These days it is easy to travel with a personal library to hand. All you need is a digital reader. Not so long ago the big conundrum was how much suitcase space could be spared for books. Now imagine you had no worries on that score, and could transport a mobile bibliothèque in special trunks which open out with all books neatly displayed on shelves wherever you go. David Bowie did just that. Wherever he went, he was accompanied by a personal library of circa 1500 books reflecting his enthusiasms of the time.
In 2016 he published a list of the 100 books that had influenced him the most. These were not necessarily his favourites, but they had all in one way or another inspired/formed the various persona he adopted over the years. In Bowie’s Books (Bowie’s Bookshelf in the US) John O’Connell analyses each title with an emphasis on finding the connection to Bowie’s life, thus proving the truism that you can indeed learn a lot about a person by browsing their bookshelves. Also much about their art, for O’Connell teases out many of the cultural references in Bowie’s lyrics and videos that might possibly pass one by/strike one as being really weird.
Initially I wasn’t going to read Bowie’s Books cover-to-cover, just dip in and out, looking up those I have read and those in my TBR. But as there were only 10 of each, I opted for the cover-to-cover approach. In the process I discovered many books I’ve never heard of, a few added to the might-read list, none to the must read list. I am, therefore, not a prospective member of the Bowie Book Club, established by his son to read the list in full, though I may eavesdrop on a podcast here or there. It appears that while some of my passions/enthusiasms may have at one time tied in with Bowie’s, that is not currently the case.
I’m more intrigued by Claire O’Brien’s collection of poems Who Am I Supposed to Be Driving? which is her emotional response to Bowie’s music: 13 poems inspired by 13 of Bowie’s albums, from Space Oddity (1969) to Blackstar (2016). While the collection is aligned chronologically with Bowie’s musical career, it is not intended as a critique, nor a biography. In the poet’s own words these poems “are not an attempt to paraphrase or explain the music which inspired them. Instead they are an exploration of the emotions the works creates, and the lost worlds from which these iconic albums first emerged.”
It doesn’t take long to read 13 short poems. Getting beneath the surface to their meanings, however, is an entirely different proposition, because my response to some of the songs (helpfully identified below each poem’s title) might be entirely different. Also I’m not as familiar with these songs as the author, so fundamental discovery is called for. Find the song, find the lyrics, interpret, register personal response, interpret poet’s response. Not so easy, because some of these poems are incredibly cryptic, and I suspect some of the imagery may come from videos. A hunch and I’m probably wrong. Anyway, this is the kind of puzzle I like, and I’m going to have fun solving it.
Thank you for a great post. Always interesting to see/hear what has inspired great talents. Will have a look at Bowie’s list and the book of poems inspired by his songs. Hopefully, will pick up a few inspirations for 2023.
All the best for the new year.