Message sent in 21st century fiber-optic cablebottle:
“David Bowie, you may have turned down a Knighthood, but would you accept a modest offer from Descant? No goofy empire titles, promise. You are beyond titles, we get that. We could really use your help. We can pay you $100. Skip to the end to find out more.”
I am still hungover from my visit to the David Bowie Is exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, yesterday, or I’d go again today, a kind of hair-of-the-dog.
Most of the time I walked around open-mouthed, humming inappropriately loudly — I turned those AGO headphones up as high as they’d go. Descant Co-editor Katie Franklin, who saw the exhibit before me observed that the hagiography suggests Bowie discovered cold fusion and I have to agree. But, in case you are planning on becoming a legend yourself, hang on to a nice-looking set of your current apartment keys — “The keys to the apartment where X did most of her great work” — and a tissue with your lipstick blot — “The tissue with his lipstick blot” — and cigarette package doodles, for eternal curated ooohing. I saw those at the exhibit as well as “The Periodic Table of Bowie,” with ancestral links to, among others, Dali, Picasso, Jack Kerouac, Freddy Mercury, Neil Armstrong, Barrack Obama, the Dalai Lama, Bertolt Brecht, Boy George, Lady GaGa and Beyonce. That’s some family tree. But then, David Bowie is some talented twig (which reminds me, Twiggy was another element in the table).
From memory and notes, here is a Lesson Learned, a Lesson Reinforced and an Inspiration about writing and the creative life, from my afternoon with the inimitable NoSir Bowie.
1. Even if we resist it, there is a pecking-order to the writing-and-reading world (because there’s a pecking order everywhere else). Novels, “literary novels,” sit graciously amidst the clouds, while limericks somersault half-nekked through puddles. In Nantucket. The David Bowie who designed a textile pattern for Laura Ashley and avant garde performance costumes, who sketched and painted, played several instruments including the cello, acted in movies and wrote and performed a few decent tunes, said this:
“If I’d had any inspiration, I would have written novels.”
This made me think that those who follow their creative talents and find some success, however defined, are fortunate; but those who let their creative talents lead them, unharnessed, wherever and however, are exhilarated, and exhilarating to others.
Be brave. Be braver still.
It’s time to leave the tin can.
2. Despite all the colourful costumes on display, the room with the flying books, and all the images, among my favourite items at the exhibition were the plain, lined note pages with David Bowie’s handwritten notes of lyrics he was working on (BTW, he’s a leftie). For example, from the lyrics to Five Years:
“I saw telephones – opera houses – favourite melodys/ Boys – toys – programmes on TV’s.”
But Bowie has crossed off
programmes on T.V’s. and inserted “electric irons &”. Yes, “Boys – toys – electric irons on TVs” is better. Much better.
But even better is this re-write, for Rebel, Rebel:
“You’re like me and we know it all/ We like dancin’ and we like to ball.”
Pause now and bring to mind the opening of that song. Got it? Okay, now consider his (permanent) rewrite:
“You’re like me and I like it all/ We like dancin’ and we look divine.”
Uh huh. Better.
The process of writing is the process of re-writing. There are no exceptions. Ever. When in doubt, remember “
I’ve never read a great first draft/everything great I’ve read, was not a first draft. First drafts can really, really, suck (sorry, DB). When they are re-written, they can be really, really great.
3. Of all the sappy cliches, the one I hate most is the one we often tell children: “You can grow up to be anything you want to be!” How stupid is that? For one, you can’t, and I know I don’t need to explain that. But perhaps more importantly, what’s wrong with who you are now? Why can’t we just be the something that we are, not the anything others claim to imagine that we might not be able to imagine ourselves to be? [note: I did rewrite that. Numerous times.]
Yes, David Bowie is perched on the extreme end of this, but extremes are good teachers for those of us lazing around the middle. Bowie told me yesterday (in my headphones), that he was trying to be a one-man revolution and that he was “living as one big sculpture.” Well good on ya, man. Many of us are eternally grateful.
I am not now nor do I ever intend to be a living sculpture or one-person revolution. But I do intend to support and cheer on those who do, because they inspire me to look inside my own creativity to see what’s there already. I’m glad to add to my well, without having to dig a new one. I am, after all, much lazier than David Bowie.
David Bowie isn’t just being “anyone he wants to be” — he is being David Jones Bowie. Imagine how lame the results had he taken the advice to be “anyone.” Sheesh.
Back to Descant’s message in our fiber-optic cablebottle:
“David Bowie, wherever you are, we are confident that you are not reading this. But if someone sends it to you, we want to ask your help with our Berlin issue, due out in the fall of 2014. We have some secret plans which we will reveal to you. You don’t have to perform. We can pay you $100. Did we mention that already? Password: Hauptstrasse155.”
A gallery sign pointing the way to the last room at the AGO exhibit said brilliantly:
David Bowie Continues →
[for Genny Lindsay, wherever you are, whether or not you kept those sparkling silver platform boots…]