A glimpse into the singer’s lifelong pastime, and the texts that shaped his identity
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Bowie pictured with American writer William S. Burroughs, whose ‘cut-up method’ was adopted during the writing of Diamond Dogs

When David Bowie was 15 he read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a Beat Generation novel that inspired him to leave the cloister of London suburban life. For Bowie, the paperback novel offered more than just escapist fantasy, it could affect and change the way someone lived.

Alongside the influence of music and contemporary art on Bowie’s creative development, the songwriter drew on literature as a fertile resource of possibility and transformation. For example, the lyrics of Bowie’s 1974 album  Diamond Dogs adopted the ‘cut-up technique‘ of the experimental American writer William S. Burroughs, whereby existing passages are broken up and reassembled to create something new and original.

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Few artists have excited me like David Bowie. As a teenager, the punk electronica of Low, the bombast of “Heroes”, and the angular anthems of Lodger helped me acclimatise to living alone in the city.

There was also the glacial paranoid chic of Station to Station, the throbs and screeches of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), a panorama of the 1980s New York, to say nothing of the postmodern murder mystery, 1. Outside. (I can still remember the thrill of hearing songs from the latter album opening David Lynch’s Lost Highway and closing David Fincher’s Seven.)

All of these records, alongside those by Bowie collaborators Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed, became the soundtrack to my undergraduate years. Neurotic, pulsing, existential pop.

I found in David Bowie a fantastic empty signifier, a blank canvas ready and waiting for me to impose and inscribe my obsessions. During these years he became my idol. Not simply someone to identify with, but an idea or an image that I aspired toward: a striking embodiment of the power of art to transform ourselves and the world around us.

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