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Carl Barât on how David Bowie inspired The Libertines

Creative chameleon David Bowie requires little introduction as a performing artist. His career in music is among the most distinguished of all time thanks to his relentless creativity and ability to sense an idea becoming boring and make a dramatic shift in style. He was, of course, famed for his periodical alter-ego changes over time from the glam-rock space-alien Ziggy Stardust to the suave, fascist cocaine enthusiast The Thin White Duke. This career so beautifully punctuated into chapters of extremely disparate creative ideas allowed Bowie the scope to influence just about anybody. To this day, it is rare to find someone who doesn’t enjoy the music from at least one of Bowie’s incarnations and more often than not, I find people embracing Bowie as a whole, attracted to the charming and elusive oddball. 

With such a far-reaching creative pool, Bowie has had an incalculably vast impact on not only music but popular culture too over the past six decades. It is indeed difficult to find modern artists who wouldn’t be able to link their sound to one of Bowie’s creative periods whether they like it or not. One such artist who has commented on his admiration for Bowie and his music is Carl Barât of The Libertines

Barât spoke of his fondness for not just the music of Bowie, but for his self-confidence and individuality in terms of fashion. In a 2017 interview, he spoke alongside Vampire Weekend’s Rostam and Goldie at an event held in honour of Bowie: “I loved Bowie, Bowie had balls. I used to be terrified of wearing leather jackets and having long hair back in the ’90s, for fear of getting a kick in. But Bowie would walk around London looking like a mental patient,” he said.

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Barât continued: “He wasn’t hard looking either and he brazenly crossed the lines of gender, at a time when he really did risk a kick in for doing so, and he aced it, kick in free – a true hero and leader figure for all of us drop-outs and misfits, to follow. David Bowie had been an integral part of my life in many ways. I’ve known his music and engaged with it on a personal level, ever since I can remember, as far back as being a toddler, in fact.”

Later in the conversation, Barât mentioned the importance of ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ from Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory on his career with The Libertines. While the song is in many ways, far removed from the indie-rock sound of The Libertine’s music, it is clear that the song had importance to Barât. The sentiment that Bowie carried in this track as well as a handful of others from this era, was one promoting the societal changes stirring among the baby boomer generation at the time. This sentiment appeared to have given Barât the confidence he would take with him into his own successful career some thirty years later.

Barât’s appreciation for Bowie’s work didn’t stop here, he continued to describe his love for the post-Berlin era of 1980 which was marked by the release of his 14th studio album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps): “I have hazy memories of long car journeys, strapped in the child’s seat, my sister and I listening to my parent’s mixtapes, when we’d brace ourselves waiting for ‘Scary Monsters’ to come on, upon which we’d be thrilled and terrified in equal manner.”

With the six-year anniversary of Bowie’s passing this month, it is important to remember the music he created over his career, but also to appreciate the profound impact he has had on musicians since the dawn of his fame. With Bowie’s influence still very much alive in our music today, I find comfort in knowing our star man isn’t completely lost to time. 

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