“Sometimes I’m so happy I depress people.” – David Bowie
When Johan Renck was directing David Bowie’s last music video, ‘Lazarus’, he was eager to contact the star just prior to its release. “On the Friday, I sent him an email to say, ‘Happy Birthday and happy day of birth for your new album’ and he never replied. Then on the Saturday I sent him something else, I had another little note, I can’t remember what it was,” Renck recalled on the Adam Buxton Podcast. “Then on the Sunday I remember being a little grumpy that he hadn’t answered my emails which was a very strange thing because when I got woken with the news on Monday I thought, ‘What a f—king c—t I am for feeling butt-hurt that he’s not answering my emails when he is lying dead surrounded by his family’.”
The prescient point from Renck, however, is that right up until the very end of his life, Bowie remained creatively engaged. Only a few days before the release of the ‘Lazarus’ video, in the final weeks of his life when he was ravaged by illness, Bowie was enthusiastically greenlighting a last-minute change to the aspect ratio of the video. He approached the project with the same joie de vivre that made all of his work soar to such an unwavering extent that Renck had no idea how truly ill Bowie had become, even though ‘The Starman’ had told him that his condition was fatal.
This final chapter, it would seem, was indicative of how Bowie lived his whole life. Lord knows, it wasn’t a perfectly saintly existence and for many years he was plagued by problems, but while he was quick to assert, “I don’t seriously think I could offer anybody else any advice at all,” it would also seem that he boldly juiced life down to the pith and extolled a bounty of wisdom along the way that we can all heed in some way. As he once said, “I’m easy going about death—it’ll happen when it happens.” And what a journey it would prove along the way! Below we have collated the best of those nuggets as Bowie’s rules for living well.
David Bowie’s rules for living well:
On always staying curious…
You don’t craft the sort of wild creative oeuvre that Bowie swirled into existence without a strong streak of curiosity in your composition. He was daringly fuelled to make continuous bold steps, not just to push boundaries but to see what was there on the other side. However, this doesn’t just pertain to a performative side of his life and his rather more everyday quotes on the matter provide something that we should all be keen to keep in mind.
“The lesson I’ve probably learnt more than anything else,” Bowie opined, “is that my fulfilment comes from that kind of spiritual investigation… trying to find the inner-life of the things that interest me – whether it is how a painting works or exactly why I enjoy going for a sail on a lake even though I can’t swim more than 15 strokes.”
What’s more, Bowie was not merely mindful about the things that made him tick and sustaining them or moving on should their appeal diminish, if he had an itch, he was always sure to scratch it. “I’m determined that if I want to paint, do installations or design costumes, I’ll do it,” he once said. “If I want to write about something, I’ll write about it.”
On smelling the roses…
Bowie was always a man with a keen eye for literature, and despite the rather more bombastic elements of rock ‘n’ roll ways, if there is one thing a humble book imparts it is that life is full of simple pleasures. Just as the writer Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: “Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realise they were the big things.”
Although Bowie may well have hurtled through early adulthood the hard way, when he arrived at the other side, this notion was one that he was keen to adopt. As he said himself in 1996, “I really do feel an overwhelming thankfulness that I can get out of bed every day; that I still have all my faculties, and that nowadays my appetites seem to be sane ones. That’s enough.”
On staying free…
David Bowie relished the whims of life. When he first achieved some semblance of fame with Ziggy Stardust, he quickly killed him off without knowing what was next. This daring sense of not being tethered to safety is one that formed a central tenet to life and work—a tenet which he defined when he famously announced: “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”
However, he was even mindful of the flipside of this, offering up the following advice: “The reason you don’t want to make a commitment is not that you’re such a freewheeling, adventurous person, it’s because you’re scared shitless that it will turn out like your mother and father.” While there is more than a touch of humour to this, his lesson in short was to take life as it comes and have faith in your own decisions no matter how vague or concrete they may be.
Lastly, that touch of humour that he always exhibited it is well worth noting too. As he proudly proclaimed: “Life? I love life very much, indeed.”