Jimmy Gatz & David Jones

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life…”

“The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God — a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that — and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

At the end of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the narrator, Nick, for the first time meets the “very helpless and dismayed” Mr. Gatz, Jay Gatsby’s father, who arrives after reading newspaper accounts of Jay’s murder. Before the funeral, Gatz shares some memories with Nick:

“He pulled from his pocket a ragged old copy of a book called Hopalong Cassidy.
‘Look here, this is a book he had when he was a boy. It just shows you.’
He opened it at the back cover and turned it around for me to see. On the last fly-leaf was printed the word Schedule, and the date September 12, 1906. and underneath:

Rise from bed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.00 a.m.
Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling . . . . . . 6.15-6.30 ”
Study electricity, etc . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.15-8.15 ”
Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.30-4.30 p.m.
Baseball and sports . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.30-5.00 ”
Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it 5.00-6.00 ”
Study needed inventions . . . . . . . . . . . 7.00-9.00 ”

General Resolves No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable] No more smokeing or chewing Bath every other day Read one improving book or magazine per week Save $5.00 {crossed out} $3.00 per week Be better to parents.
‘I come across this book by accident,’ said the old man. ‘It just shows you, don’t it?’
‘It just shows you.’
‘Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind? He was always great for that.. . ‘

Gatsby journeyed from turn of the century North Dakota to the inner circle of East Coast finance in the 1920s; Bowie from post-war Brixton to far beyond even a Gatsby’s boldest vision. What they shared: “some resolves like this or something,” and schemes for “improving”  their minds.

Gatz, in spite of his “extraordinary gift for hope,” never succeeded in becoming Gatsby. He lost the plot, mistook money for wealth, hung out with the wrong crowd and finally ran out of time, gunned down and unmourned, leaving only his acquaintance Nick “privileged glimpses” of the man who could have been great.

“… and I’ve got to write it down/But I’m still getting educated but I’ve got to write it down”

–“Fantastic Voyage”

Did anyone (other than Michael Jackson, Madonna and MTV) have a good nineteen-eighties? What can be said of a decade that began with the election of Ronald Reagan one month and the assassination of John Lennon the next? Bowie  agrees with his critics that he didn’t do his best musical work during those years, especially around 1987. 

But I think that David Jones worked very, very hard in the 1980s — he just didn’t put all his energies into music. He had other priorities. Like Jimmy Gatz, he had a lot of self-creation to do.

I imagine Jones’/Bowie’s “General Resolves” for the 1980s as something like this:

  1. Stay alive. End enslavement to drugs, then alcohol.
  2. Raise son.
  3. Make enough money so that it is never again an issue. Manage self. Trust no one.
  4. Hang around bright people. Read widely. Take advantage of opportunities to learn from masters.
  5. Paint. Keep visual arts as means of expression without pressure of judgment.
  6. Prepare to love and be loved.

I think that Jones did what he needed to and in the 1990s  emerged as an authentic man who could claim his own past — all his own pasts. Bowie may not have had the greatest ’80s, but Jones spent those years well.

 


 

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2 thoughts on “Jimmy Gatz & David Jones

  1. if you notice the difference between Bowie and F Scott in this reference…David’s presumed list appears much more directed towards big life issues – survival – where the other is about moment-by-moment habits that would perhaps lead to success on the other list. and it’s true, as an artist I can tell you that being in your work rewards one with a lot of psychological relief! Bowie was a born artist first, the rest would be inevitable, luckily for us.

  2. I have noticed since forever that Bowie is such an extreme art talent – every way you look around him & his work, not just producing his own art, but taking fellow artists by the hand when necessary – as in producing Lou Reed & Iggy Pop…you see other facets of that talent. His comedic-self-effacing-rockstar-self hides this fact, but it’s not so hidden anymore these days, thankfully!

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