Bowie Gave Us Permission

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I promise it won’t be boring.”
-David Bowie
Photo of David BOWIE
David Bowie live at Hammersmith Odeon on Ziggy Stardust tour.
I am not a Bowie scholar or hardcore music fan, but it would be hard to overstate Bowie’s impact on me.
In some ways, every artistic expression I’ve had the courage to express has been on his shoulders, in his shadow, recycling his paint, borrowing pages from his playbook.

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My introduction to Bowie was during his middle new wave and pop acts. When Music Videos were becoming as much a part of rock as the music.
Honestly, his Let’s Dance, China Girl, & Jazzin’ for Blue Jean were not my cup of tea. But he was ever present as I grew up with a 80’s MTV soundtrack for my youth.
My love for David Bowie has always been for him as an artist, more than as a musician.
Because as I got into college, I discovered Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane and a body of work that was so much more than music.
LONG before I knew what Burning Man was, David Bowie taught me what “Radical Self Expression” was.
He was gay. He was bi. He was married to Iman. He dressed like a man, like a woman, like an alien. He was whatever the fuck he wanted to be. “Fuck you, labels, I’ve got a creative vision to listen to!”
And when a creative well ran dry, he abandoned it and followed his muse. I can’t imagine the massive shitstorm he had to deal with every time he reinvented himself. What a powerful commitment to his truth.
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When I discovered the internet, I was transformed by the realization that we could all broadcast our stories to the world. What Bowie showed me, and the world, was that you could create a fantastical, mythical story and share THAT.
Even more revolutionary — he showed that you could create a new story & vision if you tired of the old one.
I had studied Picasso and was so inspired by how he followed his inspiration into different visual phases. Through realism, cubism, his blue phase, etc.
But Bowie did this with life, itself.
What a powerful demonstration of non-linear living. I had always been taught to pursue a ladder-climbing process of building upon the past. But rather than build a cohesive sound and brand over the years, Bowie listened to his truth. He followed a path of INTEGRITY to his true expression.
Sometimes that lead him into places that were not as commercially loved.
But, damn, what a rare and beautiful role model for life that is.
I remember seeing him on TV playing with NiN when he was almost 50. My dad’s age. And I was floored. This was no respectful collaboration with an aging rocker, this was a raging, peel-the-paint, thunderfest of guitars and anger.
Holy shit. That obliterated even the most optimistic rock star story arch I’ve ever seen. He was already a massive star, nothing to prove. But he added fuel to his other-worldly fire, going supernova and scorching the earth, yet again.
Every artist faces the voice at one time or another that says, “Your best is behind you. Your well is dry.” Bowie’s life is a slap in the face and a reminder that you may just need to dig elsewhere, Idiot.
My personal life of transformations online…
From cockybastard.com to lifestudent.com
From pornographer to preacher
From narcissist to philanthropist
From artist to executive and back…
It has all been under the dream of being a “Lifestyle Artist.”
And it was a job description I learned from David Bowie.
I’ve made some courageous choices in my life, but none would be possible without the example of Bowie.
I often explain one of the gifts of Burning Man is that when surrounded by people with such extreme examples of human expression that you will NEVER be the weirdest guy around. And that awareness is FAR more liberating than you can imagine.
Our culture tends to destroy the flowers that grow too high or too colorful,
So when you have examples like Bowie to raise the bar — to push the high water mark of the tide — it eases the burden on millions of other weirdos.
David Bowie, by shining his differentness so brightly, gave a North Star that helped many of us navigate out of the pressures of the status quo.
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And to release his final album just days before his death is the perfect final verse to his life’s sonnet. Not so much a mic drop, but a perfectly choreographed last note to echo through us as the curtain drops and our eyes adjust to a world without his shining light.
David Bowie has always been a constellation for me to look toward and orient to.
Now his body has joined his spirit.
“The stars look very different today.”
-John Halcyon Styn 01.11.16

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