Sophia Deboick on the fascinating story of the star’s often self-destructive obsession with the US, 50 years after the release of the foreboding album which marked its beginning.
David Jones was hardly the only baby boomer to adore all things American. The schoolboy was one of millions who had come through austerity Britain to find rock ‘n’ roll arrive just in time for their teens. For Jones, America meant a ready-made dream of glamour, exoticism and decadence, sustained by listening to Little Richard records, following American football, and reading Jack Kerouac in his tiny bedroom of his parents’ terraced house in suburban Bromley.
But Jones was one of the few of his generation to make that dream reality. Pictures of the 16-year-old in his first band, the Konrads, toting a saxophone and with an immaculate DA hairdo, mark the Alpha point of a lifelong musical love affair with America. As David Bowie – a name inspired by the intense Americana of the 1960 film The Alamo, where Richard Widmark played Texan rebel Jim Bowie – he would explore the American mythos again and again throughout his half a century-long career. But he would also almost be killed by his first-hand experience of that country, suffering personal breakdown in step with its national crisis.
Bowie’s first substantial artistic confrontation of America as an idea came on The Man Who Sold the World, made before he had ever set foot in the States, and whose 50th anniversary of release comes just the day after the 2020 US election. With its exploration of madness, violence and dystopia, it is an album that speaks to the Trumpian nightmare…
The New European, 29 October 2020, pp. 33-37.