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Providence professor releases book on David Bowie’s late career
Explosion falls upon deaf ears
While we’re swimming in a sea of sham
Living in the shadow of vanity
A complex fashion for a simple man
(The Motel, from the album 1. Outside)
Nicholas Greco wasn’t always a David Bowie fan.
“I knew his music from the radio, from the 80s, but I wasn’t a fan,” explains the Associate Professor of Communications and Media at Providence University College.
But his interest in the eccentric, London-born artist grew in the 1990s, and when 1. Outside was released late in ’95 he found himself smitten with the concept album.
“For some reason I caught onto it right away,” he says. “It was like a puzzle I wanted to figure out or a problem I wanted to solve. So I did that.”
The result of Dr. Greco’s deconstruction is his just-released book—David Bowie in Darkness: A Study of 1. Outside and the Late Career. His work on the project began while he was doing his Master’s Degree in Music Criticism at McMaster University (he also holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from McGill), but it wasn’t until last autumn and a welcome sabbatical that he was able to push it through to completion.
“I’m very happy it’s out,” he says.
Greco sees 1. Outside as “a sort of signpost” for the later stages of Bowie’s career—essentially everything that followed, and continues to follow, the end of the singer-songwriter’s solo pop period in 1989. And he examines it through the eyes of a media scholar, looking at how Bowie, the celebrity, presented and ultimately destroyed his star image.
“There’s a performance Bowie does in ’96 or ’97—Top of the Pops—and in it he’s wearing sunglasses, as is most of his band, which just seems such a strange thing to do on T.V., and in front of an audience,” says Greco, who adds that Bowie’s chameleon-like changes in image have never been intended to make him more loved.
“He’s changing so that he becomes less and less. He’s destroying himself intentionally, because he doesn’t want you to look at him.”
Greco’s fascination with celebrity culture and the media—what he says the late cultural theorist Stuart Hall would have styled the “culture of the powerful”—focuses on the various layers of the celebrity, acknowledging that the person beneath the layers is rarely, if ever, seen.
“But I like to explore how they negotiate that presentation to the world,” he says.
It’s an exploration he also undertook in writing his 2011 book, Only If You Are Really Interested: Celebrity, Gender, Desire and the World of Morrissey.
Both Bowie and Morrissey, says Greco, are “ultimately mysterious.” They’re celebrities and they need people to listen to them, he says, “but on the other hand they turn their back on people, and I think that’s fascinating.”
Greco says he enjoys being able to listen to music sensitively, entering into it to figure out how it works.
“Lots of people don’t want to do that because they feel it takes the magic away from what they’re listening to,” he says. “If they find out what going on they don’t like it anymore. That’s never happened to me.”
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