David Bowie's Top 100 Books, and What His Picks Say About Him
This year has been a big year for fans of the Great Bowie. First, there was his new album. (Not as good as his old stuff, but still.) Second, there is a retrospective on his career, called "David Bowie Is," currently making its way around the museum circuit. And now we have a list of the 'Top 100' favorite books from the man who told us "we could be heroes" and gave us a go-to soundtrack for when we're stressed.
The list is wide-ranging, but most of his picks are fairly recent — none date before 1945, according to The Guardian's compilation of the list. This rock god has good taste, but rather than just applaud the legend for his picks, we've decided to look at what this list says about the man.
Selected Poems by Frank O'Hara: O'Hara, an American poet of the mid-20th century, was known for his "brilliant excess and breakneck inventiveness." O'Hara worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York was inspired by the innovative of abstract expressionists of his period. He wrote deeply personal poems that were almost like diary entries. Bowie's taste for O'Hara's idiom makes a lot of sense since his own lyrics, though difficult to decipher and convoluted, have a very intimate feeling. Take, for example, his "The Man Who Sold the World": it doesn't make literal sense, but the lyrics give the impression of a man disenchanted with his lot. (Kurt Cobain would never have covered a song that lacked feeling.)
1984 by George Orwell and Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgov: Bowie tended to move around a lot, circulating between American and European metropoles. He lived in Berlin prior to the wall falling, so communism and totalitarianism was probably on his mind. Bowie, who spent the late 1970s in Berlin, was so influenced by the city that he named a track on his album "Heroes" after one of its neighborhoods. (Though he misspelled "Neukölln" as "Neuköln.")
Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia: Although women are her topic of focus, Camille Paglia is a hotly debated figure in feminist circles, with some feminist literary critics calling her "anti-feminist." A similarly ambiguous relationship can be seen in Bowie's "Suffragette City." Furthermore, decadence is the prevailing element of Bowie's musical and performing aesthetic, so a book on sexual excess in literature and art history would certainly be enticing to him.
Money by Martin Amis: With this pick, Bowie shows that he has a taste for sharp wit and incisive social commentary. Bowie's songs rarely engage in direct social critique, but one can feel a sort of cultural awareness in songs like "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," an elegiac yet darkly humorous piece about a burnt out musician who is too young for death, too old for stardom.