Bowie and the Genius Myth

11 Jan

So David Bowie is dead.

That’s a shame, in the same way that it’s usually a shame when people die.  It’s also sad because he wrote many good songs.

But over the next few hours and days he will, throughout the media, acquire an aura of sainthood and untouchable  – individual – genius.

The tributes will signally fail to note the importance of Bowie’s less-famous collaborators.  I’ll give just one example here.

Mick Ronson will not get the vast credit he deserves for production, arrangement and anything complicated on guitars or piano to feature on Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From MarsHunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Pin-Ups.  Or for his role as joint producer, with Bowie, on Lou Reed’s Transformer.  Reed has even claimed that it was Ronson, rather than Bowie, who was the more important of the production team for that album.

Bowie himself, I’m glad to say, was also happy to give credit where it was due:

Mick was the perfect foil for the Ziggy character. He was very much a salt-of-the-earth type, the blunt northerner with a defiantly masculine personality, so that what you got was the old-fashioned Yin and Yang thing. As a rock duo, I thought we were every bit as good as Mick and Keith or Axl and Slash. Ziggy and Mick were the personification of that rock n roll dualism. 1

In contrast to that insight, we can now expect a slew of tributes that focus exclusively on how ‘special’, ‘original’, ‘inspired’ and ‘rule-breaking’ Bowie was.  As if he was a magnificent island of spontaneous uninhibited creativity who never followed a rule, or cooperated, collaborated, copied, listened or worked at his art.

And if that any of that had been true, you’d never have heard of him.

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One Response to “Bowie and the Genius Myth”

  1. nosuchthingasthemarket January 26, 2016 at 10:20 pm #

    Embarassingly, I was incorrect on a point of fact here. The complicated piano and organ stuff on Aladdin Sane and Pin-Ups was actually done by Mike Garson – and even the most cursory listen will let you know that his playing is a bit tasty. Indeed, it might be fair to claim that it’s the defining element on Aladdin Sane.

    Apologies for the error.

    That said, though, I think my former ignorance of Mike Garson’s input to some extent proves the point.

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