We interviewed Chris O’Leary. We asked him what does it mean to dedicate an important piece of his life to Bowie.
Chris has been running from years the blog “Pushing Ahead of the dame“, on the web is the most useful thing for the ones who like to go in deep. In the blog, divided song by song, Chris shows all his researcher ability, analizing songs both from the birth point of view, inspired by Pegg or other common stories, but not only. Because he builds very interesting parallels between songs and othwer, from texts and literature, cinema of the period when the song came out, photopgraphy, art and so on. And he still his a unique because where a parallel like that doesn’t arrive an episodic and personal story attends, that Chris found. In the end songs are analysed from the musical point of view: chords, tones, musical strumentation used: “Pushing ahead of the dame” is more than an encyclopaedia, it’s an instructive and interesting lecture, another latch that offers detailed studies of quality for all the passionates.
The blog became a book, “Rebel Rebel“, that collects all songs until 1976. When davidbowieblackstar contacted him, Chris suspended the blog because he was organizing his material for the second part of the book, “Ashes to ashes” that’s gonna came out in fall 2018.
The conversations starts from the blog and ends talking about the present, the future, in a pervasive reflection that focuses on the empty that Bowie left us with, and to the missing world that left with him.
Q: How did you work in these years? How much time did you take for every song? Where did your researches go?
A: The blog began very casually—if you go back and look at the first entries (say, up until “Space Oddity”) you will see that they’re very short and not that well-researched. That’s because in the beginning, in 2009, I would listen to a song a few times, consult a couple of books and then write the entry in a couple hours. It was much less work, but it made for some pretty shallow observations. So when I went back to those songs for Rebel Rebel, I had to start over from scratch.
Some entries were fast, because I was in the right place and the words came quickly—“Bring Me the Disco King” took maybe a day, for instance. Other entries dragged on and on, because I was doing too much research or I wasn’t feeling like writing it. “Heat” is a good example there. That was the first entry after Bowie died. I couldn’t write about him for about six months, and it was a slog to finish.
Same with a lot of the Earthling entries, because writing the latter coincided with me finishing the Rebel Rebel book, and I was overworked. As I am right now.
Research encompasses a lot of things. I do a lot of reading in whatever period I’m writing about—at the moment, the ‘90s. Then I cross-reference pretty much every book written about Bowie, but more and more I concentrate on primary research—reviews, interviews, television and radio clips, etc.—written/recorded around the time of the song/album in question. Interviews in biographies published decades after the fact are valuable, but people don’t always remember things accurately at that point. Which is understandable! I couldn’t tell you what I was doing a year ago. People bring up some blog entry and half the time I don’t remember writing the damn thing.
Q: What are you going to do after the last songs I hope you will put soon on the blog?
A: Take a rest. Then I’ll likely spend some time doing final edits on the book. And then I’m done!
Q:Your silence on Blackstar is so loudy, you know? Are you preparing something about it?
A: I’m doing all the songs. “Blackstar” will take a lot of time, more than most. I’m not sure whether it’ll be on the blog before the book comes out. You might have to get the book to read it first, that sort of thing.
Q: Is Rebel Rebel going to come out with all the songs?
A: The next book, Ashes to Ashes, will cover everything from The Idiot to Blackstar. It hopefully will be done early next year, and published later next year. I would like to revise Rebel at some point, but we’ll see.
Q: Your approach seems to be very popular, with references everywhere. Instead N. Greco (which I’m gonna interview soon, dreaming to watch a one by one television program with the both of you) tends to be more academic. Do you think is there something which hasn’t been included for Bowie’s analysis yet?
A: I believe Greco is an academic, whereas I’m a journalist—that may explain some of the difference in our styles. I also tend to go off on odd tangents and write about other things than the song in question.
In terms of what’s needed for future analysis, I think the most important is the perspective of a new generation. I’m curious to hear what Bowie fans who discovered him in the ‘90s, 2000s or even this decade have to say. We’ve heard a lot from fans who first saw him singing “Starman” on Top of the Pops in 1972. I want to hear from someone who first discovered him with “The Next Day.”
Q: How does it feel to be one of the most expert about him in the world? (almost?)
A: I would never presume to call myself that. Nicholas Pegg and Kevin Cann have spent decades at this, and they should be considered the world-class experts.
Q: Did you ever meet him?
Q: If you could meet him now, what would you say to him?
A: “You’re so badly missed.”
Q: Which persons do you think will remember him the very best?
A: Not sure what you mean here. Obviously his family, who knew him in a way that no outsider ever could.
Q: What are we losing now, without his presence? Are we earning something, with his absence?
A: The double-punch of losing Bowie and Prince within months of each other last year was brutal because they were the kind of people you were happy to know were still around, doing things, even if you weren’t aware what exactly it was. They were forces of creativity, of perpetual growth and exploration—with them gone, the world seems a lesser place. It seems meaner, more constricted. Much less fun.
I think we earned an appreciation about how much Bowie did in his life—that only became clear after he was gone. I was taken by the response and grief, from all quarters, from many countries, when he died. And I think you now have a greater perspective on his work, on how it all fits together.
Q: Would you like another Bowie in the world? Can you recognize another influence as strong as his?
I think there will never be another Bowie, because the world that created him and that he thrived in is gone now. A world of, among many things, a thriving record industry with the infrastructure for someone like Bowie to get four or five chances before he broke through. That’s over. I don’t know if we’ll have again what he was for a lot of the time—a world famous “cult” artist. Stars now tend to be either overwhelming celebrities who are essentially walking brands, like Taylor Swift, or they’re these Warholian micro-famous types. There aren’t many people who can move out to the margins and back again, in the way that Bowie did.
The context of Bowie is fading away, leaving him seeming more singular than ever. That was one of my goals with the book—to show the world that made him and shaped him, and which now seems like a lost world.
That’s not to say there won’t be another musician/actor/artist who’s as talented as he was. But I think they may not be immediately recognizable as the “new Bowie.” They will be talking to their own times in the way that Bowie talked to his.
Last one: How can we remember him without speculation, really giving his memory a Dignity?
Don’t read the gossip; listen to the music, I suppose. But I think Bowie would have encouraged speculation.