“Pop music is acting: it always has been. Yet only David Bowie got the rap for being rock’s pantomime artiste, its greatest pretender. He happily owned up to the charge, calling himself “The Actor” on the sleeve of Hunky Dory, “the faker” in “Changes.” Today, with Bowie a cross-national cultural icon (one can imagine his face on a Euro note someday), it may be hard to believe he was once considered the epitome of weedy English decadence. That he was seen as a fraud, as an affront to the “realness” of Sixties rock and roll. That he was suspect. He agreed with his critics, of course. There had never been so self-conscious an act as Bowie’s in pop before. In part this was because he’d had such a lengthy incubation, as a marginal act in the mid-Sixties — it’s still strange to realize his first single predates A Hard Day’s Night — and as a struggling folkie and rocker at the turn of the decade. Bowie spent the Sixties in the audience, standing in the corner of a club or perched off stage, always taking mental notes. There was something unique about Bowie, in his assimilative capabilities (and his pack-rat instincts), in his way of imagining himself as his own audience, and so working to entertain himself, first and foremost. And his long internship made him a consummate pro, ready to grab opportunities.” This is from the introduction to Rebel Rebel a fascinating new book by talented author Chris O’Leary, who cleverly details with wit and dedication all of David Bowie’s recorded output from his first single in 1964 to Station to Station. Make sure you don’t miss the next edition of Life Elsewhere, when Chris O’Leary joins Norman B to explore Rebel Rebel and play samples of rare and obscure David Bowie recordings and ask if he really was Aladdin Sane.
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