Historiography Saturday: David Bowie


Glam rock musician David Bowie rode to fame on the shoulders of a series of eccentric alter ego stage acts, including the androgynous alien Ziggy Stardust. Over a more than forty year career (still ongoing as of the time of this post), he experimented with numerous genres and even dabbled in films such as the cult classic modern fairy tale Labyrinth, in which he plays a sinister goblin king. He was honored with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 for his achievements and revolutionary style.

Attempting to describe Bowie’s sexual orientation leads to the rare question of what to do with a living artist who has repeatedly contradicted himself, and who shrugs off requests to answer the question directly with jokes about making more money by selling the truth in a memoir. Bowie’s onstage act was an inspiration to queer viewers at a time and place where homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender bending were becoming edgy trends among his target audience; soon after, he came out as first gay, then bisexual. However, he later recanted on his claim, announcing to Rolling Stone Magazine that, although he had experimented with men, he had always been “a closet heterosexual.” His biographers agree that Bowie’s shifting self-identification and behavior may have been motivated more by a rebellious spirit than a genuine attraction to men, but without a definitive statement from Bowie, the truth remains elusive.



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