Editor’s Note: This piece was published last year for David Bowie’s 69th birthday, which was the day before he passed. We’re re-sharing this piece for his 70th birthday because he’s always alive in our hearts.
IT’S NO QUESTION THAT DAVID BOWIE is one of the most legendary artists of our time, and quite possibly, ever. Sure, being awarded a “Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award” is a high honor that will get you remembered, but nothing ensures your immortality like having a new species of Malaysian spider named after you (like the Heteropoda davidbowie).
David Bowie is an artistic hurricane who, after over 40 years of maintaining pop star and cult icon status, has always remained relevant. Today is his 69th birthday and he just dropped another album, “★” (better known as Blackstar), that is already shaking up the music industry. How many other senior citizens are producing albums that the whole world is clamoring for? The man is unstoppable.
Earlier this week I stumbled upon supbowie.com, a site that allows you to compare year-by-year your life to the life of Bowie. It can either motivate you to get out of your comfort zone and make shit happen, or give you an overwhelming sense of “fuck it, I’m already way behind all of my life’s goals”. Every life coach out there would recommend not comparing your life to someone else’s, especially to the life of David Bowie, whose biography is more epic than tales from Greek mythology. But I can’t help but analyze what makes him such a bad ass so that I can apply the same principles to my life.
After clicking through over 60 years of this timeline, here are four lessons I’ve gleaned from David Bowie’s life.
1. Know who you are and always defend that identity.
It’s natural to struggle with the concept of self identity throughout our lives. Even if we do feel like we have a strong sense of self, it can be easily shaken by the criticisms of others. But when someone tries to challenge our true identity, let’s think “what would David Bowie do”.
Before the days of “16 and Pregnant” and “Jersey Shore”, when MTV was actually about music, David Bowie appeared on “MTV Unplugged”, but his segment got cancelled after he refused to play from his old hits. For this kind of opportunity, many musicians would give in to satisfy MTV executives. But it was more important to David Bowie to play from his newly written work, and stay true to his identity, than to comply.
I also find it inspiring that he doesn’t seem to accept labels, even if they are noble ones. In 2003, Queen Elizabeth offered David Bowie knighthood, which he turned down because, according to the Sun “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.”
2. Handle adversity with grace and humor.
Nothing stops the David Bowie freight train. Not even physical punishment. During a show in Oslo, Norway back in 2004, a lollipop thrown from the crowd got lodged into his eye. His response was not one that you would expect from someone who had just been impaled in the eye with candy. He jokingly threatened to punish the crowd by playing extra long on the cold and drizzly outdoor stage. He continued the joke throughout his 27-song set, and even threw one of his guitar picks into the crowd, asking if it had hit someone in the eye. He played for 2 hours and 20 minutes in what Norwegian media still calls one of his best concerts ever.
3. Be open to all new opportunities, and embrace wherever they may take you.
When I am working towards something I often become so focused on my goal that I reject all other possibilities out of fear that it will distract me from what I want to achieve. But David Bowie approaches every opportunity with an open mind, which has led to a career full of a wide variety experiences.
His open mindset has taken him from Broadway, where he did a three-month run in “The Elephant Man”, to movies like “The Prestige” in which he stars as Nikola Tesla (and let’s not forget his dreamy role as “Jareth the Goblin King” from “Labyrinth”). He has even appeared in video games, like “Omikron” for which he not only provided the soundtrack, but also stared as a character in the game. To Bowie, it is not the destination that he gets hung up on. He is present in the journey.
4. Do not just accept change, but be part of the change.
Whenever your parents ask you to fix their computer because they’re “not tech savvy enough” remind them of David Bowie’s role in revolutionizing the Internet. With the tenacity of an explorer on the Lewis and Clark expedition, he charged forth into new technological frontiers. During the rise of the Internet, at age 49, David Bowie released one of the first Internet-only singles, where fans had to use their dial-up Internet connection and 11 minutes of their precious time to download one song. Fascinated by this new technology, he went on to launch “Bowienet”, an internet service provider complete with email accounts, forums, blogs, and chatrooms where he would engage with fans.