“Ideas arrive at such a speed, it’s like watching a fast-motion film of a flower blossom.”
This is Brian Eno describing what it was like to work with David Bowie. Creativity was a never-ending torrent. The search for inspiration was a constant. There was and is too much going on in Bowie’s world to view it through a jaded eye.
Eno’s words are recalled by Mark Ellen, one of a cast of hundreds of first-hand accounts of encounters great and small with the Thin White Duke in Dylan Jones’ meticulously assembled book David Bowie: A Life. Through compiling others’ words and impressions, Jones builds a complex and vivid portrait of Bowie.*
The most interesting parts of the book for me are those dealing with how Bowie channelled his inspirations into music, into art.
If it sounds good on this
I have always believed that if you want to create anything, the only important thing is the idea. You do not need any fancy, costly or specialist equipment to capture inspiration. The best ideas are those which flourish on their own. No matter how crummy the medium. David Bowie, it would seem, felt the same way. I actually exclaimed a loud “YES!” of agreement when I read the following words from keyboard maestro Rick Wakeman:
“He asked me to sit down, took out this battered old 12-string guitar and said ‘I want you to listen to these songs.’ And then he played ’Life on Mars?’ and it was fantastic. It ticked every box. When I asked him why he was playing his songs on a tatty old 12-string guitar, he said, ‘If it sounds good on this, think about what it will sound like with good musicians on good instruments.’ He said too many people fool themselves by playing on great instruments, but it’s actually the great sound that they’re listening to. He also said that if a song works on a piano, it will work on anything.”
A vampire, but a good vampire
David Bowie’s endless quest for inspiration in the new is inspirational to me (even if his sometimes shameful magpie methods could be questionable).
Bowie had a limitless appetite for ideas, thoughts, experiences and influences. Ideas could be ruthlessly reappropriated. The people who dreamt up the original ideas could be ruthlessly let go as Bowie’s insatiable need for the new drove him on to the next thing.
Curiously, most of those treated this way (at least those whose voices are quoted in Jones’ book) are philosophical about Bowie losing their number when he felt he’d done with them. Former Iggy, Velvets and MC5 manager Danny Fields says:
“David was a vampire, but a good vampire, he did something good with the blood. He shared the nutrients.”
This impression of Bowie as a benevolent vampire (when it comes to ideas and inspiration) is beautifully conveyed by director Floria Sigsmondi, recalling their collaboration on his The Next Day video:
“I went into his trailer in between shots and his hands were busy working away on something as we talked. He handed it to me. It was a little origami bird. A symbolic gesture, I thought. He devoured art around him, he devoured literature and ideas. He’d seen and done it all, but was able to remain open to see something new and beautiful in it. He was never jaded.”
Recognise that the idea itself is what is important, not the medium. Always do something good with the blood. Remain open to the new and beautiful around you.
Never be jaded.