David Bowie: identity is creativity

On what would have been Bowie’s 72nd birthday, Dr Frank Monaghan explores how his constant evolution wasn’t just about changing the nature of his art — his reinventions were his art.

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The final transformation

He seems to have seen identity as something constantly on the horizon of our perception, always becoming, never merely being — an arrival that always included its departure: ‘When the kids had killed the man / I had to break up the band’ as he sang of his most famous creation, Ziggy Stardust in 1972. This might explain why the extra-terrestrial (whether human or alien) was an abiding metaphor he returned to from the early days of Major Tom in the song Space Oddity (1969) through his re-appearance in Pierrot costume on Ashes to Ashes (1980) and most recent embodiment in the video to his latest single Blackstar in which a woman approaches a figure in a spacesuit lying on the ground, she opens the visor to reveal a jewel-encrusted skull which is then carried off in a glass box as an object of worship — perhaps he was telling us that this was to be the final transformation.

Seeing more and feeling less

Saying no but meaning yes

This is all I ever meant

That’s the message that I sent.

This article was previously published on OpenLearn in January 2019, by Dr Frank Monaghan, who is a Senior Lecturer and Staff Tutor in Education and Language Studies at The Open University.

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