Remembering David Bowie
Last night, legendary musician David Bowie passed away in New York, following an 18-month long battle with cancer. Bowie, who had just released his 25th album Blackstar on Friday, coinciding with his 69th birthday, will forever be remembered for his musical genius and unyielding personality. His alter ego Ziggy Stardust opened the door for many to accept themselves and his music offered solace therein. Upon Blackstar‘s release, many reviewers noted the lyricism’s ambiguity, however, after learning about his cancer and following his tragic passing, the songs are beginning to make more sense. On “Blackstar,” he sings, “I’m not a pop star, I’m a blackstar.” “Lazarus” continues: “Look up here / I’m in heaven … Oh, I’ll be free / Just like that bluebird / Oh, I’ll be free / Ain’t that just like me.” And the album’s closing song, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” begins with him saying, “I know something is very wrong,” before singing, “The blackout hearts, the flowered news / With skull designs upon my shoes.” No matter the message of Blackstar, though, Bowie will forever and always be remembered as an icon of the 20th and 21st centuries. In his honor, here are some of the best quotes from the various times he appeared inside and on the cover of Interview.
BIRTHPLACE: Brixton, London, UK
CHILDHOOD DREAMS: I had a plan from when I was eight. My father brought home all these American records, 45s with no centers. And he said, “Go on, you can take your pick.” I said, “I’ll just take a few out.” There was this one by Little Richard, and that was it. I was sold. When I heard that, I thought, God, I want to do that. Actually, my ambition at eight or nine years old was to be one of Little Richard’s sax players, and that’s when I got my first saxophone, a Selmer. It was a strange Bakelite material—that creamy plastic with all the gold keys on it. I had to get a job as a butcher’s delivery boy to start paying for it.
At no point did I ever doubt I would be as near as anybody could be to England’s Elvis Presley. Even from eight or nine years old, I thought, Well, I’ll be the greatest rock star in England. I just made up my mind. [David Bowie: Sex is Again the Unmentionable Word, May 1990]
STYLE INSPIRATION: 1961 was when I was really into clothes. I left school at 15 and started copying a bloke who used to go up on the train to London with me; Leslie, I think his name was. He was like, top mod of his own area. He wore Italian jackets with white linen jeans. Boy, was that cool! I mean, that’s in style now—it’s very much the L.A. look. But he was wearing it then, and it looked supercool. Chelsea boots, but with fluorescent pink or green socks and eye shadow that matched the socks he was wearing that day. And he had a slight bouffant hairstyle, parted in the middle. He was somehow tough-looking, too, a real heavyweight. But he had eye makeup on! And the jarringness of it was really weird. I thought, I like that—I feel that, not one thing or the other. [David Bowie: Sex is Again the Unmentionable Word, May 1990]
BEAUTY INSPIRATION: Syd Barrett [of Pink Floyd] was the first person in rock I had seen with makeup on. He wore black nail polish and lots of mascara and black eye shadow, and he was so mysterious. It was this androgynous thing I found absolutely fascinating. Of course, we found out later the guy had mental problems. But there was something so otherworldly about him. He was hovering, like, six inches above the ground. [David Bowie: Sex is Again the Unmentionable Word, May 1990]
ROCK ‘N’ ROLL: I have absolutely no interest in rock and roll. I’m just being David Bowie. Mick Jagger is rock and roll. I mean, I go out and my music is roughly the format of rock and roll, I use the chord changes of rock and roll, but I don’t feel I’m a rock and roll artist. I’d be a terrible rock artist, absolutely ghastly. [David Bowie by Lisa Robinson, June 1978]
POP MUSIC: I have an incredibly hard time with it at the moment. It’s all so dispirited and sexless. There’s this strange atmosphere now that’s come over sex that I’m particularly angry about. Sex is suddenly once again the unmentionable word, and one wonders if that’s going to lead to more right-wing thinking and to a kind of fucking depressing grayness to the quality of life. It’s a return to everything we despised in the early ’60s. I do like the Pixies. I think they’re great. I think Sonic Youth are wonderful. I must say I still like the Cure. It’s marvelous that they’ve actually got a huge audience over here now. [David Bowie: Sex is Again the Unmentionable Word, May 1990]
THE ’60s: I really floated around in the ’60s, because I felt comfortable with nothing. But I just tried everything out—I mean, everything. Even my sexual orientation; I was just searching for what I really wanted. And I didn’t quite know. And that applied to the arts, as well. It was like treading water all through the ’60s, and when 1970 kicked in, I thought [snaps fingers] We’re here. Right. God, this is exciting. I’m going to go for it now. I really felt it was my time. Then Marc Bolan did it first. [laughs] That really pissed me off. [David Bowie: Sex is Again the Unmentionable Word, May 1990]
CAPITALISM: Capitalism can be alright, I mean Marx didn’t live to see what Roosevelt did with that Depression. He pulled everybody out of that Depression and everybody hated Roosevelt. He got into office four times. One after the other, with everybody saying, he can’t get in again. Everybody voted for Roosevelt four times and he did a hell of a lot. [David Bowie Tells All and More to Patrick Salvo, March 1973]
HIPPIES, THE REVOLUTIONARY LEFT, AND THE UNDERGROUND: The truest form of any form of revolutionary left, whatever you want to call it, was Jack Kerouac, E.E. Cummings, and Ginsberg’s period. Excuse me but that was where it was at. The hippies, I’m afraid, don’t know what’s happening. I don’t think there are any anyway. The underground went really underground. Grand Funk, and all these people man are the moderate’s choice of music. Underground is Yoko Ono, The Black Poets. These people scare the hell out of most freaks. They laugh at Yoko Ono, but it’s the whole cliché. [David Bowie Tells All and More to Patrick Salvo, March 1973]
TOURING WITH IGGY POP: It was something to do. It was good fun. I got drunk a lot. [David Bowie by Lisa Robinson, June 1978]
FRIENDS: Oh, my God, who do I hang out with? Let’s take the last few months. The last six months, who have I been hanging around with? Apart from my fiancée, and Coco, whom you probably remember from the deep recesses of the past. Coco Schwab is my best friend. And the band. Most of the time we’ve been in Australia recording, so I’ve been hanging out with surfers and the occasional sheep farmer. You meet sheep farmers in very trendy restaurants in Sydney. Before Australia I was in Indonesia, and I hung out with the village people in north Bali. Ha. Where do you think those people got those crazy clothes ideas? But really, have you been to Bali? My God, do they dress. Every day of the week there’s a celebration. [David Bowie: Sex is Again the Unmentionable Word, May 1990]
DRUGS: I had to leave Los Angeles. I guess I thought I had really taken a risk becoming involved with Main Man [record company]… Looking at it I thought, “Christ, what have I done?” What kind of monster has been unleashed here? So I thought, well, another monster is not going to do any harm. I’ll get into that one. At least I don’t have to look at the other one. [David Bowie by Lisa Robinson, June 1978]
QUITTING DRUGS: I just put it down to luck. I persevere quite honestly, and I’ve got a fair amount of discipline that keeps me out of deep water. [David Bowie by Lisa Robinson, June 1978]
RELATIONSHIPS: There were lots of nightly relationships. But the reason you don’t want to make a commitment is not that you’re such a freewheeling, adventurous person, it’s because you’re scared shitless that it will turn out like your mother and father. [David Bowie: Sex is Again the Unmentionable Word, May 1990]
JOINING THE MAINSTREAM: I went mainstream in a major way with the song “Let’s Dance.” I pandered to that in my next few albums, and what I found I had done was put a box around myself. It was very hard for people to see me as anything other than the person in the suit who did “Let’s Dance,” and it was driving me mad—because it took all my passion for experimenting away. [David Bowie, Double Trouble!!, September 1995]
THE ART WORLD: There’s a quality to art at the moment that I can’t come to terms with. It just doesn’t appeal to me. I find it far too comfortable and bourgeois and middle-class. I think it’s generally having a negative effect on David Byrne. He’s probably going through his most uninspired period at the moment. I’m not sure that an art career would have any benefit for me; I’m not sure it’s what I want. I don’t think I want to be a designer-rock artist.
It’s almost a social grace to get into the art world, and I’m very wary of it. Art was good in Berlin in the late ’70s—there was a lot more guts to art when the Neo-Expressionists were starting up; it was real slapdash; it has real heart to it—but it seems so cold and heartless in America. It’s a buyer’s market. [David Bowie: Sex is Again the Unmentionable Word, May 1990]
BOWIE THE EVIL MASTERMIND: Am I Machiavellian? I don’t think I’m quite the mastermind people would have me be. Everything I do tends to be very successful and it may have something to do with the fact that I’m very good, not necessarily that I manipulate. But that doesn’t often occur to people. [David Bowie by Lisa Robinson, June 1978]
BOWIE THE PRIVATE CITIZEN: I tell them to mind their own business. I mean it’s so trite. I will not give in. “Bugger off,” I say. I ask them, “How’s your wife? Are you married? Do you sleep with your wife?” What a bloody nerve…I’d just rather like to mind my own business. I don’t like people probing into my life, so I reveal as little as possible or lie about it as much as need be so as to give them something to write about. [David Bowie by Lisa Robinson, June 1978]
BOWIE THE PARENT: Oh, I have a very strong paternal streak. I’m a born father…I get such enjoyment out of being with children. Now they are enjoyable little things. They really are. I like their kind of humor. You can stuff all your punk bands, give me three children instead. [David Bowie by Lisa Robinson, June 1978]
BOWIE AND HIS PARENTS: I could never, ever talk to my father. I really loved him, but we couldn’t talk about anything together. There was this really British thing that being even remotely emotional was absolutely verboten.
I spent so much time in my bedroom. It really was my entire world. I had books up there, my music up there, my record player. Going from my world upstairs out onto the street, I had to pass through this no-man’s-land of the living room, you know, and out the front hall. [David Bowie: Sex is Again the Unmentionable Word, May 1990]
I WOULD LIKE TO BELIEVE…that people knew what they were fighting for and why they wanted a revolution, and exactly what it was within [society] that they didn’t like. I mean, to put down the aims of a society is to put down a hell of a lot of people and that scares me that there should be such a division where one set of people are saying that another set should be killed. You know you can’t put down anybody. You can just try and understand. The emphasis shouldn’t be on revolution, it should be on communication. Because it’s just going to get more uptight. The more the revolution goes on, and there will be a civil war sooner or later. [David Bowie Tells All and More to Patrick Salvo, March 1973]