Music and smut from Jefferson, providing a soundtrack to One Life, Take Two.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Man Who Sold The World

David Bowie

There were few models for bisexuality when I was a kid. Or, more accurately, there were essentially none. “Bisexual” was a weird word for “gay,” which was itself a word for “weird.”

Then along came a curious moment in pop music—a vogue for bisexuality that presaged the later “lesbian chic” of the nineties. It came about as glam, punk and art music began to vie with the popularity of mainstream pop, particularly in Great Britain in the mid-seventies.

The idea of claiming bisexuality seems to have come about as Marc Bolan and David Bowie tussled for attention. Each let it leak that sure, they were bi, what of it? It caught headlines, so Rod Stewart, Elton John and Mick Jagger, among others, played along, dropping hints they would neither confirm nor deny. Later, as social conservatism held sway, most would back away from any previous claim to sex with men. Even Sir Elton took a bride.

I was too young to take much note of the vogue. At any rate, our town’s pop radio stations kept the needle stuck on Southern rock and heavy metal, so I scarcely knew of Bowie or Bolan.

I began to stay up later on weekends, watching television when my parents went to sleep. In those days before cable television, I was exposed to the low-budget theatrics of amateur wrestling, Hammer horror films and David Bowie. I saw Ziggy Stardust on the Midnight Special and stared wide-eyed and afraid.

A few years later, at age sixteen, I caught Bowie performing three songs on Saturday Night Live. He was immobile during “The Man Who Sold The World,” encased in a costume that might have been designed by
Sonia Delaunay. By contrast to his bizarre background singers, Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias, Bowie looked practically human.

He came back for “TVC 1 5” in the uniform of a Chinese stewardess. For “Boys Keep Swinging,” he was transformed into a marionette. In the video for “Boys Keep Swinging,” which I saw on Midnight Special, he reserved a shocking revelation for the denouement.

I didn’t have any idea about what to do with Bowie. I filed his persona under “weird art” and tried to learn the words to his songs as fast as I could. I wasn’t going to hear them anywhere else.

A few years later, “The Man Who Sold the World” would switch on a light bulb in my jumbled sexuality.

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