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Under The Influence: Ten things I've learned From David Bowie

17/01/2017 11:54

It's now been a year since the tragic death of David Bowie. Outside of my own friends and family, it's still Bowie's death that has affected me the most psychologically. Bowie inspired millions of people in many different ways and here are ten things that I have learned from Bowie and how he influenced my career.

Persevere with your life goals - Most people are aware that it took years for Bowie to have has first hit single ('Space Oddity', 1969), five years after his first single ('Liza Jane', 1964). Even after the success of 'Space Oddity', it took another three years before he had his second hit single ('Starman', 1972) and in the early 1970s there were many who thought he would be a 'one-hit wonder' and a small footnote in music history. Bowie never gave up his quest for musical stardom and he was the personification of perseverance.

Encourage teamwork and collaboration - Despite being a solo artist for the vast majority of his post-1969 career (Tin Machine being the most high-profile notable exception), Bowie was a 'promiscuous collaborator' and much of his success would not have been possible without a gifted team around him whether it be his inner circle of musicians (Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar), his producers (Tony Visconti, Nile Rogers), co-writers and inspirators (Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Eno), or those he jointly released music with (John Lennon, Queen, Arcade Fire, Pet Shop Boys, Placebo, to name just a few).

Experiment to the end - Bowie was never afraid to experiment and try new things whether it was musical, pharmacological, spiritual, or sexual. Mistakes were part of the learning process and he pursued this - especially musically - until the very end of his life (for instance, on his Blackstar album where he employed a local New York jazz combo led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin). Failure is success if we learn from it.

Push yourself (even in the bad times) - One of the things I love about Bowie was his ability to carry on working and being productive even when he was not at his physical best. Nowhere is this more exemplified than working on the Blackstar LP while undergoing chemotherapy for his liver cancer. There are also other times in his life such as when he was at the height of his cocaine addiction in 1975 where he produced some of the best music of his career (most notably the Young Americans and Station to Station LPs).

Have a Protestant work ethic - Bowie was arguably one of the most hard-working musicians of all time and had what can only be described as a Protestant work ethic from the early 1960s right up until his heart attack in 2004. I am a great believer in the philosophy that "you get out what you put in" and Bowie exemplified this.

Lead by example but acknowledge your influences - Bowie had a unique gift in being able to borrow from his own heroes but turn it into something of his own (without ever forgetting his own heroes and influences - his Pin Ups LP probably being the best example of this).

Promote yourself - If there is one thing that Bowie was gifted in as much as his songwriting, it was his own art of self-promotion. Bowie always had the knack to generate news stories about himself and his work without seemingly trying. By the end of his career, it was the act of not saying anything or doing any personal publicity that was just as newsworthy. Bowie intuitively knew how to garner media publicity on his own terms in a way that very few others can.

Be opportunistic and flexible - As a voracious reader of all things Bowie since my early teens, I always loved Bowie's sense of adventure and just following paths because they might lead you to something unexpected. Whether it was his use of the 'cut up' technique for writing lyrics (developed by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs), his use of Brian Eno's 'oblique strategy' cards, or his love of studio improvisation (such as on the Berlin trilogy albums and the Outside LP), Bowie showed that inspiration for his musical and lyrical ideas could come from anywhere - from a person, from a fleeting observation, from something he read, from something he heard or saw in film or TV programme, and from his own life experiences.

Be a mentor to others - Whatever career path you follow, mentors are key in developing talent and Bowie was a mentor to many people that he personally worked with as well as being an inspirational influence to those he never met (including myself).

Learn from those younger and less experienced than yourself - Paradoxically, despite being an influence on millions of people across many walks of life, Bowie was never afraid to learn from those much younger than himself and exemplified the maxim that you're never too old to learn new things. He loved innovation and ideas and would soak it up from whoever was around him.

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