David Bowie and Falling Glitter

By 1973, my mother was used to the Beatles. She even found parts of Bob Dylan's New Morning "nice" and was no longer aurally traumatized by the Rolling Stones. I didn't play her George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord," but if I had it might have induced her to hum. Rock was in desperate straits. The only thing that could turn her stomach was the cover-photo of Alladin Sane featuring David Bowie coiffed, made-up and naked. She thought the music was disgusting, too. I listened to a lot of Bowie that year.

Bowie put rebellion back into rock. Other rock stars had become complacent and self-satisfied by turning to God, family and country music--Ziggy Stardust (as Bowie dubbed the rock permutation of his chameleon self) was a kick in the pants. Homosexuality was shocking and Ziggy flaunted it in both dress and verse. There was no question about his stance after hearing "Queen Bitch":

She's an old time ambassador

Of sweet talking, night walking games

And she's known in the darkest clubs

For pushing ahead of the dames

If she says she can do it

She can do it, She don't make false claims

For she's a Queen...

She's so swishy in her satin and tat

In her frock coat and bipperty-bopperty hat

Oh god I could do better than that...

Sure your English Lit. teacher was letting his hair get good in the back, but was he ready for this?

Of course, Bowie was always more than merely jarring. To lump him with Alice Cooper, as many do, is a mistake. Despite Cooper's first name and penchant for mascara, his songs were as straight as the midwestern plains from which he came. Cooper's charm, nurtured by Zappa's aesthetic of ugliness, lies elsewhere, perhaps in the psychic territory of a sixth grader.

Unlike Cooper's mischievousness, Bowie's energetic bisexuality partook of something more profound. In projecting his adrogynous persona, Bowie expressed not just changing attitudes toward homosexuality, but he was also working out the feminist's expansive concept of sex roles. He galvanized people by presenting not just rock songs, but the glimpse of a whole other kind of life. His counter-sexuality had the electrifying effect that the counter-culture had lost. As Dylan could moralize in '66 about Mr. Jones and his closed mind, so Bowie in '73 could chide the prudes and exhort his followers in "Changes":