Rock’s other significance in relation to modernity, which David Bowie understood better than anyone, is that it sanctions a new type of heroism, that in contrast to, say, an astronaut’s bit part in a space-flight that is essentially the military-industrial establishment’s accomplishment—This is ground control to Major Tom…You’ve really made the grade…and the papers want to know whose shirts you wear…now it’s time to leave the capsule, if you dare! –promises to put the individual in command of his own creation. Like a Wordsworth, or better, a Byron, the ideal rock star will create in a way that breaks new aesthetic ground and inspires a generation. But his connection with his followers, unlike a poet’s, will not be confined to words—indeed, in the concert hall, when the band strikes those first chords, his entrance will seem like that of an undeniable power. By an interaction of popular acclaim and technological artistry, he is lifted above the anonymous democratic mass and the hum-drum character of modern life, his fans both making possible and being imaginatively swept into his apotheosis. As Bowie puts it in “The Prettiest Star”:
One day, well, it might as well be Sunday,
You will rise on high and take us all away,
All because of what you are…
The Prettiest Star.
Of course, rock’s bohemian impulses could not remain entirely comfortable with the Star as the proper heroic model, and by the late-70s it became clear that cult status was another sort of rock heroism—one might aspire to be the half-hidden gods behind an artistic movement, as the Velvet Underground were now regarded, or one might simply aspire to obtain a niche-specialized and studiously democratic fame, like the D.I.Y. punk and underground bands.
Why should rock, however, have become the preferred medium for democratic heroism and timely poetic reflection? We’ll consider that issue next.