David Bowie died today and I have a confession to make: he was not my favorite musician. The fact is, I really love about 10 of his songs, but outside of that I don’t know much of his music. Bowie fans look at me the way I look at Dylan fans who love “Like a Rolling Stone” but change the dial on “4th Time Around.”
I grew up on Classic Rock. When I was a teenager I spent summers working for my dad’s glass company. This was in Southern Mississippi where it was 100 degrees every single day. I was a glazer’s assistant, which is a nice way of saying I was a gopher. I would go out on residential and commercial jobs with one of the main glazers, and spend all day running back and forth from the truck to the job site fetching tools and whatnot. The men I worked for were tough as nails. They were also rednecks. I would feel a little bad calling them this if they didn’t so emphatically identify themselves in that manner. DeWayne, Hooks, Buford, Buster, Fritz (real names, I swear) – I spent 40 hours a week with this group. And even though I was the boss’ son, I managed to earn their respect – or at least they hid their contempt well. And what we did all day was ride from job to job, and on those rides we listened to classic rock. I loved it.
To my surprise, they all loved David Bowie. I mean they really loved David Bowie. “Ziggy Stardust” they called him (I didn’t know why). The local Classic Rock station had about 5 Bowie songs on rotation (“Space Oddity”, “Under Pressure” and “Life on Mars” taking up 80% of that) and each time one would come on these men would sing like angels. Now, from what I knew about the crew at work, and what I knew about David Bowie, this love affair made me little sense to me. I would have bet my summer’s wages that had a man who dressed like David Bowie and talked like David Bowie walked into the workers area in the glass shop and started singing like David Bowie, he would have been told in no uncertain terms to take his platform disco shoes and leave. This was not the most tolerant crowd. So why was Bowie able to transcend? Well, talent is an obvious answer. Even the songs of his that I could personally “take or leave” are undoubtedly genius. And songs like “Life on Mars” are just jaw-droppers. But I don’t think that paints the whole picture. To me, the authenticity of the artist is a big factor.
David Bowie was unabashedly who he was. His whole “Stardust-Mars-Rebel-Space-Blackstar” thing wasn’t an act. It was real. Or at least it always appeared to be. And people love real shit. They really do. We live in a world where being true, real, honest, etc. is still hard. When us normal folks are confronted with someone who is just who they are and could care less how we feel about it, we respond. I think that’s why the rednecks at work loved him: he was genuine. He was born in those shoes. He just happened to write songs that broke your heart as well. The commercial artists I know (Web Designers, App Developers, Videographers, Copywriters, etc.) often struggle with authenticity. It’s tough for us to keep our compass true while navigating the world of business. The lesson as I see it is that the truer I am to my vision, the more support I will attract. My hope is that I can take a little bit of that “realness” and apply to my little corner of this star. RIP