Last week was one of the great milestones of the twentieth century, David Bowie. He left us great songs, great performances and also a lifestyle and a way of being that have left their mark all over the world, not just on music. David Bowie was always a reference for fashion, style, and music, times changed and he was still different. You might like Duke Blanco more or less, but it is undeniable that his presence revolutionized the musical panorama of his time and, moreover, he managed to stay afloat decade after decade without losing an iota of his freshness.
For many centuries, poetry followed the moldy path marked out by classical Rome, that path, in which there was little room for change, was broken at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th with the entry into the panorama of poets such as Rimbaud and Baudelaire who brought us symbolism and with it a breath of fresh air.
In music, however, it was not until the 1960s that a significant change was introduced. The forms, although evolving never really changed, the structures of the ballads were the same. This changed with the arrival of two innovative musicians, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan, who used the structures of modern poetry to radically change the music of their time. Lennon immersed himself in Carroll’s surrealist and meaningless poetry, while Dylan immersed himself in the verses of T.S Eliot and other modernist poets.
Cuts and Clippings
However, there was a style that made a substantial difference in the musical style of his time. Although more than a style it is a technique, much darker and stranger than the one used by Lennon or Dylan. This technique was devised in the fifties by the beat writer William S. Burroughs together with the artist Brion Gysin. The technique, in Burroughs’ words, was similar to montages or collages of painting but applied to the words of a page.
For Burroughs the cutting technique was more than just a way to find inspiration for writing, he developed it completely and used it to write his best-known novel: The Naked Lunch, a novel that has marked many singers, including Kurt Cobain.
Burroughs and Gysin cut out words and phrases from magazines and newspapers and then pasted them onto sheets of paper, maintaining a random order. Burroughs and Gysin improved the technique and began to use it in audiovisual projects as well. But their strong point was their use as a form of literary composition, either to compose poems or as a way of finding inspiration for writing stories and novels.
Bowie and the cutting technique
One of the musicians who used this technique to compose his songs was David Bowie, who thought of it as a Western form of Tarot and used to use it in his compositions, either to inspire himself or to shape his songs.
In a 2008 interview, Bowie explained this technique as follows: “You have to write some paragraphs describing objects, themes or people… You have to create a kind of “ingredients for stories” list. Once this is done you have to cut the paragraph into short sentences of five or six words, mix them and put them back together into something new.
According to his testimony, this mixture of words offered an interesting form of inspiration for writers, coming up with some interesting and strange ideas that one could pull to build a song. David Bowie pushed this technique to the limit by creating some unique songs that changed the way we understand rock’s roll today.