From Blackstar to Berlin: David Bowie and the manifestation of late style in the Berlin Trilogy

Andrew Frayn*, Rachael Durkin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


David Bowie’s Blackstar (2016) has been written about extensively as a final album, and conceptualised in terms of Theodor W. Adorno and Edward W. Said’s work on late style (e.g. Frayn and Durkin, 2017; McMullan, 2018; Schott, 2020; Graham, 2021). These assessments have tended to focus on the old age and illness of the artist. In this paper, we seek to develop and nuance the understanding of Bowie’s work in the context of late style, adding into the discussion the other strand of Adorno’s thought, which addresses late capitalism, and Gordon McMullan’s focus on the proximity of death. We return to Bowie’s late 1970s ‘Berlin Trilogy’, written in the lingering shadow of the Second World War and the midst of the Cold War, and musically situated at a point where the innovations of the New York and Darmstadt Schools were seeping across the mainstream divide. Our paper will analyse the manifestations of late style in the form of avant-garde techniques and conceptualisations, such as Brian Eno’s ‘oblique strategies’ and minimalist-inspired electronica of Low (1977), the overly politico-pop statement of Heroes (1977), and the experimental use of musique concrète and Cageian prepared piano in Lodger (1978), and question why this avant-garde approach lends itself to a reading of lateness.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 9 Jul 2021
EventBeyond the Avant-Garde? Rethinking the Vanguard in British Music since 1970 - Online, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Jul 20219 Jul 2021


ConferenceBeyond the Avant-Garde? Rethinking the Vanguard in British Music since 1970
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
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