Stuck, Ch. 20. Am I a Man?: David Bowie, “Queen Bitch”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Image result for 6 million dollar manI was a minor mess in high school. Had no idea what to do with my curly hair. Unduly influenced by a childhood spent watching late ‘70s television, I stubbornly brushed it to the side in a vain attempt to straighten and shape it into a helmet à la The Six Million Dollar Man or countless B-actors on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. I couldn’t muster any fashion beyond jeans, t-shirts, and Pumas. In the winter I wore a green army coat. In the summer it was shorts and knee high tube socks.

My home life was chaotic. My parents’ marriage was breaking down. My father drank too much, my mother screamed too much. I began spending a lot of time outside the house. I could pretty much come and go as I pleased, which was new and exciting.

I had a solid group of friends that I’m still close with to this day. Good guys. Not exactly Cassanovas. One of ‘em had a girlfriend for a bit. The rest of us didn’t have a clue. Mostly we drank, played pool, played cards, listened to music, and watched sports. I didn’t get laid. I didn’t even come close.

I went to the University of Michigan for college. I’d only applied because my mother’s friend’s son went there; mom told me Leonard liked it and that I should apply. So I did. And I got in. I also got accepted to several New York state schools, which were closer and cheaper, but I chose Michigan, even though I knew nothing about the place except for the funny football helmets. The University of Michigan was never any kind of goal. It was an accident. I didn’t even know it was supposedly an elite school.

I was 17 years old my first semester. Looking back now, I don’t think I consciously understood that I was running away as far as I could from a home life that had been emotionally volatile for as long as I could remember, but that’s exactly what I did. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 16. Who We’re Not: Prince, “Purple Rain”

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

by Akim Reinhardt

Image result for cold war cultureMost people associate the Cold War with several decades of intense political and economic competition between the United States and Soviet Union. A constant back and forth punctuated by dramatic moments such as the Berlin Airlift, the Berlin Wall, the arms race, the space race, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nixon’s visit to China, the Olympic boycotts, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” and eventually the collapse of the Soviet system.

But on the home front, the Cold War was often less about politics and economics and more about culture and society. It was a time of Us vs. Them, of Right vs. Wrong. Certain cows were sacred, others were evil, and woe be unto those who milked the wrong teat. The Cold War was about American society demanding conformity, and persecuting those who did not play along.

The Second Red Scare (ca. 1947–57) was the most dramatic example of persecuting non-conformists. People were hauled in front of Congress and, on national television, subjected to reputation-destroying and career-ending interrogations. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts weren’t just about politics; they also disciplined the society and put dissenters on notice: get in line, or at least shut up, or face dire consequences. And the popular culture followed suit.

Americans reacted strongly to the dominant good guys/bad guys narrative. Fears of a possible World War III and accompanying nuclear holocaust were widespread. The culture was soaked through with an Us vs. Them mentality, with a heavy emphasis on choosing up sides. It could be seen in everything from the ubiquitous white hat/black hat Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s to the Rock vs. Disco antagonism of the 1970s. Everyone had to be on the right side. Picking the wrong side marked you as the enemy. And refusing to pick a side at all? That was so strange as to almost be incomprehensible. Read more »

Prince, Bowie, and Glenn Frey: 21st Century Public Mourning as a Rejection of Cold War Culture, or, Why Nobody Really Gives a Shit About that Guy from the Eagles

by Akim Reinhardt

PrinceDavid Bowie was a white Englishman. Prince was a black American. Bowie was deeply rooted in the riffs, major/minor chords, and melody of rock-n-roll. Prince was grounded in the syncopated rhythms and arrangements of funk and R&B.

Prince's and Bowie's careers did overlap to a degree. Their biggest selling albums, Bowie's Let's Dance and Prince's Purple Rain, were released within a year of each other. But of course Let's Dance was Bowie's capstone in many ways, his big pop breakthrough after nearly 15 years of churning out music, whereas Purple Rain came fairly early in Prince's career, establishing him as an international pop icon for decades to come. So despite the kissin' cousin chronology of their biggest albums, the respective heydays of David Bowie and Prince were, in many ways, separated by about a decade. That makes sense since Prince was ten years younger than Bowie.

Despite all these differences, however, their deaths, coming three months apart from each other, produced similar strains of public mourning. In particular, many people confessed how one or the other artist had profoundly affected them during their formative years. And this heartfelt influence, many said, came not just from Bowie's and Prince's music, but especially from their artistic personae.

In between Bowie's and Prince's passing came the death of Glenn Frey, one of the two lead singer/songwriters of the Eagles, one of the most successful bands in the history of recorded music.

I have yet to see anyone write an essay, post a facebook comment, tweet, or make any other public expression of their deep gratitude for the vital role Glenn Frey played in helping them cope during their formative years.

Why? I suspect the answer is the Cold War.

Read more »