On his 69th birthday, David Bowie released the album Blackstar. In Will Hodgkinson’s review in The Times, he wrote of the single ‘Lazarus’: ‘it’s one of those emotionally direct but lyrically confusing pieces that Bowie does so well.’
Bowie’s songs are indeed characterised by lyrics that are often as mysterious as the man himself, who communicated with the world largely through albums rather than tours and interviews.
A week later though, the lyrics of the song made more sense when Bowie passed away after an 18-month battle with cancer. Rather than being another chapter in the creative output of a man who shook up perceptions of everything from pop to sexuality, it was his parting gift.
So in the aftermath of Bowie’s passing, what lessons can we learn from the man who made so many waves in the music, fashion and entertainment world? We take a look at how David Bowie’s creativity and risk taking can teach us how to be bold thinkers.
Know your worth
Despite The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars being a huge success, Bowie fell short of receiving huge financial benefits as most of the earnings went to record companies and middle men.
To regain financial control of his music, Bowie needed a new way to reap the rewards of his creativity. In the late 90s, with the help of investment banker David Pullman, Bowie became the first musician to secure royalties from his catalogue of music.
The concept of ‘Bowie Bonds’ was born and became a pioneering first for the music industry. The model was eventually emulated by other entertainers including James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Rod Stewart. Read more about Bowie Bonds.
Be an innovator
Bowie was a trailblazer in the world of music and fashion, but he was also ahead of the curve when it came to the use of technology. He used the buzz of 90s internet culture to enhance his career, starting his own internet service provider ‘Bowie Net’ in 1998 providing exclusive content and a unique BowieNet email address changing the way his fans could interact with his brand and his music.
Be a bold thinker with a conscience
In 1983, Bowie featured two unknown Indigenous performers, Terry Roberts and Jolene King in his clip for ‘Let’s Dance.’
The clip shows Roberts and King enacting confronting, symbolic scenes: scrubbing a road, and pulling heavy machinery through a busy street. In the early 80s, such comment about Australia’s Indigenous people was incredibly rare.
Bowie rarely shied away from tough conversations about race, and he told Rolling Stone that the film clip had a very simple message: ‘it’s wrong to be racist!’ Bowie used his ability to speak to the world in order to say something important.
Face the change
From a young Davie Jones to Ziggy Stardust to the Goblin King, Bowie’s continuous ability to be a chameleon of entertainment kept him fresh, relevant and never boring. He took risks in music, entertainment and fashion and his fans responded giving him a career that spanned over 50 years.
Bowie didn’t just stick to one medium when it came to his career, he was adaptable and said ‘yes’ to projects outside of being a rock star. Bowie was a successful actor and he became an 80s movie icon with his acting role in Labyrinth. He used fashion to make a statement on the stage and was always ahead of the curve when it came to entertainment.
Don’t be scared to fail in order to find out who you are
It wasn’t all stardust, sequins and success for Bowie – there were times when he could have given up on his career and he admitted that he didn’t know if he was Max Miller or Elvis Presley. His 1967 debut solo album, David Bowie, and its singles were a commercial flop and cost him his record contract with Deram Records.
On top of that, thanks to a number of unsuccessful business investments, it’s said that Bowie was close to bankruptcy when he launched into his Diamond Dogs tour in 1974. Despite all of this he kept on creating and working, and became one of the most original and successful artists of all time.
Do what you love
Rick Wakeman recalls Bowie’s advice to him:
My best advice really came from David Bowie… he just said to me ‘you’ve got to be your own man… if you don’t believe in it, how do you expect anyone else to? Just always go with your heart, with what you want to do.’
The phrase ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,’ is often misattributed, but no matter who said it, David Bowie lived it. He taught us to always be ourselves, follow our gut, keep an open mind and have a solid balance between creativity and business savvy. The world will miss him.
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Image: David Bowie in Washington DC 1974, by Hunter Desportes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)