College Professor to Spend a Year Living as Pop Icon David Bowie

In a bid to gain insights into the life of pop-icon David Bowie, a London-based professor is spending a year living like the British star.

Will Brooker, who teaches film and cultural studies at Kingston University, came up with the idea for the unusual project in order to experience specific moments of Bowie’s super-successful career. He will be adopting the same eating habits, reading the same books, and visiting the same places as Bowie did.

“The idea is to inhabit Bowie’s headspace in points of his life and career to understand his work from an original angle, while retaining a critical and objective perspective at the same time,” the professor explained. “A kind of split persona, perhaps. No one could be Bowie again, and I’m thinking that no one would want to go through everything he went through, not really. But I want to get some taste of it.”


Photo: Will Brooker

Brooker chose the late ’60s as his starting point, and has been through the musician’s 1974 Philadelphia soul period- with orange hair and blue eye shadow. He was last interviewed in a bright yellow suit, representing Bowie’s 1983 comeback tour. Lined up next in his wardrobe are black waistcoats and large-collared white shirts.

“These things are quite hard to source and I had to go to a tailor,” Brooker said. He also visited lots of online marketplaces for a few pieces of secondhand clothing to complete the outfits. He is now preparing to get the ’80s bleached perm, which according to Bowie himself, looked like a scrambled egg sitting on his head.


Photo: Will Brooker

Brooker does most of his makeup himself, with occasional help from professional artists. Over the past few months, he’s amassed “quite a collection” of makeup. He says that the strong pigment of the ’70s makeup is still intact when he wakes up in the morning.

For the authentic Bowie experience, Brooker has also subjected himself to sleep deprivation and claims that on some weekends he has only consumed red peppers and milk, just like the legendary singer reportedly did for a time. He only listens to music and watches films that Bowie did during that particular period of his life. To replicate Bowie’s Thin White Duke era, he lit black candles in his room and painted expressionist pictures while listening to German music. He’s taken singing lessons and read works by postmodernist writer William Burroughs, English occultist Aleister Crowley, sci-fi author Michael Moorcock, and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.


Photo: Will Brooker

“If you’re reading some strange science fiction and books about magic you can kind of get into Bowie’s head and see that it’s sometimes quite a strange place,” Brooker explained. “A dangerous place, a place you wouldn’t want to live too long. 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 to simulate the experience of using illegal substances, Brooker drinks an entire six-pack of energy drinks in the weekends. “It made me very jumpy,” he said. “The thought that kept returning to me was: how did Bowie survive the ’70s? He really made himself very ill. So it’s wonderful that we had him through the ’70s.”


Photo: video caption

But Brooker is quite happy and relieved to put the ’70s behind him.  “It’s fortunate that I’m going through his career chronologically,” he said. “ 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.” But as much as he tries to replicate the star’s life, some aspects of it are simply impossible to recreate. “His mansion in Beckenham has been demolished for instance, and I’m unlikely to have a fling with Mick Jagger,” he joked.  

Brooker revealed that he has always felt an affinity for Bowie, even during his teenage years. According to him, the star singer managed to achieve a “balance between success and strangeness, between a necessary commercial pragmatism and a core of personal authenticity.” Brooker hasn’t been teaching since he began the project, and does not plan to do so dressed in strange costumes.


He isn’t sure how Bowie himself would feel about the unusual project. “I hope he would be interested in and amused by my research,” he said. “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.”

Sources: Kingston University, The Guardian

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