’s androgyny smashed into the world of suburbia here in the USA and abroad. Queerness was on sale in a record shop near you. Boys dressed in make up and mom’s cast-offs, skinny jeans and experimented with each other leaving lipstick traces. Girls swooned for this Queer Elvis. Adults were dismayed. What was dirty and whispered about in secret was now wrapped up in Japanese Modernist Fashion and Kabuki via the LSD dreams of Timothy Leary, strutting under the spotlights for all the world to see.
Bowie rediscovered Lou Reed, Andy Warhol’s Superstar and leader of the Velvet Underground. The Velvet Underground had inspired Bowie when the Exploding Plastic Inevitable made it to the UK. The psychedelic multimedia show of music, lights and art inspired David Jones. Ever the avid student; he absorbed it and made it his own. His alchemy would extend into the music world and reinvent others as it had himself.
Iggy Pop, the sweaty, muscular singer with a proto-punk band The Stooges, was now clad in tight Lurex pants and had black eyeliner, mascara and lipstick. Bowie took Iggy into the studio and allegedly into his bedroom. Bowie’s aesthetic wiped off onto Lou Reed who now dressed in makeup and leather. Reed had taken a walk onto the Wild Side.
As he retired the glitter and paint in favor of Soul Boy clothes, the label of Queerness became an albatross. While good for breaking through indifference into Rock and Roll, rock was still a boy’s club. Even though some of them adopted Bowie’s fey ways, they were still hetero-normative. Bowie, addicted to cocaine and becoming increasingly paranoid retreated further away from Ziggy Stardust. With slicked back blonde hair, classic 30’s suits and a cigarette, he became the nihilistic Thin White Duke. Then Bowie made the famous Hitler Salute in Victoria Station, casting up shadows of fascism. It was apropos. Fascism had destroyed the Weimar Era Drag for the sturm und drang of masculinity.
As a chameleon, Bowie further reinvented himself and in the 1980’s had a renaissance into New Wave Music. Still, the shadow of homosexuality clung to him. Disavowing and ignoring it, yet, always present. Some Gay People felt betrayed that their idol who led them out of the closet had returned to the closet. It was a fearsome time when Reagan and Thatcher conservatism and AIDS ravaged Gay Liberation.
David Bowie always endured and was relevant in every decade nonetheless. The 90’s saw collaborations with Trent Reznor and Dr. Dre. In the Aughts; Bowie became the crooner he had been with his smash album Heathen. Then he dropped out of sight after a heart attack only to reemerge in time for his final curtain calls with his albums The Next Day and Blackstar. Blackstar saw the artist use his own impending death to craft his final statement, dying soon after.
To me and many others; Bowie’s act of Sexual Rebellion had forever changed us, bringing a deeper understanding of gender, sexuality and self-expression. Bowie’s image as Ziggy Stardust remains cemented in our psyche. Often copied and rebranded, a white faced Bowie with a bold red and blue lighting bolt in the center of his face crowned with orange hair is how we remember him most; the Queer Bowie. Our Queer Star.
Written by Jimmi Shrode
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