David Bowie had already become an immovable fixture in the musical establishment when the punk movement arrived towards the end of the 1970s. He was the kind of artist that bands like The Sex Pistols were trying to destroy, and Bowie had nothing but admiration for their untamed antics.
Bowie himself was an innovator, a creator who didn’t follow the trends and blueprints that artists are expected to stick to religiously. While he didn’t sound like a punk musician, Bowie had an attitude that would have served him well among the angsty scene. He was proud to be different and shake the system to its very core, even if The Starman did go about his business in his uniquely magnetic way.
On reflection, it would have been easy for Bowie to muster feelings of discontent from his Ivory Tower at the punk scene, sneering at them because they didn’t have an angelic voice like his own. However, Bowie recognised that every so often, there needs to be a movement that comes along and ruffle some feathers.
“I really feel like Iggy had an awful lot to do with it,” he told Let’s Talk in 1980. “The whole look of his band, the whole feeling of what they were saying. The way they were throwing abuse out. They didn’t tolerate anybody. They didn’t want to be liked. They didn’t want to be hated. They had the same energy as the whole punk movement first had in the middle to late ’70s.”
Iggy was one of Bowie’s closest allies, however, that doesn’t dilute his point. The Stooges were an integral ingredient to help make punk possible. Iggy’s visceral energy set a new benchmark, one which only punk groups had the ferocity to match.
“It was a vital necessity at the time,” Bowie added in regards to the advent of punk. “Everything again was becoming complacent. Everybody was saying such and such. ‘This is how it goes’, and we’ve all got our future’s planned’. It was getting too technical again. Everybody wanted to be great guitarists, or at that time, synthesiser players.”
“Then these ragged arse little street muffins came along,” Bowie said in a way only he could. “With instruments, they’d either stolen, or got on hire purchase and saying, ‘We want to be superstars, and we want to sing about the conditions we know about. We can’t afford to go to rock concerts to see bands or things. So we’ll just sing about the neighbours, girls, the things we do or we don’t want to do, and the places we don’t want to go.”
Even though he wasn’t in England when punk briefly took over, when Bowie returned, he could feel the scene’s impact by the state they’d left it in after its destructive reign of terror. Artists could no longer be vanilla or settle for mediocrity. They had to be bold, otherwise, they wouldn’t survive. Music will always need disrupters, as one himself, Bowie only had love in his heart for punk.