I bought a David Bowie album once. It was called Diamond Dogs. I bought the album because I was 15 years old and it had a big dog dick on the cover. When you're 15, dog dicks are cool. Come to think of it, I'm old now and still think dog dicks are quite whimsical. But I digress. Once I got the album home and listened to it, I realized that the dick on the cover was the best thing about the album. Subsequent pressings airbrushed the dick out of the picture, rendering the entire project useless. This incident sums up my feelings about David Bowie succinctly—he has always been more of a dickless dog than a diamond dog.
David Bowie is one of those artists you're "supposed" to like if you're hip. There's a David Bowie Elitist Theorem afoot. The thinking goes something like this: if you don't worship Bowie, you're probably a mullethead, an ignoramus, a homophobe, a Lynyrd Skynyrd-listening, Z28-driving, WWE-watching, Dubya-loving, nose-picking, ass-scratching cracker.
Bowie is often regarded as a trendsetter when he's actually a serial imitator and wagon-jumper. He was hardly the first flamboyantly androgynous rock & roll guy, nor the first to adopt garish costumes and makeup. He was certainly not the first to delve into prog rock, blue-eyed soul, disco, house or electronica; record self-mythologizing concept albums; hire hot-shit guitarists for his band; or adopt an image that flirted with Fascism (if you'd like a list of true trail-blazers, send me an SASE—there's no room on this page to recognize all those who actually warrant the credit). Always and forever, Bowie's singing voice has been a hollow, nasal, affected warble. I've always imagined that if Katharine Hepburn had endeavored to sing rock & roll, it would have come out sounding something like David Bowie.
I will defend David Bowie as being a pioneer to the degree that his career may well be defined as Ground Zero for heinous trendiness—the first great rock & roll swindle. Prior to his perhaps most-overrated album of all time, Ziggy Stardust, rock & roll of every stripe had more or less been a unifying force among young people. After its release, those of us who recognized this pretentious crapola as a prima facie example of style over substance were branded as stick-in-the-mud rednecks, while we recognized misguided Bowie fanboys as the Earless Fucking Poseurs they certainly were. This chasm has never healed.
Bowie is a useless old man as opposed to a useless young man now, yet he's still widely hailed as being vital and "important" among jelly-brained, oh-so-chic music critics, while other geezer rockers such as the Rolling Stones and the Who are routinely subject to ridicule for their Paleolithic irrelevance. While I won't put up much (much, I say!) of a battle in defending the current status of the above, at least they were once undeniably great by anyone's standards. David Bowie, on the other hand, has always sucked harder than Jenna Jameson on crystal meth.
That was a nice dog dick on the album cover, though.
David Bowie performs with Moby and others as part of the AREA2 fest at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 855-8096. Tues., 3:30 p.m. $30.50-$69.50. All ages.
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