Monday, May 20, 2013
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Shelton Waldrep has been teaching a seminar on David Bowie at USM for more than 10 years. He became interested in Bowie when he first heard the 1980 album “Scary Monsters.”
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
David Bowie in 2010. His first album in 10 years hits stores on Tuesday.
Waldrep admits he is a Bowie fan, but wasn't always. In fact, growing up in the college town of Tuscaloosa, Ala., he had no interest at all in pop music. He preferred classical music, and was more interested in science than literature or pop culture.
But then he heard Bowie's "Scary Monsters" in college, and it started him down a different path.
"It was the first record I played over and over," Waldrep said. "And then I found a book that was a very brief but prescient examination of Bowie's career at that point (around 1980). I think my interest goes back to that."
In college, Waldrep ended up majoring in English and art history, with a minor in creative writing. When he began teaching, he gravitated toward popular culture, and his USM superiors allowed him to start the Bowie seminar.
"Shelton brings together so many different things in his class, from performance studies to art history, media studies. It cuts across so many forms of media and technology," said Ben Bertram, an English professor at USM and chairman of the department.
In his seminar, Waldrep spans Bowie's career and its various periods, from his Ziggy Stardust glam period in the '70s to his video experimentation, his "Berlin trilogy" albums, his pop-hit album "Let's Dance" and his work through the 1990s and today.
Waldrep knows the class might raise some eyebrows and might be thought of as too fluffy for a senior college course. So he constantly works to try to keep the academic standards on a level with literature or other more traditional college subjects.
"I know there are conservative lit majors who don't think (Bowie) is worthy of this attention," said Waldrep. "And then there are people who take the class thinking it'll be all fan tidbits."
Although Bowie's new album is not yet in stores, it is available for streaming online, so Waldrep has heard it.
"It's very melodic, with a lot of short intros and guitar fuzz, and some sly references to his own past," he said. "There's a song about wandering around in Berlin, 'Where Are We Now,' that's very moving and emotional. It's the only ballad."
Because the book he's currently working on is not a biography, Waldrep did not seek approval from Bowie. In the past, he has reached out to Bowie's people to try to talk to him, even though the somewhat reclusive star is well-known for not cooperating on such matters.
But Waldrep said he may try again to talk to the man who inspired his college course.
If Bowie's career is any indicator, his attitude on anything -- including talking to writers -- could change.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:
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Shelton Waldrep is author of “The Aesthetics of Self-Invention: Oscar Wilde to David Bowie.”
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Shelton Waldrep is author of “Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World.”