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Will Brooker is studying David Bowie by trying to live like him for a year.
A fan since he was a teenager, the professor of film and cultural studies at Kingston University has been commissioned to write a monograph about the singer. A number of false starts led to his “drawing up lists about what Bowie engaged with culturally. That was my entry point. I am trying to understand his state of mind by immersing myself in his life.”
Proceeding chronologically through decades of Bowie’s career from the late 1960s, Brooker has visited Brixton, Bromley and Beckenham and plans to go to Berlin next month. He is reading William Burroughs, Aleister Crowley, Michael Morcock and Friedrich Nietzsche. And he is listening to what Bowie would have heard in different eras (and no music that has been created since).
Some of this may not be unusual when researching someone’s artistic career, but Brooker has taken the process of identification far further, to an extent he believes may be unprecedented for an academic.
He has started wearing vintage clothing and adopting Bowie’s hairstyle and makeup. He has been taking singing lessons and trying to paint in an expressionist style. He has experimented with sleep deprivation and even spent a few days sampling Bowie’s dubious diet of raw red peppers and milk.
When Bowie did things that were “illegal, dangerous or required the kind of the money he had,” Brooker has wisely decided not to follow him. But although he has stopped short of “full immersion,” he believes the process has made him “authentically connected” to the star and has shed light on “the structures that have governed his thinking.”
He has even found himself dreaming of Bowie and so gaining insights that would never have occurred to his conscious mind.
Although he “has really got into it over the summer,” Brooker acknowledges that “other responsibilities will have to take priority” once the teaching term begins. In the meantime, his “long-suffering” wife has been known to raise her eyebrows at the occult black candles he has brought into their home, and the lemon-yellow suit he has bought “in preparation for the 1980s.”