Joe Corallo: Sight and Sound
So I had written this week’s column about Marvel’s next big event, Civil War II, and how they’re going to be killing off a major character. I wrote about how it’s unoriginal, uninspiring, and how I wish we could do better. I was even planning on titling it “Civil Disobedience.” Really clever stuff. Then I woke up at 5:30am on Monday, January 11th to news that I didn’t think I’d hear for many, many years to come: David Bowie has passed away. What I had written my column about no longer mattered to me, and I started writing a new one. This one. About how important David Bowie is to a great many people, including myself. I’m just one of those great many people. When I a kid, David Bowie wasn’t terribly important to me. I was aware of him. I heard the big hits on the radio. My dad liked songs like Rebel, Rebel, and my mom owned at least the vinyl of David Live when she was a teenager, if I’m remembering that correctly. None of my friends were really into his music at the time either. Once I entered into college and became more aware of myself, I became more aware of who David Bowie was. Early on in college, I picked up The Best of Bowie followed by The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I absolutely loved it. David Bowie was the queer icon I needed at the time. I would later meet a guy named Jake who was barely a month older than me, whom we shared a Bowie obsession that we were delving into roughly around the same time in our lives. We would hunt down the different Rykodisc releases of his albums that had the bonus tracks on them. Those were good times and memories I still cherish. I would go on to consume his entire discography, dozens and dozens of bootlegs of concerts, b-sides and outtakes covering everything from The Laughing Gnome, Vampires of the Human Flesh, the unused tracks from Outside and far far more, and to burn more than a few Bowie mixes for my college friends and acquaintances on CD. David Bowie also led me to watch the film adaptation of the novel The Man Who Fell To Earth, which remains one of my favorite sci-fi films. The film stars David Bowie as someone who may or may not be an alien, who admits to being attracted to both men and women, and features a gay couple as well. It was the first time I had seen a sci-fi film tackle queerness, certainly that early on. It reinvigorated my love of sci-fi at a time in which it had been my favorite genre growing, but was starting to slip away from me as I identified less and less with it. I was just beginning to come into my own, grappling with my sexual identity and the ramifications of that. David Bowie was someone who was openly queer in varying degrees throughout his life, while also being a popstar and cultural icon beloved by people in both the straight and queer communities. That was a kind of reassurance I needed, and I’m grateful that he provided that for me. And the fact that someone who clearly identified so heavily with alienation could be revered by so many through multiple generations is incredibly rare and almost entirely unique in modern music history. His vocals ranged from haunting to awe-inspiring. We would see a great many bands rise from their feelings of alienation, but David Bowie made it cool. And he paved the way for all that came after him. That’s not to say that others didn’t attempt to do what he did before him, or that others before him weren’t successful, but none have permeated through our culture into every medium of entertainment the way that David Bowie has as singular entity. From his music to his acting career, which admittedly was not as successful as he had hoped, he had inspired storytellers. Even in comics, you’ll see many references to his work scattered over the decades. Bowie had even been considered for a part in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and was even considered for the role of The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. Kate Beaton has done multiple David Bowie inspired comics like this one, as countless other artists have tackled him in comics as well, often playing up his sexuality. David Bowie’s sexuality wasn’t entirely clear. It didn’t have to be. Early in his career he had claimed he was gay, then moved into bisexuality. It should come as no surprise that as the world changed and entered into a more conservative time, championed by the likes of Thatcher and Reagan, that Bowie’s personas started to downplay his flamboyance for a time as he began to stay he was not really bisexual after all. He didn’t flat out deny his intimacy with men in the past, and did not reach beyond that to condemn those who were queer. Later on, his sexuality was simply ambiguous. How David Bowie handled his sexuality is important. He showed me, and I’m sure many others, that we don’t need to be a prisoner of our sexual preferences. Our sexualities can change, evolve, and become more complex as we age, just like everything else does in our lives. I went through my own journey of not thinking about sexuality early on in my life and defaulting as straight, then moving into bisexuality, then gay, and finally identifying most closely with the idea of being queer. People like David Bowie living in the public eye and going through his changes helped me understand myself in a way that few other people in the public eye have, and I’m thankful to have lived in a time where that was possible. I could go on about the impact he’s had on the world, but you probably all already know that, or have people who are more well versed in all of those things who have spent time with him and have the sort of insights that I’ll never have. Rather, I’d like to end this by saying thank you for entertaining me by reading my thoughts, reflections, and (mostly) coherent ramblings on a man that’s had a profound impact on my life, countless other lives, and perhaps your own life, and that I hope this may have given you some insight on me, people like me, and perhaps yourselves.
Joe, THE MAN WHO TO FELL TO EARTH is one of my favorite science fiction movies, too. But I thought it was obvious that Bowie’s character was an alien (he came to Earth because his planet was in desperate need of water), but as the movie and book went on, he came to identify more and more with humans. The theme of the movie (and book) was “alienation,” after all–y’know, what is it to be “alienated” from your society? Bowie’s character started to become alienated from his own people while meeting humans who were alienated for different reasons from their own “native” society.