“Rebel, Rebel” by David Bowie

David Bowie’s second and less famous full-scale Rock Opera, Diamond Dogs, was originally supposed to be a direct adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, and while his inability to get the actual rights to the novel ultimately forced him to make some story changes at the last minute, it’s still quite clear where the album’s inspiration lies, and not just because of song titles like “1984”, “Big Brother” and “We Are the Dead”. This song, which became the big hit off the album, was pretty clearly meant to be Julia’s character song, and it still perfectly sums up her character…a born rebel, defiant of gender roles and unashamedly sexual…and her complex relationship with Winston. If you accept Diamond Dogs as a 1984 adaptation, however loose that adaptation wound up being in the final draft, then it is the only successful musical adaptation that material has ever seen, or will ever probably see, despite the fact that there have been several other attempts (both Jonathan Larson and Adam Guettel worked for years on never-finished stage musicals based on the novel). And that David Bowie could pull off the almost inconceivable task of successfully musicalizing one of the most fundamentally unmusical works in all of literature is one of the greatest of all testaments to his genius, proving that he was, among other things, a genius of musical story-telling on the level of the greatest composers of what we more generally think of as ‘musicals’.

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