Leper Messiah: A Jesus Freak’s Search for the Meaning of Bowie—A Critical Novella

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A self-styled “devout atheist,” cultural critic Mark Dery is well-known for his sharp-penned critiques of the bigotry and anti-science know-nothingism of the religious right. Yet, in the mid-’70s, Dery was a born-again Christian, caught up in the “Jesus Freak” movement that began in Southern California, near his hometown of San  Diego. 

 

In Leper Messiah: A Jesus Freak’s Search for the Meaning of Bowie, Dery uses his spiritual crisis, as a born-again teen torn between his conservative faith and his obsession with David Bowie, to explore the historical connections linking religious zealotry and rabid fandom. Revealing for the first time the doubt-haunted spiritual yearnings at the heart of Bowie’s art, Dery asks searching questions about the costs of blind faith—in messiahs and pop icons—and about what we lose when we lose our religion.

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“My Prayer Flies Like a Word on a Wing”: How I Lost One Leper Messiah, and Gained Another, Part 5

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In this fifth installment of Mark Dery’s cultural critique-cum-“nonfiction novella” about a born-again teen’s transcendent encounter with Ziggy Stardust in the 1970s, our hero Accepts Bowie as His Personal Savior. Delving deep into Bowie’s religious cosmology, we encounter Tibetan Buddhism, Nietzchean existentialism, Crowleyite magick, dimestore occultism, Kabbalistic mysticism, and — mirabile dictu! — Christianity. 

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Coffeehouse Churches and the ‘Party-on Messiah’: How I Lost One Leper Messiah, and Gained Another, Part 3

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In this third installment of Mark Dery’s cultural critique-cum-“nonfiction novella” about a born-again teen’s transcendent encounter with Ziggy Stardust in the 1970s, our hero experiences an agape that is equal parts sanctified rapture and endorphin rush at a radical Friday night coffeehouse church. Meanwhile, the hippie Jesus of the Jesus Freaks reaches the big time in mainline protestantism. 

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Till There Was Rock You Only Had God: How I Lost One Leper Messiah, and Gained Another, Part 1

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In this opening episode of Mark Dery’s original, autobiographical essay (a “nonfiction novella”) about a suburban teen’s transcendent encounter with Ziggy Stardust, we’re introduced to David Bowie’s astro-hippie alter ego from the early 1970s, a glam-rock deity of Frankensteinian spookiness and ladyboy vulnerability. 

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Should I Scream and Shout, Should I Speak of Love?: How I Lost One Leper Messiah, and Gained Another, Part 2

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In this second installment of Mark Dery’s autobiographical essay (a “nonfiction novella”) about a suburban teen’s transcendent encounter with Ziggy Stardust, our hero has his congenitally straight brain blown in a late-night, black and white encounter with the confusingly feminine Ziggy during Bowie’s final appearance as the character.

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