David Bowie was an artist in every sense of the word. An ephemeral, futuristic musician, in life he was acutely aware of the effective relationship between the audio and the visual. Bowie’s career was made up of multiple chapters featuring drugs, numerous wardrobe changes, the odd Deed Poll request and many globe-trotting adventures. He was never one to stick around with a character or style of music for more than he deemed necessary, which was typically a year or two.
Bowie gave us the characters of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack, The Thin White Duke, Major Tom, all across what was roughly a ten year period. This shows just how prolific of an artist Bowie was, embodying the trope that a true artist is never satisfied with success, always looking into the future, following the allure of that orgastic green light.
Throughout his long, winding, yet illustrious career, Bowie inspired so many people. Likened to a living art installation by Human League founder Martyn Ware, Bowie toed the line between pretence and art to an expert degree. Without a doubt, a lot of his work was purely for aesthetic value or artistic clout, and in the early years, Bowie understood the mystique that was afforded to rockstars and capitalised upon this with his ever-changing state of being, creating an allure that fed into his artistry, and more importantly, record sales.
What was always clear about Bowie, particularly when paying attention to his output, was that he was an intricate patchwork of different influences. His work involved glam, hard rock, jazz, neoclassical, pop, electronica; you name it Bowie tried his hand at it. Musically, the early iteration of The Starman was influenced by everyone from Syd Barrett, Anthony Newley and the Velvet Underground to Kraftwerk.
No wonder his unique style was so colourful and eclectic. It is a testament to the late genius that he inspired the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Heidi Slimane and Lady Gaga. Known to pinch his ideas from everywhere, Bowie was the magpie of music. Taking the sparkly bits from far and wide, he created an opulent nest all of his own.
However, in 1974 he revealed the person, or should we say persons, to whom he owed his multifaceted style, on both the literal and musical levels. This wasn’t a painter, musician or designer, rather, his audience.
In a now-iconic 1974 interview on The Dick Cavett Show, Bowie explained all. He told the titular presenter that he was “influenced by the people coming to see me”. The singer then went on to use his prop du jour, the cane, as an example. “I saw a person with a cane once, of course. But then somebody started bringing them to the gigs, and I really liked them, so I started using one. It wasn’t me. It was them.”
Bowie then proceeded on to tell Cavett how his projects were also inspired by the extensive travel he did. Mentioning his fear of flying and travels on the Trans-Siberian express, and throughout the world, Bowie painted the picture of himself as somewhat of a modern Hemingway. Ever the surprising character, Bowie shocked the audience members with his revelations.
However, there is something significant in the fact that Bowie was inspired by his audiences and his travels. This inherently fleeting quality lent itself to his artistry, and it coloured all of his work. Constantly on the move, soaking in his surroundings, Bowie was the literal definition of chameleonic.
Watch the iconic interview, below.