Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Monday, January 25, 2016



Like a lot of people, I’ve been playing my David Bowie albums since the great man died, especially Scary Monsters.  And no doubt it’s because I make some claims to be a pedestrian that I’ve been fixating on those words, “She could’ve been a killer if she didn’t walk the way she do.”

It’s a great line but does it mean anything? I’m not sure that it does, and I’m absolutely sure it doesn’t matter whether it means anything or not, but I have been wondering what style of walking prevents you from being killer.  I suspect there are no easy answers.
One of the more interesting pieces written after Bowie’s death was by Steven Kurutz, in the New York Times, titled “David Bowie: Invisible New Yorker.”  Apparently there was a time about ten years ago when Bowie and John Guare would get together once in a while to talk about the possibilities of collaborating on a theatrical project.

It never happened, but Guare is quoted as saying, “We would take walks around the East Village and I was always praying somebody would run into us so I could say, ‘Do you know my friend David Bowie?’”  He was understandably disappointed that never happened either.

The article claims that Bowie could pass unnoticed even among the crowds of New York.  Guare again,  “He traveled with this cloak of invisibility - nobody saw him.”   Well, I’m here to tell you: not always.

About 15 years back I was in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, on a Sunday morning, and there, large as life, and very conspicuous, walking through one of the galleries was Mr. Bowie, accompanied by an entourage of half a dozen young men.  They were looking at paintings and every now and again Bowie would say stop and say something about the art, and the young men would hang on every word.  Before long everybody in the gallery was looking at Bowie and it became impossible to look at any of the art on the walls.  Iman and an all-female entourage were in the adjacent gallery but they were much less compelling.

This was on my mind last Sunday as I walked along West Temple Street in Los Angeles, on the way to see a “sound installation" by William Basinksi, in a storefront gallery called South of Sunset.  There was work by Chris Oliveria, and Steve Roden in there too.

Basinski has said in interviews that he changed from clarinet to saxophone because he wanted to be more like Bowie, and as a member of a band called the Rockettes he supported Bowie on the Serious Moonlight tour.  Of course he’s somewhat influenced by Bowie, because what modern musician isn’t, but I think he’s rather more influenced by the people who influenced Bowie: Eno, Steve Reich, John Cage.

Anyway, one has heard grander – and god knows louder - sound installations than the sound at South of Sunset.  Basinski’s music was more than minimalist, being played quietly on distinctly low-fi reel to reel tape recorder, but somehow the extreme modesty of the event was part of its charm.

West Temple is a bit bleak, a bit rough at the edges, but hardly the meanest of streets, and after the gallery I was wandering, taking the occasional photograph, including this one:

As I took the picture, a tough-looking Hsipanic guy who was out washing his car in the street yelled at me “Hey, why are you taking a picture?”  And I said, calmly, “Because I like the mural.”  And he said, not much less aggressively, “Who are you taking the picture for?”  And I said, “For me.”  This, rather unexpectedly, seemed to satisfy him, though it left me thinking there must be some story there I didn’t know about.  Was the guy simply fed up with hipsters photographing his neighborhood, or did he think perhaps I was a man from the city, come to inspect and maybe order the painting over of his mural?  I have no idea.  But when this was over, a much older, very benign-looking Hispanic guy who’d witness the exchange, he to me in a very friendly way, “Yes, it’s a great mural, isn’t it?”
         And I agreed that it was, though I think maybe I like this one better.  I think it’s the juxtaposition of the Virgin Mary and the Bud Light ad.

 In fact I can't even tell you the title of the installed Basinksi piece.  It wasn't this one, but this one's good too. 


  1. I, too, have enjoyed revisiting Scary Monsters. It was one of my favorites. I never questioned the verse about "could have been a killer if she didn't walk the way she do." I pictured a woman who could be beautiful high heeled "killer sexy." But she refused to do the "runway walk." Instead she lived in "trainers"and sensible shoes which prevented her from being "killer" in some men's eyes.

    1. Oh - you're probably right about that - bit obtuse of me to miss that one.