Writer’s Desk: Outlive Them All

They say everyone is their own worst critic. A quick glance at the Internet will confirm that that is not, and never will be, true.

Criticism is all part of being an artist. You write, you record, you paint. Then you put it out there into the world and see what people think. Sometimes the feedback is good, sometimes it’s terrible, and sometimes (per Bull Durham) it rains.

There are reasons to listen to critiques of your work. No artist comes out of the gate fully formed. But it’s one thing to take in critical reactions and another to define yourself by them.

Ultimately, you are the creator and you have to follow what you want to do. Because it’s your name on the thing.

An unlikely source for advice on this matter comes from David Bowie, by way of Gavin Rossdale, who talked to Rolling Stone about dealing with people who just hated the work he was doing:

… you’ve just got to keep going. Back in the Bush days when I was getting slaughtered, I asked David Bowie how to deal with it, and he said, ‘Outlive your critics.’

So keep writing. But eat healthy, too.

Writer’s Desk: Random It, Like Bowie

‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’

One of the more eye-opening bits at the just-closed David Bowie Is exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum—besides that clip from Labyrinth, his tattered Union Jack coat, and all the cultural ephemera that inspired him—is the part focusing on his recurring fascination with automatic and cut-up writing.

The technique wasn’t new by the time Bowie started using it in the 1970s. The likes of William S. Burroughs had already been randomly cutting up strips of words and threading them together to create curious curlicues of randomized verbiage. Inspiration out of chaos.

According to music CD-ROM developer Ty Robert, Bowie’s method was strictly analog:

Roberts described Bowie as taking multiple word sources, from the newspaper to hand-written words, cutting them up, throwing them into a hat and then arranging the fragments on pieces of paper. He’d then cross out material that didn’t fit to create lines of lyrics.

Roberts had an idea for a computer program that could help speed up the process. The result was a Mac program called The Verbasizer:

It allowed for different input methods including simply typing in words and then arranged them in columns which could be restricted to nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Each column could be weighted and have multiple words if desired. With a push of a button lyrics would then be created.

Per Motherboard, Bowie said:

So what you end up with is a real kaleidoscope of meanings and topic and nouns and verbs all sort of slamming into each other.

This approach isn’t exactly a killer app for writing. But if you’re stuck for inspiration and feel you need a little kickstart, try randomizing things. If you can’t immediately see a method to the madness, go looking for it.

Quote of the Day: The Bowie Train

As part of the Brooklyn Museum’s blockbuster exhibition “David Bowie is,” an entire New York subway station has been Bowie-fied.

One element of the takeover is special Bowie-branded MetroCards. This was announced by the transit authority, which gloriously tweeted “Rail Control to Major Tom”:

Screening Room: ‘Mute’

The new sci-fi movie from Duncan Jones (Source Code, Moon) is called Mute and it premieres on Netflix today. My review is at Film Journal International:

What might happen if M*A*S*H’s Trapper John and Hawkeye Pierce jumped about a century ahead in time, went AWOL and worked as black-market sawbones for gangsters in a post-EU Berlin? If you ever wondered about the answer to that question, then Duncan Jones’ Mute is the movie for you. If not, then your best bet would be to stay far away, as in Korea and Germany far away…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Bowie’s Books

In honor of his father’s prodigious and wide-ranging reading habits—Hitchens to Stoppard to Chabon, Carter, and Chatwin—David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones just announced the David Bowie Book Club. Dig it:

My dad was a beast of a reader. One of his true loves was Peter Ackroyd’s sojourns into the history of Britain & its cities. I’ve been feeling a building sense of duty to go on the same literary marathon in tribute to dad. Time allowing…

Screening Room: ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’

manwhofelltoearth-dvdIn 1976, David Bowie was a rock star, but pretty much still just that. Then Nicolas Roeg cast the singer/songwriter with the alien alter ego(s) as an alien wandering around Earth and having an existential crisis. The film was remembered less for itself

My review of The Man Who Fell to Earth, now out in a deluxe new Blu-ray/DVD release with fab new digital transfer, is at PopMatters:

The Man Who Fell to Earth is one of those curious sci-fi projects that are occasionally indulged in by filmmakers who didn’t have any particular interest in the genre per se, but found it a useful springboard for their ideas. David Bowie plays an alien who’s come to Earth looking for a water supply for his drought-ravaged planet. Calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton and looking like some kind of spectral hipster in his sunglasses and anorak, he’s first spotted wandering through a small New Mexico town, pawning a ring and drinking stagnant water as though it were the nectar of the gods…

Here’s the trailer.

Writer’s Desk: Stay Excited

Roughly ten years ago, novelist Michael Cunningham (The Hours) received one of those calls very few of us civilians ever receive: “This is David Bowie. I hope I’m not calling at an inconvenient time.”

davisbowiealaddinsaneThe collaboration that followed was for a never-realized musical about an alien marooned on Earth. Cunningham was to write the book and Bowie the songs. Given that Cunningham was a somewhat obsessed fan and Bowie a little sketchy on the details of what he wanted to do, things started off a little slowly, but their relationship grew.

For Cunningham, as he describes in this piece for GQ, to work with Bowie, he needed to humanize him. That became very simple for him after something great happened:

How starstruck, after all, can anybody feel after the object of one’s veneration says, early on, without a trace of irony, that he was excited to start a new project because: “Now I get to do one of my favorite things. Go to a stationery store and get Sharpies and Post-its!” Yes, the Space Oddity, the Thin White Duke, was excited about picking up a few things at Staples.

If you’re a writer these days, there isn’t much in the way of office supplies one needs to start a new article, story, essay, or book.

But, there is still that tingle one gets one first embarking on something new, the thrill of exploring new territory and knowing you could find great success or utter failure but wouldn’t know which until it was far too late to turn back.

If you don’t feel that sense of excitement the next time you’re sitting at the keyboard, maybe try Staples. Get a new notebook and some nice pens (the good ones that have some heft, nothing that says Bic). Open it up. Look at that expanse of empty pages. Get started.

Writer’s Desk: Whistle While You Work

daydreamnation

Do you need absolute, deafening quiet when you work?

Maybe you’re one of those people that likes to work in a loud cafe.

Or are you the type that writes at home but with music on? And if so, what’s your album(s) of choice? Do you prefer background noise so that the lyrics don’t interrupt your train of thought?

undergroundrailroadIn the acknowledgments to his newest novel, the Oprah-picked The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead has some very specific notes along these lines:

The first hundred pages were fueled by early Misfits … and Blanck Mass. David Bowie is in every book, and I always put on Purple Rain and Daydream Nation when I write the final pages; so thanks to him and Prince and Sonic Youth.

That’s a fantastic range of music, but sterling selections all. Speaking from experience, this writer can attest to the imagination-fueling powers of repeatedly playing Daydream Nation, though be warned it works best if you’re writing in a minor science-fiction key.

Rewind: Bill Murray’s Moonage Daydream in ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’

LifeAquatic2

As the first in an occasional set of posts that look to some great (or even not so great) films from years or even decades ago that are worth going back to revisit, let’s start off with a real gem: Wes Anderson’s Bowie dream of a Bill Murray acid trip, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

“Bill Murray’s Moonage Daydream in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is at Medium:

Murray ambles through his performance as oceanographer Steve Zissou, whose longtime partner was just eaten by a rare species of shark (“which may or may not exist”) and is determined to set off on an expedition to find the shark and kill it. When asked what scientific purpose this would satisfy, Zissou gives an almost imperceptible shrug and says, “revenge”…

Here’s Seu Jorge in the film, covering Bowie’s “Life on Mars”:

Reader’s Corner: Bowie’s Books

Viles_BodiesWhen you look at this list of David Bowie’s 100 favorite books, a few seem obvious, given his predilection (particularly in the Berlin phase) for bleak, chilly dystopias and tales of alienation and schizophrenic dislocation. So, of course he liked:

  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • City Of Night by John Rechy
  • The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

But then there are some books, urbane novels of wit and glee, that don’t exactly fit with any of Bowie’s shape-shifting music moods:

  • Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
  • Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
  • Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz

Maybe they were just fun reads…

In Memorium: David Bowie (1947-2016)

David_Bowie_1976

Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing /
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in /
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying /
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying…

Even the Vatican paid tribute to the Thin White Duke’s passing.