What It Takes

What It Takes

Bradbury and Bowie: Dancing, So As Not To Be Dead

By Callie Oettinger | Published: January 15, 2016

Ray Bradbury and David Bowie. Bradbury image credit: Alan Light. Bowie image credit: www.DavidBowie.com

Ray Bradbury and David Bowie. Bradbury image credit: Alan Light. Bowie image credit: www.DavidBowie.com

In “Dancing, So As Not to Be Dead,” Ray Bradbury’s introduction to The Illustrated Man, he starts with a story about Laurent, a waiter in Paris, who spends his life between working and dancing.

“I work from ten to twelve hours, sometimes fourteen,” he says, “and then at midnight I go dancing, dancing dancing until four or five in the morning and go to bed and sleep until ten and then up, up to work by eleven and another ten or twelve or sometimes fifteen hours of work.”

When Bradbury asks how he can do that, Laurent replies:

“Easily,” he says. “To be asleep is to be dead. It is like death. So we dance, we dance so as not to be dead. We do not want that.”

When Laurent asks Bradbury what he does in the morning, Bradbury says he writes.

“Write!” Laurent says, astonished. “Write?”

“So as not to be dead,” I say. “Like you.”


“Yes,” I say, smiling now, myself. “At three in the morning, I write, I write, I write!”

The day after diving into The Illustrated Man for the first time, I read about Cancer hitting David Bowie. Bradbury’s story came to mind, of dancing and dancing and dancing, and writing and writing and writing, so as not to be dead.

If you know only one thing about Bradbury and Bowie, know this: they were ALIVE.

Both were writing and dancing and creating — and always in the direction of roads less traveled.

Toward the end of “Dancing, So As Not To be Dead”, Bradbury returns to his opening story about Laurent:

I end as I began. With my Parisian waiter friend, Laurent, dancing all night, dancing, dancing.

My tunes and numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or 3:00 A.M.

So as not to be dead.

And in not being dead, I owe them for keeping me alive.

When I wanted to sleep, their works brought me to life — fought back death, pulling me up like Lazarus. Food for my soul. Fuel for my engine. They trigger that “thing” within me that I’ve often struggled to turn on myself. Read a little Bradbury and within minutes my head is spinning with stories of my own. Jotting down ideas. A little Bowie and I can conquer the world. No wake-up coffee for me. Just some Bowie and Bradbury please.

When I hit “The Exiles” within The Illustrated Man, I was comforted in thinking of Bowie and Bradbury on Mars, mixing it up with other artists (including Dickens, though he sounds like an ass), but without the the book-burning censorship and dangerous thinking that landed Bradbury’s characters there in the first place. More a place where the greats go to keep an eye on the rest of us and send down jolts of inspiration from above.

Thank you Bradbury. Thank you Bowie. You are among the greatest gifts of my life. Will keep the air waves crystal for messages from Mars.

Posted in What It Takes

12 Responses to “Bradbury and Bowie: Dancing, So As Not To Be Dead”

  1. January 15, 2016 at 4:50 am

    I need to read some Bradbury, and some Tolkien, and listen to some Bowie now. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Mary Doyle
    January 15, 2016 at 4:58 am

    Thanks for this beautiful, heartfelt post Callie – one of your best!

  3. January 15, 2016 at 5:35 am

    Bradbury is one of my influences. He writes so beautifully! Some of his work is like a poem. He was also a collector, like me and encouraged others to collect as a form of “Keeping yourself.” His book on writing is very inspirational. I don’t believe its in print anymore but I recommend finding a used copy online. He was so happy in all his writings and videos too, not at all the tortured artist we all love to idolize.

    Bowie/Rickman/Angelil–its been a terribly sad week. Last night I had a nightmare that someone I cared about died of cancer–a disease I have had myself. This morning at 4 am I just wanted to go back to sleep but the dream brought me down to the computer to pound out an hour of words.

    Its so odd that you would write about this when it perfectly describes my morning. Thank you so much, such a beautiful piece and tribute to two awesome artists!

  4. January 15, 2016 at 6:39 am

    Another strange coincidence. I just finished watching ‘Almost famous’ on TV half an hour ago (it’s 1.30am in Australia) and one of the band members was reading a Bradbury novel with a brown cover while on the tour bus. I was going to check what the title was as I’ve never read any of his books, but checked my emails first and saw your post. So I got the title as well as great commentary that perhaps explains why they chose that book. Thanks!

  5. January 15, 2016 at 8:08 am

    Among the timeless gifts of art, the gift of timelessness.

    Goodbye, David. Thank you for your courage, your outrageousness, and of course, the anthems. You made a difference.

  6. BING
    January 15, 2016 at 8:44 am

    Great piece Callie, really powerful. I felt this clear to my bones. That unstoppable force that some have. I want that force also.
    Thanks for sharing .

    Shalom – Bing

  7. January 15, 2016 at 9:30 am

    So as not to be dead.

    My new answer to anyone who asks why I do all the mad things I do.

    I have reached that age where all the people who created my brain content, who weren’t already dead when I was born, are dying.

    Perhaps I’ll react by celebrating something rather than waxing philosophical and all that. Who wants to wax philosophical? We have a cleaning crew to polish the furniture; let them handle it.

    I’m currently writing a scifi adventure, a ‘time-traveling Indiana Jones’ thing that has been festering in my mind since 1969 when I read Edgar Rice Burrough’s Mars and Tarzan books for the first time and realized, hey, we can leave this planet, but hey, there’s plenty right here, too.

    Almost 50 years for an idea to worm its way out.

    I hope Bowie et al aren’t disappointed in me.

  8. January 15, 2016 at 9:36 am


    This is an absolutely wonderful piece. I’m printing it and keeping it among my favorites from you, Steven and Shawn.

    Thanks for sharing this mystical wisdom from Mars.


  9. January 15, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    Callie – what a lovely piece! In a world that celebrates mediocrity, there are fewer and fewer artists like Bradbury and Bowie whose work came from an effort, energy, and dedication most can’t imagine.

  10. January 19, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Thank you for this inspiring reminder about powerful, prolific artists who model for all of us what it looks like to truly be committed to our artistry and creativity!

  11. January 20, 2016 at 6:56 am

    Now, I really need some Bradbury. And yeah, Bowie tooooooo.

    Thanks for this.

  12. Eileen Sembrot
    January 20, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Thanks Steve for a beautiful tribute article. It was warm and thoughtful, and I enjoyed reading it. It inspired me to join your group.