Mark Dery's new ebook, All The Young Dudes: Why Glam Matters (the debut publication from Boing Boing's digital imprint) is a delightfully Derynian cultural excavation of the deeper definition of masculinity in the 20th century and beyond. His extended essay on the post-meterosexual landscape takes as its point of departure the doomed-teen anthem penned by David Bowie and performed by Mott The Hoople:
And what, exactly, was a young dude? In the ’70s Southern California of my adolescence, “dude” was the universal form of address among teenaged males. A verbal virus spread by the surfer scene, “dude” was a jocular hi-sign, the verbal fist bump of male bonding. Variously inflected, it could also be a remonstration (dude!), a quizzical exclamation (dude?!), or a backslap of bong-loaded bonhomie (duuuuude, underscored with a Cheshire-cat grin). With the right verbal spin, the term could even signify Jeff Spicoli’s idea of satori, a kind of Tao of Whoahhh—the existential weightlessness common to surfers, stoners, and slackers, a state of mind incarnated by Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski. But whatever else it was, “dude” was an expression of Dude-ism—straight guy-ness, distilled down to its bro-mantic, brewski-chugging, perpetually adolescent essence.
It’s doubtful Bowie spoke fluent Dude, in 1972. More likely, he reached for the word because of its historical associations with dandies and other Dedicated Followers of Fashion—the sort of “handsome young man, curled, well-dressed, pomaded, painted and powdered” (Edmond de Goncourt, on one of Proust’s friends) whose flamboyance or excessive fastidiousness in dress struck a note of unmanly vanity, even effeminacy.
Dery describes Bowie as "a reverse-drag queen: a heteroflexible straight man playing an exquisitely androgynous gay."
My own career as a Bowie fanatic began around the same time as Mark's (I was an 8-year-old when I discovered "Space Oddity" on AM radio and bought the single in 1973) but at that age the whole gay thing would have been meaningless to me. I just knew that David Bowie was fucking cool--like the coolest most exciting person who had ever lived, like a real-life superhero of sorts and a living, breathing example to me as a kid growing up in Wheeling, WV that you could be whatever you wanted to be. Extreme Bowie fandom helped hip me to Andy Warhol, Williams Burroughs, Evelyn Waugh, The New York Dolls, too many things to name. I'm definitely someone who believes that I am who I am in large part due to David Bowie's existence as the defining cultural avatar of my childhood and how that profoundly influenced my own direction in life.
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