The magic of David Bowie celebrated at Whitechapel writing festival

David Bowie. Pic: Adam Bielawski

David Bowie. Pic: Adam Bielawski

It is certainly not definite it was David Bowie who was holding the fabric of the universe together, but it all seems that way, given the turmoil – from Brexit to Trump – that has overwhelmed us this year.

Even without those events, the death of Bowie was a pivotal moment for many, that somehow seemed to act as a turning point for what has happened since. But, eleven months on, it was the magic of Bowie himself that was celebrated at Whitechapel’s WriteIdea Festival this weekend where his biographer Paul Trynka was in conversation.

“I believe that what he went through and how he made himself into David Bowie is almost at the heart of his magic,” Trynka said. In the hour-long talk, Trynka spoke of the way in which Davy Jones, raised in Bromley, transformed into David Bowie, musician of a generation, and how he overcame his own anxiety by constantly challenging himself and setting his own standards.

“He turned death into a work of art, which is a heck of an achievement,” said Trynka. “How did he get to that stage of being a transformative person, to be able to transcend who he was? We can look at David Bowie and think of him as someone who popped out of the womb a genius.”

“He turned his life into art, with no self-pity. He was insecure as you think he was, and that was intrinsic at his skill. He didn’t just want people to think that he was really good; he wanted to amaze them. Even with his last album. He wanted to go out there, ambitious, and he wanted to be number one. He didn’t want to be number two.”

Paul Trynka

Paul Trynka at WriteIdea Festival. Pic: Cady Siregar

Trynka is the author of Starman, published in 2011, said to be the definitive biographical work that details Bowie’s  fascinating life. It was described by Rolling Stone as “the most complete and compelling portrait of Bowie’s life ever assembled”.

Trynka detailed Bowie’s deep sense of underlying insecurity, something that he carried throughout his life: “Failure was the making of David Bowie,” Trynka explained. “What he was able to do with failure was to reboot and to rebrand. He did it just rebooting completely, right from the bottom. He didn’t ony rebuild himself with a new haircut; he even changed the way he wrote songs.”

Trynka encouraged self-motivation and perseverance in others, underlining the fact that Bowie, through hard work and effort, was able to become everything he wanted himself to be.

“He said he was a singer, wasn’t a singer, he became one,” said Trynka. “He said he was a songwriter, wasn’t a songwriter, he became one.”

Trynka highlighted the way in which Bowie took a fake it until you make it approach to stardom, and how even Bowie was prone to feeling uncertain about his accomplishments. It’s a tactic that Trynka urged should be used when feeling apprehensive about one’s own creativity and potential: “What he was known to do at this point, via faking it until making it, was to switch off that filter that we all have about how what we do isn’t good enough. I think that’s one aspect of ‘the genius’ David Bowie, that he wasn’t born a genius, and that holds a lesson over us. That before we can make it, it’s probably a good idea to fake it.”

Bowie was a beacon of hope and inspiration, especially for those, according to Trynka, who maybe were feeling more alienated and secluded than others: “I think he’s an intrinsically London boy in the way that kids from the suburbs always are. He was raised in Bromley, and I always think there’s a yearning quality in his music. All these people in isolated communities felt something very yearning with Bowie.”

Bowie's memorial in Brixton. Pic: Wikipedia Commons

Bowie’s memorial in Brixton. Pic: Wikipedia Commons

Trynka was also sure to make a note about Bowie’s intense work ethic, especially when he was composing ‘Under Pressure’ alongside Freddie Mercury and the rest of Queen. Bowie was constantly feeling the need to prove himself to the world, especially as a competitor to Freddie Mercury himself when they working on the same song together.

“You were talking about two egos up against each other,” said Trynka. “And he had to learn how to just glide in there working on the song that came in from Roger Taylor. He came in with that amazing middle-eight and he just sang it. I think he was on top of his game, because he had to be. That old-school competitiveness. You’re talking about someone who is ultra-competitive, on top of his game. And that’s why you get that brilliant middle Bowie bridge section.”

Trynka’s talk was given on the final day of Whitechapel’s WriteIdea literature festival that ran from November 11 – 13. It featured a selection of writing workshops, talks, and events aimed to promote creative writing and a love for literature.

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