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Jack White on the creative genius of David Bowie


Bowie’s legacy speaks for itself. Since his passing in 2016, the pioneering glam star has seemingly only grown more iconic, his image more ubiquitous, his philosophical meanderings on art and life more sought-after. It’s a testament to his accomplishments in life that, so many years later, he still has as much – if not more – appeal and relevance as he did when he released Blackstar.

The same year that the jazz-infused LP was released, Bowie fulfilled another adolescent ambition: to write a musical. In hindsight, we should have known that the end wasn’t far off. Lazarus, a musical inspired by Walter Tevis’s 1963 novel The Man Who Fell to Earth, was an act of closure, a way for Bowie to tie up the loose ends of his remarkable life. For Jack White, only a man as talented as Bowie could have made their last year on planet earth a work of art in itself.

The former White Stripes frontman saw Bowie as an essential influence, an individual with an in-depth understanding of his own creativity. Opening up about the musicians a few days ago, White described him as “somebody who found himself, and once he found himself there was no stopping him”. In White’s eyes, Bowie’s talent lay not only in his musical ability but in his bravery, his openness to experimentation.

“If it starts to feel safe, if it starts to feel successful, that’s the scary moment where, if you’re feeling satisfied, where you really need to shake things up; at least I do, and I definitely see artists like Bowie do that as well,” White continued. “He invented a lot of that for artists who came after him, pushing into different personas and different alter egos, different characters. That bought a lot of art to performance and to stage shows and to records that didn’t exist before.”

Bowie’s enduring relevance is largely due to his belief in the sanctity of artistic self-governance. “Never work for other people,” he said in the late 1980s. “Always remember that the reason you started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt, if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you co-exist with the rest of society. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfil other people’s expectations.

“The other thing I would say is that if you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel your feet quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting”.

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♬ Changes (2015 Remaster) – David Bowie