Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: academic to spend year as David Bowie’s many personas

Professor Will Brooker will spend months at a time experiencing the star’s life at different points through his 40-year career – from Ziggy Stardust to Let’s Dance

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Professor Will Brooker, and David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust Photograph: Twitter/Rex

From Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke, a cultural studies professor in London is to live his life as David Bowie for a year to gain a better understanding of the pop icon’s mind.

Will Brooker, a film and cultural studies expert at Kingston University, would spend a few months at a time experiencing specific moments of the star’s 40-year career – from adopting Bowie’s eating habits and poring through the literature he read, to visiting the same places as the English singer-songwriter.

Brooker – currently living Bowie’s 1974 Philadelphia soul period and wearing thick blue eye shadow with a shock of orange hair – has already been to Brixton, Bromley and Beckenham, and plans to go to Berlin next month.

“The idea is to inhabit Bowie’s head space at points in his life and career to understand his work from an original angle, while retaining a critical and objective perspective at the same time – a kind of split persona perhaps,” Brooker said.

The academic, who has been commissioned to write a monograph about the singer called Forever Stardust, said his starting point as Bowie was from the late 1960s, which involves listening to the songs Bowie would have heard, and nothing else.

He would also watch the same films Bowie would have done, and claimed he has submitted himself to sleep deprivation and, some weekends, had only eaten red peppers and drunk milk.

He has read works from William Burroughs, the postmodernist writer of the Beat generation; Aleister Crowley, the English occultist; Michael Moorcock, the science-fiction author, and ideas about the death of God and existentialism by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

“Some of that reading I think does have an effect on your thinking especially if you’re doing without much sleep, long-distance flying and so on,” he said in an interview with Australian network ABC.

“If you’re reading some strange science fiction and books about magic you can kind of get into Bowie’s head and see it’s sometimes quite a strange place. A dangerous place, a place you wouldn’t want to live too long.”

He added: “So it’s fortunate that I’m going through his career chronologically.Because I think by ’83 he was pretty clean. I think I’ll get a tan, get fit, get my hair changed again, get my teeth whitened.”

During his teenage years, when Brooker first came across Bowie, he repeatedly listened to a cassette of the Let’s Dance album on his Walkman.

He said he felt an affinity with Bowie who had achieved a “balance between success and strangeness, between a necessary commercial pragmatism and a core of personal authenticity”.

Brooker said in a statement that he was not sure how Bowie would feel about his latest project: “I hope he would be interested in and amused by my research.I do feel, though, that everything he says and does in public is performance, so if he did hear about it, we would be unlikely to know what he genuinely thought.”

On Tuesday – as a picture disk was released commemorating the 40th anniversary of Bowie’s first ever No 1, Space Oddity – a spokesman for the singer said he had “no comment” on the transformation of the professor into the pop icon.

By Aisha Gani The Guardian

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