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End of an Arena

Alas, the David Bowie show, which originated at the V&A and had its first stop at the Art Gallery of Ontario, closed this week (next stop Sao Paulo). It’s impossible to overstate the impact Bowie had on my youth and the show brought to vivid life all the reasons why. Like so many confused, angry and disaffected kids with a taste for the extravagant, the freakish and the other-worldly, queer or not, I found a balm and a refuge from the crushing boredom and cruelty of suburban life in Bowie’s music. Only Bowie seemed to speak to my own experience. “You’ve got your mother in a whirl, She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl”. I wasn’t sure either – Bowie understood.

I’ve loved and obsessed over Bowie’s many incarnations and I still marvel at the incredibly rapid succession of the personae: the trans-hippy David of Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, the plastic soul and Berlin periods, all in the space of what, 10 years? Amazing. In 1984, naturally, I was obsessed with the 1974 record Diamond Dogs: the album was inspired by Orwell’s novel. (What a thrill to see the original Guy Peellaert artwork, another obsession, at the AGO!) I began to imagine what was to be an epic comic inspired by Diamond Dogs, titled Glitter Planet.

The premise of Glitter Planet was: an oppressive world peopled by teen-aged, glam rock/punk/new wave fans that, like the Replicants in Blade Runner, only exists for a period of five years (the exact life span of Ziggy Stardust), before it’s obliterated by some cataclysmic event. The sole focus of this beautiful, doomed generation is to work and save enough money to dress and makeup outlandishly and attend stadium rock concerts: the only transcendent escape from their gray, downtrodden lives.

Bowie’s appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1982 with Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias had been a life-changing experience for me. This Glitter Planet performer was inspired by the boxy, Dada-esque costume Bowie wore for The Man Who Sold the World segment. (Jane Fonda as Barbarella appears on the tv on his/her chest.)

The profound influence Bowie has had on music and style is understood. In the 80s, at the height of new wave time, my personal assessment went further. People like David Sylvian, Adam Ant, Siouxsie, even Boy George, bands like Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet – in short, the entire New Romantic and early Goth genres merely reflected facets of experiments the Master had toyed with and discarded. Like Athena, these artists had sprung from Bowie’s forehead fully formed, ready to carry out the god’s abandoned styles to their logical extremes. In other words they were David Bowie.

I got no further than these concept drawings for Glitter Planet. I never did figure out that key component – an actual narrative and the whole project became daunting. Seeing the Bowie show reminded me of them and made me want to share…

Thank you, David Bowie. I don’t think I’d have made it without you.