Recent Encounters of the Religious Kind

3. Prophecy Fulfilled


Back in January I predicted that David Bowie’s demise would lead to his apotheosis. And so it comes to pass.

First there’s this, from the Guardian‘s Suzanne Moore:

The theory that it was in fact, David Bowie’s presence in the universe that was holding everything together is one I find hard to resist, given how awful everything has been of late…

Second is Paul Morley’s new Bowie biography, the cleverly titled The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made a World of Difference, with its abundance of publicity including Radio 4’s broadcast ‘book of the week’. It is probably worth a look if you’re at all interested in the Thin White Duke and his various incarnations.

Two aspects of the biography stand out: first, Morley’s admission that he’s had to invent some details of Bowie’s life because either there is a lack of information – about his pre-fame period, for example – or, there are too many contradictory reports of certain events (often from Bowie himself) – or, a biography is so much more interesting when ‘facts’ are reorganised, again as Mr Bowie himself was wont to do when it suited him.

Second, the tone is uncritical to the point of sycophancy. Morley’s evident respect and admiration for Bowie translate into an adulation that elevates the late star to a priestly, semi-divine status. Within the first few pages Bowie is described as someone who manipulates time (xii); has a voice that pierces straight to the heart (p2); possesses the wisdom of the ages (p8); is capable of rearranging others’ minds (p8); can recreate the cosmic order (p8); symbolises the future (p8); dramatically splits reality wide open and penetrates time itself (p9); hunts for kindred spirits ready to surrender to his ways (p11); is obsessed with the deeper truths of existence (p14) and is a kind of teacher (p15) who proclaimed, ‘look how amazing this is. I am never, ever going to die’ (p20). Bowie would surely have been amused by most of these claims.

Written only a matter of months, perhaps weeks, after the singer’s death, in a time when, after his initial success in the 1970s, his every word, note, movement, metamorphosis, transformation, declaration and pronouncement was seized upon, broadcast and preserved for posterity, it is remarkable how much of the biography has to be constructed. Remarkable too how much it reflects Morley’s own experience of Bowie, how he writes about his Bowie, or series of Bowies.

Imagine if he were writing this same biography 40 or more years from now, with no personal or direct experience of the Bowie phenomenon, when no-one who had first-hand experience of it was alive, or if they were, had to rely on shaky memories of events that had happened – or maybe not – in their youth. How much more would the author have had to invent, even if he had access to archive material, about the impact the subject had, the effect of his music, his presence, his vision(s), his theatricality, his changes, his highs, his lows, his philosophy, his influence, the contribution he made to popular music and to art, the difference he made to ordinary individuals’ lives…

Now: imagine there are no reliable archives; no recordings, no film, no contemporaneous newspaper reports. Imagine too the author is not a twenty-first century journalist and musician, but has, like all those around him, including his audience, little or no scientific understanding of the world. Rather, he has a mind-set dominated by God, angels and devils, and is prone to superstition and the possibility people can and do rise from the dead. How much more readily would the half-forgotten charismatic of this ‘biography’ be elevated to god-like status. How much more miraculous the behaviour attributed to him. How much more a priest and saviour than any modern day icon.

And so the gospels came to be.

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