Scholar is spending a year ‘as David Bowie’

Kingston academic Will Brooker pioneers a new kind of immersive research

August 17, 2015
Source: Sarah Matray
Will Brooker as David Bowie

Will Brooker is studying David Bowie by trying to live like him for a year.

A fan since he was a teenager, the professor of film and cultural studies at Kingston University has been commissioned to write a monograph about the singer. A number of false starts led to his “drawing up lists about what Bowie engaged with culturally. That was my entry point. I am trying to understand his state of mind by immersing myself in his life.”

Proceeding chronologically through four decades of Bowie’s career from the late 1960s, Professor Brooker has visited Brixton, Bromley and Beckenham, and plans to go to Berlin next month. He is reading William Burroughs, Aleister Crowley, Michael Morcock and Friedrich Nietzsche. And he is listening to what Bowie would have heard in different eras (and no music that has been created since).

Some of this may not be unusual when researching someone’s artistic career, but Professor Brooker has taken the process of identification far further, to an extent he believes may be unprecedented for an academic.

He has started wearing vintage clothing and adopting Bowie’s hairstyle and make-up. He has been taking singing lessons and trying to paint in an expressionist style. He has experimented with sleep deprivation and even spent a few days sampling Bowie’s dubious diet of raw red peppers and milk.

When Bowie did things that were “illegal, dangerous or required the kind of the money he had”, Professor Brooker has wisely decided not to follow him. But although he has stopped short of “full immersion”, he believes the process has made him “authentically connected” to the star and has shed light on “the structures that have governed his thinking”.

He has even found himself dreaming of Bowie and so gaining insights that would never have occurred to his conscious mind.

Although he “has really got into it over the summer”, Professor Brooker acknowledges that “other responsibilities will have to take priority” once the teaching term begins. In the meantime, his “long-suffering” wife has been known to raise her eyebrows at the occult black candles he has brought into their home, and the lemon-yellow suit he has bought “in preparation for the 1980s”.


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Reader's comments (3)

This is patently absurd. What about interviewing Mr. Bowie, himself? Does playing dress up at a time OTHER than when Bowie actually did so himself, when such outfits/makeup were new and shocking for men to wear, generate any new knowledge? This spectacle appears to be a childish attempt at attention grabbing. Is it any wonder why Kingston ranks so poorly in league tables for research and teaching?
This is absurd. It is cargo cult. For anyone unfamiliar with this, after the end of the second world war, on islands used by the USA in their war on Japan, cargo cults arose. After seeing the way Americans brought in cargo, a cult arose where they would clear a path in the jungle, a priest would mimic the table tennis bat like ground crew, they would light fires and await the arrival of the planes – of course none came. Bowie had, and has intelligence and originality, mimicking his life will not bring this anymore than eating a particular breakfast will make you an Olympic champion like it's endorser. Unless I miss something, this is a sad sad day for Science, maybe I'm just dumb....... hold on......... There is hope for me yet- -- Eureka!!! there is --- I'll sit naked under an apple tree, thinking about riding a light beam until I get it...on second thoughts a few beers under a coconut tree might be better.
This was, of course, also carried out as an absurd thought experiment in "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" by Jorge-Luis Borges. But maybe the "professor of film and cultural studies" only reads e e cummings? Anyway, it's all over now. Presumably, Professor Booker will have done the honourable thing today.

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