No matter what genre of music, film, or art you like, the number artists and creative celebrities passing since the start of 2016 has been staggering. Putting the best face on these losses, the outpouring of tributes speaking to the influence of David Bowie on the lives of his fans and fellow artists has been heartwarming. On the other hand, I feel like one of only a handful who noticed the passing of Bob Elliott. I wanted to share a few brief thoughts about both creators.
David Bowie had a spike in prominence during my college years, when he reemerged alongside Trent Reznor, refashioned as an Industrial Rocker. Intrigued more by his reputation than the new music, I learned about his 1970s output and the effort he put into creating a new identity for each album. As a student artist, learning about assumed personae and performance with Bowie as an example helped me understand why a creator would put on a false-face, the ability it offered to highlight large ideas and focus your audience on a particular message.
The other, more personally influential practice I picked up from Bowie, is cut-up writing. I’ve worked in collage a lot, there wasn’t a grade I passed through that didn’t have some project requiring the sticking of pictures to poster board–I’d bet there isn’t a kid alive who hasn’t done it. I never thought of it as a writing tool though, until high school when I first heard about The Beats, and more deeply when looking into Dada and Surrealist manifestos and performance.
The basic exercise can be as simple as clipping words out of magazines or other preexisting texts, and moving them next to each other until you find combinations that resonate. If you’ve ever had magnetic poetry sets on your refrigerator, it is the same idea, but because you can mix any words from anyplace, including your own, the inspiration is boundless. In the two interviews below, from different points in life, Bowie talks about using cut-up writing to create lyrics:
I wish I could get a look at that computer program he mentions. Here’s an essay and another video from Language is a Virus, featuring William Burroughs. My favorite example of the method comes from a few pages of the comic book DOOM PATROL, by Grant Morrison and Richard Case, where one of the heroes uses it for magical divination:
If you’re at all intimidated by writing or having writer’s block, you should definitely play with this technique.