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Under the Moonlight: Bowie’s hidden influence

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was not familiar with the American artist Betye Saar until I read a New York Times article about how she’s making some of the best art of her life at the age of 97. What’s the name of her current touring exhibit, which at the moment of this writing is at the Kunstmuseum in Switzerland? Serious Moonlight. As far as I can tell, the exhibit has nothing to do with David Bowie.

Nor does the 2009 movie of the same name, which also has nothing to do with Betye Saar.

But also, as far as I can tell, the term “serious moonlight” wasn’t really a thing before Bowie used it in “Let’s Dance”— “Let’s sway; under the moonlight, the serious moonlight.”

The Times uses another term from the Let’s Dance album, “Modern Love,” as the title for a column, book, podcast and television show “about relationships, feelings, betrayals and revelations.” But not, as far as I can tell, about Bowie. I’m sure someone before Bowie placed the words “modern” and “love” next to each other in a sentence, but Bowie’s hit song embedded the term into our collective consciousness. In both cases, the terms have outgrown their songs of origin, and it is entirely possible that whoever came up for the titles of those things were not thinking about David Bowie at all.

We’re not quite at the level or Biblical or Shakespearean phrases that have become so engrained as to have spun completely out of their original orbits, but it just strikes me that these are further examples of Bowie as cultural phenomenon. No larger point, but I thought it was worth noting…

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