The Collected Wisdom of David Bowie


As we wrap up Bowie Week™, we thought we’d do so with a selection of quotes from our hero about the important things in life. As you might expect, someone who’s had such a remarkable career has some rather fascinating things to say about life, love, art and a variety of other topics over the years. We’ve read and listened to a whole bunch of interviews with Bowie and chosen some of the excerpts that most resonated. Gentle readers: the collected wisdom of David Bowie.

Songwriting “I feel that I’ve consistently written about the same subjects for 35… nearly 40 years. There’s really been no room for change with me. It’s all despondency, despair, fear, isolation, abandonment.” [via BBC Online, 2002]

Performance “Should anyone think that [the theatrics] are merely distractions or gimmicks intended to obscure the music’s shortcomings, he mustn’t come to my concerts. He must come on my terms or not at all. My performances have got to be theatrical experiences for me as well as for the audience. I don’t want to climb out of my fantasies in order to go up onstage — I want to take them on stage with me.” [from Rolling Stone, 1971, via Rock’s Back Pages]

Characters and personas “As an adolescent, I was painfully shy, withdrawn. I didn’t really have the nerve to sing my songs onstage and nobody else was doing them. I decided to do them in disguise so that I didn’t have to actually go through the humiliation of going onstage and being myself. I continued designing characters with their own complete personalities and environments. I put them into interviews with me! Rather than be me — which must be incredibly boring to anyone — I’d take Ziggy in, or Aladdin Sane or The Thin White Duke. It was a very strange thing to do.” [from Musician, 1983, via Exploring David Bowie]

Critics “I won’t mention who they are for obvious reasons, but there are two or three critics that I actually take great note of. A couple of times one particular guy has written things, and I’ve definitely taken note and thought, ‘You know, he’s actually hit it right on the head.'” [via GQ, 2002]

Mental illness “Maybe I am insane, too — it runs in my family — but I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, ‘Fuck that. I want to be a superhuman.'” [via Wikiquote]

Family “I’ve always regretted that I never was able to talk openly with my parents, especially with my father. I’ve heard and read so many things about my family that I can no longer believe anything; every relative I question has a completely different story from the last. I seem to have half a dozen family histories.” [via Esquire, 2004]

Drugs “The only kinds of drugs I use are ones that keep me working for longer periods of time. I haven’t gotten involved in anything heavy since ’68. I had a silly flirtation with smack then, but it was only for the mystery and enigma of trying it. I never really enjoyed it at all. I like fast drugs. I’ve said that many times. I hate falling out, where I can’t stand up and stuff. It seems like such a waste of time. I hate downs and slow drugs like grass. I hate sleep. I would much prefer staying up, just working, all the time. It makes me so mad that we can’t do anything about sleep or the common cold.” [from Playboy, 1975, via The Uncool]

Drugs, cont’d “So many people find it fashionable to say you couldn’t write those things if you weren’t on drugs and all that. I just doubt that’s the truth at all, because some of the best things I wrote in [the 1970s were when] I had already cleaned up.” [via ABC, 2004]

Sex “Girls are always presuming that I’ve kept my heterosexual virginity for some reason. So I’ve had all these girls try to get me over to the other side again: ‘C’mon, David, it isn’t all that bad. I’ll show you.’ Or, better yet, ‘We’ll show you.’ I always play dumb. On the other hand — I’m sure you want to know about the other hand as well — when I was 14, sex suddenly became all-important to me. It didn’t really matter who or what it was with, as long as it was a sexual experience. So it was some very pretty boy in class in some school or other that I took home and neatly fucked on my bed upstairs. And that was it. My first thought was, Well, if I ever get sent to prison, I’ll know how to keep happy.” [from Playboy, 1975, via The Uncool]

Relationships “The reason you don’t want to make a commitment is not that you’re such a freewheeling, adventurous person, it’s because you’re scared shitless that it will turn out like your mother and father.” [via Interview, 1990]

Religion “Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. It’s because I’m not quite an atheist and it worries me. There’s that little bit that holds on: ‘Well, I’m almost an atheist. Give me a couple of months.'” [via BeliefNet, 2005]

Religion, cont’d “The humanists’ replacement for religion: work really hard and somehow you’ll either save yourself or you’ll be immortal. Of course, that’s a total joke, and our progress is nothing. There may be progress in technology but there’s no ethical progress whatsoever; we’re still exactly the same immoral bastards that we were 20,000 years ago. You start to feel that maybe there is no pattern there, that it’s just one endless miasmic experience. And that’s when it really gets very serious because then you have to start contemplating that there may be a situation where there is no God, and that for me would be ultimately disheartening.” [via GQ , 2002]

Getting older “As I get older my questions are fewer, but I ask them more. I bark them, rather than ask them… The song ‘Heathen’ is about a man confronting the realization that life is a finite thing and that he can already feel it — life itself — going from him, ebbing out of him. The weakening of age. And I didn’t want to write that. I didn’t want to know that I do feel that. Who does? … You must realize, though, ageing doesn’t faze me at all. It’s the death part that’s really a drag.” [via BBC Online, 2002]

Fame “Fame itself… doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant.” [via Performing Songwriter, 2003]

Life “Make the best of every moment. We’re not evolving. We’re not going anywhere.” [via Esquire, 2004]

In celebration of David Bowie’s first album in a decade, The Next Day – and, you know, because we really love him and will seize any excuse to write about him — we have officially declared David Bowie Week at Flavorwire. Click here to follow our week-long coverage of rock legend, from his new release to a legacy that now spans nearly half a century.