I first discovered David Bowie as a young teenager during his Serious Moonlight tour of New Zealand back in the early 80s. He had gone to visit a Marae and meet with local Maori representatives in Porirua – just north of Wellington, where he was set to play a few days later at Athletic Park. In my local newspaper, the Kapiti Observer, there was photograph of the Thin White Duke, slight of frame, bleached hair, sitting with a tartan blanket on his lap amongst the kaumatua (elders of the tribe) and smiling.
When I heard the news of his passing today, this photo was the first thing that came to mind. It had such an impact on me at the time that I snuck under the fence at Athletic Park (those were the days) to watch his concert. It blew my mind and started my journey of exploration of Bowie’s music.
Bowie was a true creative pioneer. It’s a terribly overused phrase these days, but one that genuinely applies to him. He created, recreated then recreated, again and again. Each time the world of music, fashion or culture caught up with him, like the mythical shapeshifter, he’d change again. Where would the androgyny of Glam, the hope of the Romantics or the brash and bold colours of 1980s suits be without Bowie’s relentless ability to be brave and bold and push the boundaries of creativity in music and fashion?
He didn’t get it all right creatively or commercially – no one ever does – and everyone has a view on the parts of his career that didn’t quite work. But, that’s the essence of the creative genius, the innovator and the entrepreneur – the process of experimentation, exploration and discovery – is where it’s really at. In many instances, the results are just a by-product of this process. But man, he created some amazing by-products!
His latest album, ‘Blackstar’, was released last week and demonstrated that his desire and drive for creativity had still not dimmed. Unlike many of his fellow luminaries, he still wanted to challenge musical concepts and structures, pushing limits and testing the interaction his music had with the listener.
Some may have had a more dramatic effect on music overall, but I doubt any musician has had such a dramatic and continuous effect on popular culture in so many ways – from fashion to conceptual design, music to art, sexuality to the business of music. A walk around his eponymous exhibition at the V&A museum here in London a couple of years ago was testament to exactly that. It was a phenomenal snapshot of a critical period in music’s interaction with fashion and art. And Bowie led the way.
In our justifiable love of his music, I hope we never forget his even bigger contribution to cultural creativity. As a creative director and a musician myself, I have nothing but admiration for Bowie: He was an absolute creative powerhouse and we’ll not see his like again.
I’m reminded of one of his famous quotes: “I don’t know where I’m going. But I promise it won’t be boring.”
Wherever he is now, I bet it’s not…