David Bowie, Music Philosopher or Beyond Recognition?

Posted: January 13, 2015 in Essay's.

This paper will explore some of the early works of David Bowie on his road to stardom, using philosophical theories studied to answer whether he is a music philosopher or beyond recognition?


Riding The Rhizome…


In 1980 French philosophers and psychoanalyst Deleuze & Guattari wrote A Thousand Plateaus. Relaying conversation over theoretical concepts and critical analysis, the concept of Tree Thinking was introduced. Tree thinking suggests a right and wrong way of doing things, ‘As if we had a tree growing in our heads’, we think from a logical point of view, coming from an authentic standpoint reaching out to a final destination. This is quite an autonomous concept, setting a standard suggesting that anything that doesn’t coincide with it is said to be an

imitation or trace of the real thing.


‘’It is our view that genetic axis and profound structure are above all infinitely reproducible principles of tracing. All tree logic is a logic of tracing and reproduction.’’

(Deleuze 1980, p13.)


Tree thinking or tracing also relates to standardization of mass production, this is when a product has its qualities standardized for the financial or useable conveniences for the general public.



Theodor Adorno talks about how the standardization of works loses the artistic integrity and the loss of freedom to fully express by creating boundaries. (http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-ador.htm)


On the other hand Guattari explained the brain is more like a grass than a tree because thought is not arborescent. To elaborate there is nothing new under the sun, everything that is develops from a past expression. Ideas evolve from past expressions and experiences by absorbing and processing these experiences or concepts along the rhizomatic journey of development. The definition of a rhizome is


“a root like subterranean stem, commonly horizontal in position, that usually produces roots below and sends up shoots progressively from the upper surface.”



In its lifetime it will go through multiple processes of transformation and metamorphosis. At any given point a rhizome can be severed, however similar to bacteria it will find a way to independently thrive whatever its circumstance. Each junction or part of the rhizome holds the essential DNA or genetic blueprint for growth but is not subsequently a trace of the first. There is neither a specific start nor end to the rhizome and it creates a structure of functional multiplicities, rather like the music industry itself. The industry could be described as rhizomatic in regards to its multiplicity of smaller well connected companies such as; film companies, publishing/recording companies, labels, touring managers, performance and venue managers all networking coherently toward the success of the artist and rhizomatic growth of the industry. Geoffrey West a British Theoretical Physicist from the Santa Fe Institute stated,


(‘our cities are like organisms, streets are like capillaries, and manmade systems are looking more like natural systems everyday.)


He also hosted a Ted talk titled ‘The Surprising Math Of Cities And Corporations’ and claimed that,


(‘’All of life is controlled by networks, from the intra-cellular, to the multi-cellular to the eco system level.’’)

(http://www.ted.com/talks/geoffrey_west_the_surprising_math_of_cities_and_corporations – t-158226)


Meet David…


Originally named David Robert Jones the future super star was born in Brixton, South London in 1947. At sixteen he began his self-motivated career as a becoming musician as he took on the saxophone. The term becoming musician refers to the philosophy from A thousand Plateaus implying that imitation is accepted in the eyes of ‘becoming animal’, in other words, aspiring to be like with an individual spin instead of exact copying. Their philosophy goes on to say,


‘’Ideas are there to be reused, they do not die…

‘’This is because nature is conceived as an enormous mimesis: either in the form of a chain of beings perpetually imitating each other toward a divine term…

http://projectlamar.com/media/A-Thousand-Plateaus.pdf p235


…and should there be nothing left to imitate, then,

“..itself becomes a model everything else imitates, this time by ordered difference”




Changing his name from Jones to Bowie in 1965 gave him a chance to make his own territory. According to Deleuze we build territories in our lives everyday in the world, at work and at home,


(..But home does not pre-exist: it was necessary to draw a circle around that uncertain and fragile center, to organize a limited space.)

(Deleuze, P311, 1980).


The new alias was necessary to prevent public confusion with the recent launch to fame of another musician also named Davey Jones, a member of pop band The Monkee’s. In an interview with William Burroughs and The Guardian Bowie stated,


’The name Bowie just appealed to me when I was younger. I was into a kind of heavy philosophy thing when I was 16 years old, and I wanted a truism about cutting through the lies and all that.’’



In 1965 at the age of 18 Bowie was expressing more of his creativity taking interest in mime theatre. He was inspired by the work of Anthony Newley a famous writer, singer, dancer, entertainer and comedy film director. In 1967 David Bowie demonstrated his individual creativity again. The quirky children’s novelty record, ‘The Laughing Gnome’, didn’t manage to take off it was indicative to his inspirations of the works of Newley. Still searching for stardom in 1969 his whimsical pop video ‘love you till Tuesday’ showed him dressed in a flared Austin Powers style trouser suit, quite typical of the era, the aesthetics of the fashion and video production were standardized of 1960’s popular culture. The ‘Love you till Tuesday’ record had about the same success as ‘The Laughing Gnome’. It started to become apparent that although changing his name may have gave him a new identity, and a chance at a new territory, the standardized pop approach just didn’t seem to work for Bowie. Around this time is when he found his success for a couple of years as a touring mime artist and only taking the stage once in a while for a vocal performance. Looking at the variety of his early projects and recordings, it is obvious Bowie’s creativity expands over a wide spectrum of arts. Was he intentionally trying to have a go at anything to get a jump-start in the creative industry? Switching through various mediums on a journey of self-discovery, it could be said he was riding the rhizome.


‘’I would try and get involved in anything that I felt that would be useful at all as artistic medium, I was trying to be a one man revolution’’

Bowie. 5.30seconds in



These early creative years of Bowie and attempts to gain traction in the industry fell short however, was this through Tree Thinking? Approaching the delivery of his music with standardized aesthetics shows he was trying to follow the existing standard methods where other pop acts had before been successful.



Refrain! Ziggy Is Born…

 ‘’The self is an intermittent and complex process but not a thing’’


 German philosopher Thomas Metzinger believes that ‘the self’ does not exist and the pre-conception of the self is a reflection of all we have seen or experienced in the world. Is this a rhizomatic reflection given the constant process of developing ones self, a persons consciousness and life experiences. Was the birth of Ziggy nothing more than a creative plea to be as far away as possible from the norm or did Bowie approach the turn in his career.


Bowie was yet to give up on a music career. In 1969 he took the world by storm with his original fashion trends, territories, hyper-reality and newly spawned alter ego, Ziggy Stardust! By taking inspiration from the works of novelist William Burroughs and Stanley Kubricks ‘Clockwork Orange’ released in 1971, Bowie clearly demonstrates he can put his own spin on experiences of art he found interesting or useful.


‘’..the shape and the look of what Ziggy and the Spiders were going to become’’ from the wild boys and from Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film version of A Clockwork Orange (1962): “They were both powerful pieces of work, especially the marauding boy gangs of Burroughs’ Wild Boys with their bowie knives. I got straight on to that. I read everything into everything. Everything had to be infinitely symbolic.”

(Bowie, The Guardian)



Bowie consciously or unconsciously must have undergone the process of the refrain in order to create Ziggy Stardust and his mesmerizing nature. The refrain is another concept from Deleuze and Guattari’s book A Thousand Plateaus, explaining how discovering new things or idea’s is a 3-step process. The process is as follows;

  1. Identifying your self or your actions, the self can be also interpreted as the individual active components in any multiplicity.
  2. Identifying your surroundings or territory, this can be interpreted as the rhythm or regular patterns of behaviour.
  3. The conscious decision to move out of the pre-habited territory into the void or allow another to merge with yours.

This process is not always consecutive and can happen in any order


(A mistake in speed, rhythm, or harmony would be catastrophic because it would bring back the forces of chaos, destroying both creator and creation….

…One launches forth, hazards an improvisation. But to improvise is to join the world, or meld with it.)

(Deleuze, P311. 1980.)

 (From chaos, milieus and rhythms are born)

(Deleuze, P313. 1980)

 In order to create something new out of pre-existing territories or ideas, according to Deleuze & Guattari we should shut off our senses, let go of every kind of labeling we already know of. This is to equip any subject to be able to break out of existing conditions or venture out to the new.


(The Body without Organs is what remains when you take everything away. What you take away is precisely the phantasy, and signifies and subjectifications as a whole.)

(Deleuze, P151. 1980)


Is it actually possible to eliminate all sensory input? Joe Rogan an American actor and stand up comedian has recently contributed to the rising information of sensory deprivation by reviewing the tanks with great enthusiasm, he claims that


(‘I start thinking all kinds of crazy stuff, without the body in the way

Everyone should be doing it’).



Did Bowie knowingly shut down his senses using his own body without organs to create Ziggy Stardust? Is he really an extra-terrestrial rock star come to save planet earth? A fully immersive experience was created along with the hit ‘Starman’ performed on Top Of The Pops 1972 climbing to number five in the charts, his greatest success to date. The character Ziggy was always ahead of his time by de-territorializing his audience with his futuristic sound, enigmatic performances and provocative nature. According to Deleuze fakery, forging, copying, imitating goods, ideas and realities all have strong grounds to be considered a reality in their own right. The simulation isn’t as equal as the original but has a genuine experience attached to its generational audience.


Hyper reality is a concept to explain the grey areas between the true and the false. The fact that every copy is only a rhizomatic trace of the original, it gains its originality by being a separate entity. Did his audience understand his bowie-knife cut-through the standardized lies’ intentions or was he politically, spiritually and culturally beyond recognition. In the BBC documentary ‘ The story of Ziggy Stardust’ Bowie say’s


‘’I just couldn’t stand the premise of going on in jeans and being real, I mean its not normal.’’



When art or music is presenting itself as hyper-real it detaches the audience from everyday reality, consequently highlighting the everyday ‘real’ and equally the ever-fading line between the virtual and the actual. Was this the secret to Ziggy’s success? According to Thomas Metzinger a German Philosopher he claims that,


Developing a consciousness culture has nothing to do with establishing a religion or a particular political agenda. On the contrary, a true consciousness culture will always be subversive, by encouraging individuals to take responsibility for their own lives.”

Thomas Metzinger


Disney Land is another perfect example of a hyper reality. Making business from the experience of meeting life size fictional characters knowing they are only puppets is precisely simulacrum in the industry, an imitation giving a genuine experience of its own. Social theorist Jean Baudrillard claims that


simulacrum is not a copy of the real but becomes truth in its own light.’’



With technology rapidly evolving our reality and hyper-reality is becoming a thriving industry the line between the virtual and the actual is becoming more transparent. So how do we define a genuine experience and more to the point, how do we define ourselves?


In the book Sonic Warfare Steve Goodman explores the affect of sound on the body and its use for weaponry.


‘’Sound has a seductive power to caress the skin, to immerse, to sooth, beckon, and heal, to modulate the brainwaves and massage the release of certain hormones within the body.’’ P10


 How was it that Bowie as Ziggy was able to captivate an audience the way he did? Whitheads philosophy on ‘throbs of experience’ explains the more visual and audible stimuli given at once the more the brain is entertained. ‘’Throbs of experience’ states it takes approximately .2 seconds for our brains to register the sensory input of the ‘now’, our conception of now is always theoretically the past.


As modern-day neuroscience tells us, we are never in touch with the present, because neural information-processing itself takes time. Signals take time to travel from your sensory organs along the multiple neuronal pathways in your body to your brain, and they take time to be processed and transformed into objects, scenes, and complex situations. So, strictly speaking, what you are experiencing as the present moment is actually the past.”

(Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self)

 Bowie’s theatrical costume, his futuristic sound and his provocative manner gave the audience a wealth of things to process and absorb resulting in him breaking the standardized pop culture aesthetic and being the most controversial artist of his time. The multiple elements of his performance of Ziggy in this hyper reality that the character had created entertained the audience’s brains to high levels.


’Through difference and repetition the process it undergoes is that of actualization.’’

(Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. 2004: 263)


Investigating Bowie’s early career up to the creation of Ziggy Stardust has shown that his music career has been rhizomatic in nature according to philosophical theories. Findings have shown that he had the ability to use the process of the refrain reviewing the three-step process at each rhizomatic junction/project, each time nearing closer to success. Bowie seemed to show desensitization of himself to create a body without organs allowing him to envisage the charismatic character of the future that was Ziggy Stardust and the creation of the captivating hyper reality of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. David Bowie’s ability to constantly explore new territories and reinvent himself has given him continuous success up until the present day. Through my research I believe that David Bowie was himself a music philosopher he often talked about being a deep thinker in to meanings of things and meanings of meanings, everything having a symbolic explanation.




Deleuze and Guattarri (1988). Thousand Plateaus. 2nd ed. London: Continnuum. p13.










http://www.ted.com/talks/geoffrey_west_the_surprising_math_of_cities_and_corporations – t-158226)



Deleuze and Guattarri (1988). Thousand Plateaus. 2nd ed. London: Continnuum. p311




Deleuze and Guattarri (1988). Thousand Plateaus. 2nd ed. London: Continnuum. p313, p151.







Deleuze. G, (2004). Difference and Repetition. 2nd Ed. London: Continnuum. p263.





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