David Bowie

Do What You Love, The Audience Will Follow

 

“Never play to the gallery,” says David Bowie in the clip above.

I discovered something interesting when I looked at the logs for my blog. (My blog logs.) Conventional wisdom is that writers need to blog in order to build “an author platform.” The way to build such a platform is to have a consistent, recognizable topic or area of expertise.

A funny thing happened. I started this blog when I branched out into fiction as a way to distinguish my fiction writing persona from my non-fiction writing persona. Initially I wrote largely on subjects that touched on the theme of my first novel.

Eventually, however, I lost interest in those constraints as I moved on to other projects. I started to post on whatever topic caught my interest on a given day, whenever I felt as though I had something worth sharing.

A number of years ago I started reading a great deal about Oscar Wilde and his circle. This had nothing to do with any book I was writing at the time (although it has come full circle as I have sold a book on this topic and am working on it now).  From an “author platform” perspective, it made no sense to post about Oscar Wilde, Lord Alfred Douglas and the like. It had nothing at all to do with my second novel, which is about personal identity, rock stars and online impersonation. If I was trying to create a Laura Lee brand the Wilde posts only muddled things.

Yet those posts are consistently popular. Now, I can’t say that this means that all of the people who googled “Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth” and landed on my page can be claimed as “my audience.” They came for Wilde, not Lee. I get that. But they do come, which is more than they were doing before. Maybe some read what else I’ve written and find some through-line that persuades them to stay. Now that I am actually writing a Wilde-related book it has come full circle, the “platform” was built without conscious thought or effort because I wrote about what was interesting to me.

Do what you love, the audience will follow. Or maybe they won’t. In any case, it is a more pleasant way to spend your life than doing what you don’t love.

Advertisements

Bowie and Branding

“I am very anti-consistency,” David Bowie says in an interview clip in the middle of this obituary.

It is a good thing no one told Bowie back in the 1970s that he needed to “find his platform” and “build a brand.” Or, if they did, it is good that he didn’t listen.

David Bowie

Heroes

“We can be heroes just for one day.”-David Bowie

When I was describing the art I wanted to my book cover designer, I said I wanted a rock star, but not any rock star.  He had to embody theatricality and glamour. I wanted a figure who played with his identity, who created a persona that inspired imagination and fantasy in his audiences. Someone whose public self was as much a work of art as was his music. The early draft came back with a long-haired, Woodstock-esque figure.

“Like David Bowie.” I explained.

The designer then understood exactly what I meant.

 

Pretending to Be Who You Really Are

51RBE9yVNAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I started reading an interesting book called “The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was” by Wendy Doniger. “Many cultures have myths about self-imitation,” says the blurb on the back, “stories about people who pretend to be someone else pretending to be them, in effect masquerading as themselves. This great theme in literature and in life, tells us that people put on masks to discover who they really are under  the masks they usually wears, so that the mask reveals rather than conceals the self beneath the self.”

As themes of rock stars and people impersonating themselves filled my head I suddenly remembered a video that I once watched over and over on a betamax tape. The 20 minute version of David Bowie’s “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean.” It is a wonderful, humorous short film in which Bowie parodies his own rock star image. He plays two characters, a nerdy nobody who wants to impress a girl by pretending to be friends with a glamorous rock star who goes by the stage name Screaming Lord Byron. So you have one of the biggest rock stars of the day pretending to be a nobody pretending to know a rock star to get in to see a rock star played by the same rock star. Screaming Lord Byron, behind the scenes is also nothing like his on stage persona. Back stage he’s a nervous, sickly wreck. The video ends by breaking the third wall. A nice pop music example of the genre of self-imitation.

My favorite scene is the one where nerd Bowie tries to convince the woman at the door that he is on the guest list. My brother and I still sometimes use “Woosh Oliander” as a catchphrase. Enjoy.

“Rock Star” vs. “Musician”

David Bowie is a rock star.

David Bowie is a musician.

Both of these sentences refer to the same profession, and yet the image and associations are quite different if you use one phrase or the other.

I got to thinking about the nuances of these two words after a comment my brother made after reading a review of Identity Theft which included a bit of my description.

“His rock n’ roll lifestyle mostly consists of finding ways to keep his laundry from stinking while on the road and trying to remain anonymous while buying Preparation-H.”

My brother felt this characterization was unfair to poor Ollie.

“I see him as living  the life of a moderately successful professional musician…. He actually has an office and at least two full-time staff working for him. There’s an  active fan base that fawns over him online, and he’s touring to international venues.”

This is quite true.

By any objective standards he is quite a successful musician, as most musicians struggle to make a living at all.

He is, on the other hand, not as successful as a “rock star.” Being a “musician” is about making a living by making music. Being a “rock star” is about generating fame. Only a handful of celebrities manage to maintain that level of known-ness over the course of a lifetime.

In the public consciousness there are only two kinds of rock stars. Those at the height of their fame are almost mythological creatures. The term “rock star” itself is synonymous with magnetism, sex appeal, excitement and glamor. Those who have seen their fame diminished are often described as “washed up.”  The post fame rock star brings out a Shadenfreude response. He elicits scorn in direct proportion to our envy of his once exalted status.

One of the challenges with the character of Ollie (stage name Blast) is that he must be a rock star, with all the glamor that implies, to the main female character Candi. He is more of a “washed up rock star”– but still a rock star– to his employee Ethan. To himself he is simply a working musician. Touring is his every day, mundane life.

Because the notion of a “rock star” is so potent and so synonymous with glamor, it was important to show Ollie taking part in the most mundane aspects of the life of a touring musician. He is introduced on laundry day. (I am on the road five months out of the year with my ballet project and I can tell you from personal experience that there are few things more pleasant after a month on the road than having a free day and a guest laundry in the hotel. Mmmm. A suitcase full of clean clothes!)

Ollie, in fact, likes his more reasonable level of fame. For the most part, it gives him positive opportunities. Occasionally though, as when he would like to buy personal hygiene products without undue attention, it is inconvenient. The Preparation-H thing? I included it in the blurb because it de-glamorizes his rock star fame and it is funny.  It highlights the fact that the tone of the book is more humorous overall than tragic.

But I see now that de-glamorizing the life of a touring musician while juxtaposing it with the term “rock star” inadvertently pushes the right set of buttons to call to mind the “washed up rock star” archetype. This probably says more about our collective lust for fame than it says about any particular musician, including the fictional Ollie.