How David Bowie helped James Murphy reform LCD Soundsystem
David Bowie always had his finger on the pulse right until the very end. Bowie was a real one-off who never took his foot off the pedal in his own career and, on top of that, the Thin White Duke was unapologetically obsessed with music outside of his own story too. Throughout his plethora of different personas and musical stylings over the years, music was the one commonality that lasted throughout his life. He recognised its brilliance in modern work.
Bowie built up a friendship with James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem, who would go on to play the drums on Blackstar, the singer’s final LP. However, his role on the record was supposed to be more than that, and legendary producer Tony Visconti had asked him if he wanted to co-produce the record with him. While producing for Bowie would be at the top of almost every artist on the planet’s bucket list, the pressure was too much for Murphy, and he chose to take more of a back seat on the Starman’s final album.
Elaborating on why this challenge didn’t feel right, Murphy told Annie Mac in 2017: “I played a little percussion. I was supposed to do a lot more, but I got overwhelmed … It takes a different kind of person than me to walk into that room and be like, I belong here, I should definitely insert myself in this relationship because they just can’t manage to make a record without me.”
Blackstar is as close to a faultless record as possible, and Murphy was probably right to trust his gut on this one. Still, even though he didn’t end up with production credits on the record, a straightforward piece of advice would make him do something he’d been wrestling with doing for years — reuniting LCD Soundsystem. The Brooklyn band played their farewell show at Madison Square Garden in 2011, and Murphy planned for the group to stay in history, but, had started to get the urge to bring the group back and after speaking with Bowie, he was determined to do so.
“I spent a good amount of time with David Bowie, and I was talking about getting the band back together,” Murphy told Lauren Laverne on 6 Music. “He said ‘does it make you uncomfortable?’ I said ‘yeah’, and he said ‘good, it should, you should be uncomfortable’.
“The first thing that popped into my head was ‘what do you know? You don’t know what it’s like to be uncomfortable’. I was imagining that if I was David Bowie, I’d just be walking around flipping everybody off – unless maybe Lou Reed is there. There are literally one or two people where nothing can be said about them. But that’s not who he was ever in his life, he was always making himself uncomfortable. There was such a great feeling of ‘you just don’t know what you are to anybody else’.”
Just six days before Bowie’s death and four days before the release of Blackstar, Murphy announced that it was official and LCD Soundsystem were active once again.
The Starman’s words of wisdom about not living unless you feel uncomfortable is pertinent, behind all the facade and showmanship Bowie was just David Jones. He unquestionably felt nerves just like anybody else. Still, the only difference was he didn’t let them get the better of him and instead, he used their electricity to power his own surge to the top.