I’m Afraid of Stagnation

So, before I go anywhere, you have to check out this video of some kids doing Rush’s “Spirit of the Radio.” Absolutely amazing!

Now that’s done, back to the regularly scheduled thought balloon. (With amazing art by Michael Guerra).

I was reading an article where an author opined about David Bowie. He kept asking, in a more extended way, why couldn’t David Bowie write “brilliant” things like Ziggie Stardust or “Ashes to Ashes” all the way through his life.

My first reaction was, “What’s wrong with later Bowie?” It’s hard for me to imagine a world where we never had Black Star. Where Earthling never existed or the song that defines our current era, “I’m Afraid of Americans” was never written.

I can understand what he was trying to say. Later on, he explained that everything succumbs to entropy. Eventually, artistic endeavors tend towards blandness because it gets harder and harder to go out there, get a little crazy, unless you make a deliberate effort.

But did he have to use Bowie as an example? This is an artist whose last album in his lifetime was a made with jazz artists and produced a music video so strange, I’ve seen conspiracy theories stating it’s a Satanic ritual in progress.

David Bowie and Prince are the St. Peter and St. Paul of “Hey, let’s try something new.” Maybe one day I’ll write up why I agree with Eric Clapton that Prince was one of the best guitarists out there, but you get the idea. Both of them could have stuck with what worked – with the things that gained them fame. But they didn’t. They deliberately went and experimented. They tried new things.

This was a deliberate, conscious effort to explore and expand. To not stay in the, “Hey, this works. I’ll stick with it.” And they both paid the price for it, but also reaped the rewards. It’s hard work, breaking out of the mold. Especially if you’ve built it yourself.

And you’re certainly not encouraged to do it. But he did, despite market pressures.

So, if Bowie was actually practicing the law – fighting against entropy, trying not to succumb to blandness in a conscious way – why pick him?

I have my theories, but I think they’re a bit unkind to the author. I don’t want to pin him with Boomer style snobbishness. “Our generation knew Bowie at his best. You only got his leftovers, when he was spent, and not a vital artist.” But that’s what it feels like.

And to me, that’s succumbing to entropy and blandness as much as anything else. It’s one thing to say you don’t groove to later Bowie as much as you did to his Ziggy Stardust days. But it’s a disservice to the artist, and those who enjoy his later work to say it’s not worth enjoying. That it’s falling to stagnation just because it’s not what you enjoy.

Try and open up a bit. Might feel something interesting. Maybe a little wonder.

(And, yes, Earthling is my Bowie album. Fight me.)


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