David Bowie has been part of the world-wide cultural conversation ever since the early 70s, and even though he’s been gone for more than 15 months, he’s certainly not forgotten.
He was a man who did a lot of things well. Music was his mainstay, but he also made his mark on fashion, art, video and how we think about people who are a little different. For me, his genius lay in how he would notice how various concepts – often originating from other people – bumped together, and then he would artificially reinforce the congruence, strengthen the bond until the music (or video or other new concept) held together and made something new and fresh. He was a packrat of ideas, he acknowledged his influences, and somehow he knew just how to retrieve the right bit at the right time. What a mental filing system the man must have had . . . .
He borrowed. And people borrowed from him. And so the circle goes round.
This April, two huge ripples in pop culture took place that reminded me of David Bowie.
First, there was the lipstick-smearing thing on the infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad that first aired on April 4, and was pulled on April 5 for being tone-deaf. I don’t know; someone certainly had their head stuck firmly up in the early 70s, and I wonder if the ad was simply Too Early. People are mad and unhappy in 2017, and still have a lot to say about the injustices happening.
I’m sure most of our Ladies remember when we all wanted to buy the world a Coke. (Dailymotion clip of the commerical) That peace-loving anthem came out in November 1971, a little more than a year before the U.S. pulled out of Viet Nam. I was a pre-schooler, but I remember the time as distinctly being in the “Kum-Bah-Yah” era of “Why can’t we all just get along?” The Coke jingle became a popular song called, “I’d Like to Teach the World (To Sing)” and we were out of Viet Nam at the end of March, 1973. The Coke people were listening to the cultural conversation, and trying to make a profit out of it, yes. But they weren’t trying to push the cultural conversation in a certain direction, and they weren’t trying to impose lessons from advertising history in order to make some bucks from a fizzy drink.
There’s a lot to like about the Pepsi commercial too. It means well, but as I said, too soon. Young people aren’t ready to buy the world a Pepsi and give it to a cop (or any other symbol of oppression).
Anyway, if you are willing to buy into the concept, the Pepsi commercial is about getting rid of one’s socially-constructed shell, and expressing one’s true feelings of protest, peace and thirstiness. The wig-doffing and the lipstick-smearing are part and parcel of how women and trans people carefully construct a persona, but they have the power to deconstruct it, too. Desi Lydic did a fabulous job of parodying Kendall Jenner on The Daily Show (April 6 Uproxx article and clip). David Bowie did this gesture twice in his video, “Boys Keep Swinging.” And of course, David stole it from Romy Haag, a cafe owner who was in Berlin at the same time he was. (Well, there’s a little more to the story than that: http://www.exberliner.com/features/people/queen-of-the-underground/.)
In other big popular news, Harry Styles has come out with a new album, and a quick google shows me that the Express (UK), Metro (UK), Popcrush, New Statesman (!), Bustle, Billboard and NME (New Musical Express) all compare Harry’s new album or single Sign of the Times to David Bowie – and that’s just on the first page of hits.
I watched the April 15 Saturday Night Live clips on YouTube, and I have to say, I didn’t really hear it. If anything, the second song he sung on SNL, “Ever Since New York”, sounded a great deal like Neil Young to me. (Although, to be fair, Neil Young was an influence on David Bowie, too.)
I do admit, watching the young man come out and play rhythm guitar on the song gave me flashbacks to some live Bowie clips. And then there were the bumper promo pictures that SNL put out to advertise Harry’s performance. He’s in pink floral shirt with a pussy bow. (What Harry Wore tweet) If you digitally changed it to a blue shirt, we’re getting some serious resonance with David’s The Man Who Sold the World man dress. (Alan Cook WordPress blog)
(I’ll also add that the SNL host that night was Jimmy Fallon, another Bowie fan. I recommend the tribute he and Chris Martin from Coldplay did on March 21, 2016, “Life on Mars” ((via Rolling Stone).)
Borrowing. Borrowed. Juxtaposed and riveted in place. Torn apart and made new again. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue – maybe that’s how the best romance stories are made, too.