Oh! You Pretty Things
Eight Line Poem
Life On Mars?
Fill Your Heart
Song for Bob Dylan
The Bewlay Brothers
1971’s Hunky Dory isn’t just David Bowie’s first great album, it’s the seed of everything he did after. “Life on Mars?”: There’s a song about chasing the unknown. “Oh! You Pretty Things”: A song about how the future’s already here. “Changes”: A manifesto for a career defined by them. Or how about the way he pours it on like an old-fashioned showman one minute (“Quicksand”) and turns a cold, modern shoulder the next (“Queen Bitch”).
At a time when popular music was dominated by the earthy confessionalism of singer-songwriters, his embrace of persona was a radical gesture: Not only was his identity flexible, it was disposable—a costume that, as in the kabuki traditions he’d become fascinated by a few years earlier, could be put on or taken off depending on how you felt that day. And out of the gesture comes a philosophy: Just because you’re a boy doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes feel—or even dress—like a girl. And just because you’re human doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes feel weird living on Earth. Art, by extension, isn’t a place to find your identity, but to detach from it, a place where people can discover their selves by escaping them. Years before conversations about queerness and gender fluidity got anywhere near the mainstream, he presented the argument that we’re never just one thing, and that the things we are don’t always mean what people think they do.
“Don’t believe in yourself, don’t deceive with belief,” he sings on “Quicksand.” It’s a scary proposition, and one that he’d spend most of his career facing up to: Let yourself peel away in the wind, and prepare for what comes next.