As a member of one of the most pioneering psychedelic groups of the 1960s and ’70s, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason knows a thing or two about what makes a great rockstar. Indeed, his own band was initially fronted by the charismatic Syd Barett, who has since come to encapsulate the figure of the talented and ultimately doomed rock musician. During a conversation with the BBC, Mason was asked to name his ultimate “Rock God”.
What makes the perfect rockstar? Charisma is surely a big part of it. Then there’s talent; that’s obviously essential. Stage presence too. And maybe a good taste in clothes. David Bowie had all of these things by the bucketload, but he was unique in that he was never the same rockstar twice. He seemed to view the rockstar as an embodiment of artifice; a theatrical trope that could be reimagined countless times over and never get stale.
Bowie was a big fan of Pink Floyd. As you would expect of an ambitious young musician performing around the London circuit, he caught wind of the group early on and was bowled over by their then-frontman Syd Barrett. Describing Bowie’s talent, Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason said: “I think David is worthy of being the Rock God, because he managed to over so many years to become so many different Rock Gods. It’s that ability to move forward all the time and be one sort of God and then another sort of God.”
He added: “But not only being a Rock God but actually archive his own collection. So that future generations can see what he did and more or less how he did it. I went to see him play live in Canada, must have been something about 87, I think. It was just such a fantastic show. I didn’t really know him until I met up with him afterwards. He just had that charisma ability to sort of look you in the eye and to make you feel that his attention was entirely with you rather than glancing over to your shoulder to see if someone else was there.”
I think it’s fair to say that most people would agree with that sentiment. Bowie’s continual evolution has been praised to the point of cliche. But that doesn’t make his reinventions any less interesting. In moving from one persona to the next, he came to embody a period of intense creative energy, an era of progress and innovation in which the future was a fun and exciting place to be. In this way, Bowie was the most optimistic rock star the UK ever created. No wonder his fame is yet to dwindle. If there’s one thing we need right now, it’s optimism.