I’d recommend checking out this slim, wonderful set of essays about David Bowie if you haven’t already. It’s worth reading almost anything by philosopher Simon Critchley, so there’s that. But also, in the wake of so many tributes – and we have to assume most of them were at the least heartfelt – it’s comforting and cathartic to read this and remember how it was intended: a living eulogy of sorts, tribute to Bowie while he was still alive.
There’s wry humour and spot-on observation here, a fan writing about one of his greatest influences, picking moments, stealing time to write passionately about the music that has driven him, that has driven so many of us.
In The Art’s Filthy Lesson Critchley writes about Bowie’s love of irony, his way with it. Elsewhere he, naturally, looks at the Berlin period and many other “periods” or moments within moments. Some of the smartest writing her is in assessing what might well be deemed the lesser works. He makes a strong argument for the fact that the album Reality was perhaps overlooked, underappreciated.
Critchley also nicely assesses Bowie’s emotional strength, the emotional ties and impact within and around his music – not just from fans, but from the man himself. In an essay titled Yearning he argues about Bowie’s need and search for emotional fulfilment through the songs he wrote. Where some might see Be My Wife as cold, cynical, detached, Critchley assesses it as a cry for help. So much of the Station and Berlin-period works seem to fall into that cry-for-help/escapism one-two.
Rather than being caught up in the characters – though there is talk of the costumes, the creating, the empowerment this offered, to teens in the 70s particularly – Critchley concentrates on the music, the songwriting, the power of what this music means.
Reading it, in the days after Bowie’s passing, it felt like some of the smartest writing I’ve ever read about that great artist, it felt like the best set of tributes – because it wasn’t written for point-scoring.