Life Lessons From The Legendary David Bowie
“I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, fuck that. I want to be a superhuman.”
Superhuman David Bowie – the rebel rebel who pushed the edges of the norm in the arts and in his life – sadly passed away yesterday at age 69 after a very private, 18-month battle with cancer. Light years away from being ‘puny’, tributes across social media flowed:
— Madonna (@Madonna) January 11, 2016
MESSAGE FROM IGGY: “David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is. – Iggy Pop” — Iggy Pop (@IggyPop) January 11, 2016
Without a doubt, Bowie was one of the most influential singers, songwriters, and musicians in history, but beyond that, he was rock’s first self-conscious artist. Everything he did was art, including his contribution to fashion, culture, our thinking on sexuality and to the music industry.
As the world mourns the passing of the man who instructed us to “Put on [our] red shoes and dance the blues,” it’s a time for reflection. The original pop chameleon reinvented himself more times than any other artist throughout the creation of his 26 albums. He was born as Davy Jones in South London, England, but it wasn’t long before he changed his last name to Bowie, setting in place the first of many identity transformations.
From Ziggy Stardust, to the Thin White Duke to Major Tom, Goblin King, Aladdin Sane and more, Bowie’s gift was his ingenious ability to shape shift and immerse into his newfound change, taking his audience along for the ride. He told Rolling Stone in 1971, “My performances have got to be theatrical experiences for me as well as for the audience. I don’t want to climb out of my fantasies in order to go up onstage — I want to take them on stage with me.”
And when the time came, Bowie faced his death through his art. In an interview with Playboy in 1976, Bowie said: “I’ve now decided that my death should be very precious. I really want to use it. I’d like my death to be as interesting as my life has been and will be.” True to his word, the song Lazarus was released on Bowie’s 69th birthday – just two days before his death – which opens with the lyrics: “Look up here, I’m in Heaven!”
Producer Tony Visconti, who worked with Bowie to complete his final album Black Star, said it was deliberately created and timed as a parting gift for his fans. “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way,” Said Tony. “His death was no different from his life – a work of art.”
To pay our respects to the legend, we look at six lessons we can learn from Bowie on life, attitude and success.
#1 Embrace change
On stage at Madison Square Gardens in 1997, Bowie declared: “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” Roll with the punches and whatever you do, don’t live a mediocre life. Live a life that challenges you to constantly enquire and evolve and to grow into your full potential.
#2 Forget pleasing others
Your work is your own and for that reason, you have every right to be selfish about it. Bowie said: “All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it.” So let go of the need to please others and create your art purely because you want to and for your enjoyment.
#3 Innovate, don’t imitate
Bowie never imitated. He only innovated. He was the master of reinvention, introducing the world to his sci-fi, lycra-wearing alter ego Ziggy Stardust, or Aladdin Sane and his colourful lightning bolt. Consider how you can be an innovator in your own life. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but how can you do things differently? “I find only freedom in the realms of eccentricity,” Bowie says. Try it sometime.
#4 Experiment and be curious
Bowie was never about pleasing or appeasing the mainstream. He was a true trailblazer and disrupted the norm as often as he could. His androgynous appearance during the 1970s and 1980 kept his audience questioning his sexuality and got people talking. Keep people intrigued and start a conversation that dismantles the idea of ‘normal’.
Bowie made music but he saw his purpose as much larger than the songs he was putting out into the world: “As an artist it wasn’t always just about expressing my work; I really wanted, more than anything else, to contribute in some way to the culture I was living in.” Think of your work or your art as a contribution to society. Be true to yourself, but think in terms of impact and influence.
#6 Live in the now
In a 2004 interview with Esquire, Bowie instructed, “Make the best of every moment. We’re not evolving. We’re not going anywhere.” Being present and seizing opportunity, not waiting for ‘one day’, can be the difference between mediocrity and true inspired living.
Thank you, Bowie, for showing us the way.