In a recent post I quoted a very early song by David Bowie in the context of a discussion of the free festivals movement and the idea of the Albion Free State- a state with a state, a community of people living according to different rules to those of mainstream society.
During the late 1970s and the early 1980s, when I wrote for a literary magazine in Southampton called The definite article, and contributed a piece linking Bowie and the politics of anarchism, I tended to read a great deal into David’s lyrics. This conviction that he was a writer of depth, with a message to convey, was inspired by a Melody Maker special issue I found in the late 1970s. This included a piece that analysed the intellectual foundations of Bowie’s work, noting his references to Tibetan Buddhism, Nietzsche and Kabbalah. I was seventeen or eighteen at the time, and the essay in question seemed to contain the philosophising of an undergraduate of about the same age to me. I was deeply impressed, nonetheless, and I was convinced that Bowie understood the meaning and structure of society in a way that I did not and saw that we were heading inexorably for the collapse of our society, perhaps after a nuclear holocaust (and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was all too easy to believe in the doom represented by cruise missiles parked just up the road at Greenham). He predicted panic in Detroit; he envisaged failed revolutionary struggle and only a singe survivor of the National People’s Gang; he feared a nightmare world in which tribes of peoploids roamed the streets; as 1984 drew nearer he foresaw the spread of a totalitarian state in which love might be an act of defiance. He predicted that we only had five years left…
I was convinced that Bowie’s analysis of the solutions was the same as mine- a demolition of hierarchies and an more egalitarian society instead. I am far from sure now about the validity of my understanding. Society didn’t collapse as David had imagined- and very possibly he never seriously expected it. I doubt too whether he had any real sympathy with my stateless solutions. At the time I first got hooked by his music and his changing personas, he was in Thin White Duke phase and toying with dictatorship. But- as in all great artists- we can find meaning in their work even if they did not wholly intend it- in that form or even at all.
Great songs or great literature can provide a springboard for our imaginations; they can offer the material from which to construct new stories and images of our own. In a 2016 posting on my broadcastbarnsley blog on WordPress I noted that Martin Fry, of early 1980s pop stars ABC, appeared to have stolen a line from John Keats. And why not? Great lyrics are great lyrics, whatever their source and always deserve to be reworked. Art very often echoes and quotes from what has gone before, to some degree or other.
William Blake more recently has offered me the same food for thought- and has been a source of inspiration for many. He had his own dense and convoluted symbolism with its own arcane meanings. Whilst I do not understand many of these these, and do not always sympathise with them, they can offer a starting point for me to construct images and myths of my own. Blake’s concept of Albion provides the bedrock for a twenty first century conceptualising of an Albion that might meet our current needs and concerns.