Only Dancing: David Bowie Flirts with the Issues

  • Simon Frith
Chapter
Part of the Youth Questions book series (YQ)

Abstract

In the jealous world of British youth cults, David Bowie is the only star who cannot ‘sell out’: whatever he does is validated by the fact that he, David Bowie, did it. This is partly because Bowie has never performed on behalf of anyone else; his emphasis has always been on art as the invention of self. What Bowie (and Bryan Ferry) did in the 1970s was redefine the pop object. Their ‘texts’ — the pieces of art for audiences to interpret — were not simply songs, records, words, images, but all these things as organized by the pop sales process (ads, gossip columns, disc jockey patter and so on). To appreciate Bowie was not just to like his music or his shows or his looks, but also to enjoy the way he set himself up as a commercial image. How he was packaged was as much an aspect of his art as what the package contained. The traditional British rock star’s dealings in the marketplace were either wary (Van Morrison), cynical (Rod Stewart) or both (John Lennon) — their messages reached their audiences despite the necessary distortions of the hard sell. But Bowie was more interested in the hard sell than in anything else.

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Copyright information

© Simon Frith 1983

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  • Simon Frith

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