Bowie, books and Holcomb, KS

tamrawilson Uncategorized

British music icon David Bowie died of cancer last week at 69. Much has been said of his influence on popular culture since he burst onto the airwaves with bowie“Space Oddity” in 1969.

Much has been made of Bowie’s musical career, stage presence and bisexuality. Few knew he was a big-time reader.  He was quoted once as saying a perfect week was one in which he read three or four books. Considering that few read more six or so books a year these days, Bowie stands head and shoulders above most of us.

A recent London Telegraph article listed Bowie’s top 100 books. Some were titles one might expect of a New Age icon: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Strange People by Frank Edwards, The Divided Self by R. D. Laing, Between the Sheets by Ian McEwan. Bowie read the heady stuff, literary works that make one think. He read winners of the Man Booker Prize, the Orange Prize and more, though he never went to college.

One of Bowie’s favorite books was In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. If you haven’t read this one, you should.  It recounts the brutal murder of the Herbert Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. The book ushered in the nonfiction novel, and helped usher in the genre known as creative nonfiction.

Driving through Kansas this past September, we had the opportunity to stop in Holcomb. The afternoon we arrived storm clouds had cast a brooding mood over the place. Oak Avenue isn’t hard to find in this town of 2,100. The familiar yellow glazed brick and frame house that Herbert Clutter built for his family sits at the end of a tree-lined lane, the same locale used by film crews to re-create one of America’s notorious crimes. The result was a blockbuster movie focused on the killers, Richard Hickok and Perry Smith, who were convicted and hanged.

In spite of what happened at the Clutter house, people still live there, which I find eerily astoniClutter Houseshing.

The only vestige of the Clutters in Holcomb these days is a memorial to the family at a local park named for them. The larger plaque recounts their community service and good citizenship. There is no mention of their killers, or the book and movie that made all them famous.

This surprised me too, just as I was amazed to learn that David Bowie was such a voracious reader–which goes to show how public image and private truth make for strange bed fellows.