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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo by SEIU 775 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In this week’s Top 5, we’re sharing stories by Michael Hall, Molly McArdle, Mehreen Kasana, Helen Hollyman, and an interview by Kate Harloe.

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How David Bowie Came Out As Gay (And What He Meant By It)


Simon Reynolds | Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century | Dey Street Books| October 2016 | 19 minutes (5,289 words)


Below is an excerpt from Shock and Awe, by Simon Reynolds. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

People like Lou and I are probably predicting the end of an era … I mean that catastrophically.
Any society that allows people like Lou and me to become rampant is pretty well lost.

On Sunday afternoon, 16 July 1972, David Bowie held a tea-time press conference at the Dorchester, a deluxe five-star hotel on London’s Park Lane. Mostly for the benefit of American journalists flown in to watch him and his new backing band, The Spiders from Mars, in action, the event was also a chance to show off Bowie’s new ‘protégés’, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. They had – separately – made their UK live debuts on the two preceding nights, at the exact same venue, King’s Cross Cinema.

Glammed up in maroon-polished nails and rock-star shades, Reed sashayed across the second-floor suite and kissed Bowie full on the mouth. Sitting in the corner, Iggy also displayed a recent glitter makeover, with silver-dyed hair, eye make-up and T. Rex T- shirt. Reed, Iggy and Bowie would later pose for the only known photograph of the threesome together, Bowie looking resplendent in a flared-cuff Peter Pan tunic made from a crinkly, light-catching fabric. That was just one of three outfits he wore that afternoon – surely the first time in history a rock’n’roll press conference involved costume changes.

During a wide-ranging and somewhat grandiloquent audience with the assembled journalists, Bowie declared: ‘People like Lou and I are probably predicting the end of an era … I mean that catastrophically. Any society that allows people like Lou and me to become rampant is pretty well lost. We’re both pretty mixed-up, paranoid people, absolute walking messes. If we’re the spearhead of anything, we’re not necessarily the spearhead of anything good.’ What a strange thing to announce – that you’re the herald of Western civilisation’s terminal decline, the decadent symptom that precedes a collapse into barbarism or perhaps a fascist dictatorship. But would an ‘absolute walking mess’ really be capable of such a crisply articulated mission statement? There’s a curious unreality to Bowie’s claims, especially made in such swanky surroundings. Yet the reporters nodded and scribbled them down in their notepads. Suddenly Bowie seemed to have the power to make people take his make-believe seriously … to make them believe it too. Something that in the previous eight strenuous years of striving he’d never managed before, apart from a smatter of fanatical supporters within the UK entertainment industry.

Some eighteen months before the Dorchester summit, the singer had looked washed-up. Deserted by his primary collaborators Tony Visconti and Mick Ronson, he put out the career-nadir single ‘Holy Holy’. (Can you hum it? Did you even know it existed?)

Yet a little over a year later, Bowie had everybody’s ears, everyone’s eyes. His fortunes had transformed absolutely: if not the biggest star in Britain, he was the buzziest, the focus of serious analysis in a way that far better-selling contemporaries like Marc Bolan and Slade never achieved. No longer a loser, he had somehow become the Midas man, a pop miracle-worker resurrecting the stalled careers of his heroes, from long-standing admirations like Lou Reed to recent infatuations like Iggy Pop and Mott the Hoople. Sprinkling them with his stardust, Bowie even got them to change their appearance in his image. There was talk of movies and stage musicals, the sort of diversification that’s tediously commonplace in today’s pop business, but back then was unusual and exciting.

‘People look to me to see what the spirit of the Seventies is,’ Bowie said to William S. Burroughs in a famous 1974 dialogue convened by Rolling Stone. This was not boasting, just the simple truth. How did Bowie manage to manoeuvre himself into place as weathervane of the zeitgeist? The battle was not won on the radio airwaves or at record-store cash registers. There are bands from the early seventies who sold millions more records than Bowie ever did, but they never came near to having the high profile he had at the time and are barely remembered today. Bowie’s theatre of war was the media, where victory is measured in think pieces and columns, controversy and the circulation of carefully chosen, eye-arresting photographs. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo: Khalid Almasoud/Flickr

In this week’s Top 5, we’re sharing stories by Mark MacKinnon, Rachel Cusk, Carmen Maria Machado, Suketu Mehta, and an excerpt from Bill Hayes.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo: Burns Library, Boston College/Flickr

In this week’s Top 5, read a letter from Coretta Scott King and stories by Lizzie Presser, Kathryn Schulz, Michael Friscolanti, and Mitchell Sunderland.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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Below, our favorite stories of the week.

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What We Saw in Washington, D.C.

Photos by Nate Gowdy for Longreads and The Stranger.
The StrangerTo cover this past weekend’s inauguration and Women’s March protests in Washington, D.C., Longreads teamed up with Seattle publication The Stranger. Armed with mood rings supplied by their editors, writers Sydney Brownstone and Heidi Groover, along with photographer Nate Gowdy, met those celebrating and protesting, shared their personal perspectives, and examined what it means for the next four years. Here’s their full diary from the events of January 18-23.

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Why We March: ‘A Love of Self and Each Other,’ an ‘Act of Survival’

Photo by Sydney Brownstone.

In my youth I didn’t always understand the complexities of why we marched but I felt the great love that motivated all those who participated. It was a love of self and each other that turned the dark nights into mornings, and eased the painful recognition that marching was mandatory. Marching was an act of survival and the literal act of placing one foot in front of the other assured us of progress even when circumstances seemed bleak.

-From a short 2015 essay by Women’s March co-chair Tamika Mallory. The marches in D.C. and around the world brought out more than one million protesters. As one marcher wrote in the New York Times: “I have been taking for granted the progress my mother’s generation made so that the women of my generation could benefit from their hard-won gains.” Read more…

The Racist and Sexist T-Shirts of an Inauguration

The StrangerLongreads has teamed up with The Stranger’s Sydney Brownstone and Heidi Groover, along with photographer Nate Gowdy, to cover the presidential inauguration and protests. Below, the latest dispatch from Brownstone in D.C.


Donald Trump has just been sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I’m sitting at a Bolt Burger in Washington, D.C., watching the inauguration ceremony post-mortem play on several flatscreen TVs. A friend is sitting across from me. Her eyes are wide and wet. We have no words.

Last night I watched Trump signs burn at a protest outside the National Press Club, where leaders of the alt-right, a loose conglomeration of people who seek to make racism, xenophobia, and misogyny cool and current, were attending something called the Deploraball. Several hundred protesters were outside the event waving antifascist signs. One protester, a young white man in a black bandana, elbowed his way past me and said, “It was better when there were less media people here.” He didn’t speak for every protester, but I couldn’t help but think that the people attending the Deploraball might agree with him.

Earlier in the evening, Heidi Groover and I wandered down the National Mall, where Trump supporters were listening to Toby Keith. The walk between the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial was dotted with enormous screens echoing Fox News’ Trumpian propaganda. I stopped to bum a cigarette from a guy who was having an argument about feminism with a protester who was broadcasting the interaction on Facebook Live. This man told me that 70 percent of domestic violence attacks are perpetrated by women against men. I asked him for his source. He showed me something called “,” and I told him that wasn’t credible. When the man asked for my sources on rape and domestic violence, I e-mailed him three reports from the CDC, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the DOJ’s Violence Against Women Survey. He told me he would read them later, then told me that more women are at risk of being raped because they are not strong enough to fight off men.

Later that night I threw on a dress and a blazer and attended a Young Republicans MAGA ball at Ultrabar. Wealthy young people in ball gowns sipped cocktails and rubbed their bodies against one another. The DJ played Beyoncé. An ambitious 21-year-old told me I was cute. I told him I was a reporter. Trump wasn’t his first choice, he said, but he thought America should give him a chance. I went outside to go bum another cigarette. I got one from a young man with a fashy haircut and an interesting pin showing a “Y” inside an inverted triangle. When I Googled this image later, I found out that it was called the “Dragon’s Eye,” an ancient Germanic symbol depicting the battle between good and evil.

Outside the Bolt Burger, I can hear a group of roughly 50 protesters being arrested, one by one, after being kettled into a street corner by dozens upon dozens of officers of the Metropolitan Police Department. Tear gas has been used, and the protest is growing. When I last saw them, they were holding up a sign that read, “Make Racists Afraid Again.”

But the racists are not afraid in DC this week. At Trump’s Tody Keith concert, one man wore a t-shirt reading “Blacks Make Racial Slurs & Commit Hate Crimes Too!!” The misogynists are not afraid, either. They are buying leftover RNC kitsch that reads “Trump That Bitch!” and plowing through crowds of young queer kids protesting outside security checkpoints. These people are the ones in power now.