Bowie’s trip into 1984
QUESTION Did David Bowie write a musical based on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four? In the mid-Seventies, David Bowie was enthralled by George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, depicting a world of government surveillance and mind control.
the story introduced terms such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime and newspeak, which have become part of everyday language.
Bowie, addicted to cocaine and impossibly famous, was particularly paranoid at the time and related to the travails of the book’s protagonist, Winston Smith.
Despite his addictions, Bowie was hitting his creative peak and it would have been fascinating to see what he would have made of nineteen eighty-Four.
he’d certainly considered a musical and discussed it with counter-culture author William S. Burroughs in a 1974 Rolling Stone interview: ‘now I’m doing Orwell’s nineteen eighty-four on television; that’s a political thesis and an impression of the way of another country.
‘Something of that nature will have more impact on television. I don’t believe in proper cinema; it doesn’t have the strength of television. People having to go out to the cinema is really archaic.’ his idea did not get far. Sonia Brownell, Orwell’s widow and executor of his estate, didn’t like Bowie’s plan and denied him the rights.
Ideas from the musical appeared on Bowie’s darkly dystopian Diamond Dogs album. this featured the song 1984, with lines such as ‘they’ll split your pretty cranium, and fill it full of air/ And tell that you’re 80, but brother, you won’t care,’ highlighting the novel’s revisionism themes and totalitarian government.
Other tracks such as Big Brother and We Are the Dead expanded Bowie’s fascination, not just with Orwell’s futuristic society, but also with Burroughs’ mind-bending techniques.
Bowie admired Burroughs’ novel nova express, which used the cut-up technique — taking passages of text, cutting it into sections and reassembling. As Bowie stated later, the cut-up suited his own fragmented vision of the time.
Thomas Steers, Malvern, Worcester.
QUESTION Who coined the term millennial, denoting people reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century?
the term millennial was coined by authors neil howe and William Strauss for their Strauss-howe Generational theory, a social theory outlined in their 1991 book Generations: the history Of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069.
Strauss was an American author, playwright, theatre director and lecturer. his collaborator neil howe is a consultant and popular historian.
the Strauss- howe Generational theory described a recurring cycle of age cohorts or generations with specific patterns of behaviour.
It begins with Baby Boomers, born between 1944 and 1964 — post-World War II Americans who were enjoying new-found prosperity.
the generation that followed, 1965 to 1981, became Generation X. then came Generation Y, born 1982 to 1995. It was this group that howe and Strauss dubbed millennials because their presence was going to be most felt from the turn of the millennium.
Millennials are often characterised as the Me, Me, Me Generation: needy, whiny, self-absorbed, tech-immersed, narcissistic. they might counterclaim that they are self- expressive, liberal, upbeat and passionate about the environment.
Iain Murphy, Glasgow.