British Professor Spending A Year Dressed Up As David Bowie’s Various Personas

Will Brooker is a London professor who teaches at Kingston University. He’s also a David Bowie super fan who’s been essentially cosplaying Bowie’s career and plans to continue for the duration of the next year. Brooker is emulating Bowie’s aesthetic transformations and his eating/consumption habits, reading the literature he read, and traveling to the cities he visited. But before you alert ground control to this Major Tom’s dead circuits, keep reading. It seems like this guy is not, in fact, off the rails, but thoughtfully conducting a social experiment in honor of his favorite icon.

Brooker is a Bowie scholar who is writing a monograph — a detailed, written study on a single subject — called Forever Stardust, and he explained to The Guardian that he’s trying to see things through Bowie’s perspective:

The idea is to inhabit Bowie’s head space at points in his life and career to understand his work from an original angle, while retaining a critical and objective perspective at the same time — a kind of split persona perhaps.

While this understanding of critical study certainly doesn’t jive with objective/quantitative methods, it’s very close to a method of ethnography practiced by qualitative communication theorists. Anyway, Brooker has enacted Bowie’s ’74 Philadelphia soul period with bombastic blue eye shadow and spiky orange hair, is planning his ’83 yellow suit, and will soon take on an ’80s bleached perm. He’ll also become Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and the Thin White Duke along the way.

Aside from clothes, makeup and hair, Brooker is altering his diet and habits in major ways. He’s watching the same films as Bowie and listening to only songs the singer would’ve heard during each era. He’s even attempting to simulate the singer’s drug use:

The levels of cocaine Bowie was consuming is not just illegal for a professor like myself, but it’s much too expensive — as well as unhealthy. So at the weekend I had a six-pack of energy drinks to try and simulate the experience of illegal substances. It made me very jumpy.

Okay, energy drinks aren’t even close to cocaine, but we’ll give him a pass on that one. Brooker did admit that he’s looking forward to Bowie’s healthy ’80s phase:

No one could be Bowie again, and I’m thinking no one would want to go through everything he went through, not really. But I want to get some taste of it. It’s fortunate that I’m going through his career chronologically. Because I think by ’83 he was pretty clean. I think I’ll get a tan, get fit, get my hair changed again, get my teeth whitened.

Brooker first came to Bowie’s music as a teenager, and said he’s long admired Bowie’s ability to combine his own strange authenticity with commercial success. What does Brooker think Bowie would have to say about his project?

I hope he would be interested in and amused by my research. I do feel, though, that everything he says and does in public is performance, so if he did hear about it, we would be unlikely to know what he genuinely thought.

Well-played, Brooker.

Tags: David Bowie