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Exclusive interview: Political consultant Melissa DeRosa!

Melissa DeRosa is a friend and former colleague — we worked together in the administration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and for four years she was my boss! Today she is a political consultant, radio and TV commentator, and bestselling author of her memoir, What’s Left Unsaid: My Life at the Center of Power, Politics and Crisis. I’ve been watching and listening to Melissa on her book tour, and it occurred to me that several of the issues she discusses have been the subject of Bowie songs. That gave me the idea for this interview.

Bowie, Bowie songs and ideas connected to Bowie shape this interview and we use them as launching points to discuss the same things Bowie addressed through his art. But our focus is not on Bowie or his art, but rather what it is he addressed or experienced.

What do I mean? What follows is an adaptation for the interview proposal I sketched for Melissa:

Coming back. After laying low for a decade, Bowie released this surprise single without any prior announcement in advance of his 2013 album “The Next Day.” Both the album title and song title suggested that Bowie was going to ask and answer the question of where he had been for the last decade. Rather than directly answer the question he himself raised, the new songs were the answer.
Song: “Where Are We Now?”
Melissa’s connection: Melissa’s book chronicles the fall of our former Adminsitration, culminating in a low point. But she’s back on top as a high-demand national political figure and has yet to do what she’LL be remembered for. She’s living in her own “Next Day.”

Fashion and politics. Bowie, a fashion icon, compares changing fashion trends, dictated from above, to Orwellian-style politics. “Fashion, turn to the left, Fashion, turn to the right.” His refrain of “fa-fa-fa-fa” can be the beginning of “fashion” or “fascism.”
Song: “Fashion”
Melissa’s connection: Melissa began her career in the fashion industry, so she has a unique perspective on the fashion-politics nexus.

Gender Identity. Bowie made a show of bisexuality early in his career and continued to raise the issue of gender identity throughout. There are many, many Bowie songs that touch on the topic. Bowie did not advocate politically on either LGBT or trans issues but there is a thread that runs from him raising these topics— he was the first in pop music to do so— and contemporary attitudes and the politics around them. What I specifically would talk about is how marriage equality was the mountain back in 2011 but how that’s essentially been accepted and now gender identity is more front and center as a political issue.
Song: “Lady Stardust”
Melissa’s connection: We started to discuss the evolution of gender identity as a political issue, but we ended up discussing the Cuomo Administration’s successful push to legalize marriage equality in New York in 2011. If Ziggy ever returns to Earth, he’ll find that things have changed and New York is definitely a go-go.

Dystopia. Several Bowie songs dealt with the breakdown of society or some kind of dystopia. His album, Diamond Dogs was largely based on 1984. This song is not from that album but depicts revolution as a kind of spectacle — amidst chaos and destruction, the narrator asks for an autograph from one of the rebel leaders. This is both relevant to 2020 but also campus protests today— civil unrest as an event rather than a genuine attempt at fomenting change.
Song: Panic in Detroit
Melissa’s connection: Melissa was one of the leading figures in New York’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, which took place amidst a backdrop of social unrest and political chaos in 2020. She was at the center of the storm as red, mutant eyes gazed down on Hunger City.

Fame Bowie chronicled his thoughts about becoming famous, which were mixed, early in his career as he was living through it. His first US #1 was “Fame” in 1975
Melissa’s Connection: For months during 2020, as Governor Cuomo gave nationally televised briefings on COVID, Melissa was by his side. She attained a level of celebrity in her own right, appearing on magazine covers and even a huge Times Square billboard. She continues to receive national media exposure. I have been with her when people have asked for autographs or photos with her. We discuss how she avoids going there where things are hollow…

Plus, and most importantly, we find out Melissa’s favorite Bowie song.

And it doesn’t end there. But stop reading this and watch (or listen to) the interview!

And if you want to know more about Melissa or to purchase her book, link HERE to jump to her web page.

Note: We recorded this interview a few weeks ago. Melissa makes a couple of references to events that had just happened at the time.

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