Top tips for creativity, from the legendary David Bowie

The occasional epiphany helps. But don't ignore mundane devices like juxtapositions and, um, stealing. Biggest revelation in rare interview: The Starman fears spaceships.
Written by Mark Halper, Contributor
Bowie on his Heathen tour in 2002, when despondent words wrote themselves.

The legendary British musician David Bowie is about to release his first album in over a decade. He has been writing, performing and producing for more than 40 years, and is probably best known for his late 1960s and 70s Space Oddity and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Word is that he won't be doing any interviews for the forthcoming The Next Day, due Monday in the U.K. So the BBC has dipped into its radio archives and aired a 2002 discussion in which the then 55-year-old New York/London resident revealed what gets him putting pen to paper, and what has kept him doing it over the decades.

SmartPlanet readers like to know how creativity works - and how it can apply not only to pure expression but also to the world of business. You seem to take an interest in what management consultants have to say about it. So I thought you might also want to hear it from a prize horse's mouth.

You can listen to an 8-minute segment here, which begins about 9 minutes into the program called Front Row. You should be able to find the full interview on the Front Row website.

To paraphrase what the rocker originally known as David Robert Jones has to say: The occasional epiphany helps and so does despondency, but don't ignore more mundane devices, like juxtapositions and, ahem, stealing.

Craftsman. Bowie in his Rebel Rebel video in 1974.

Bowie describes three separate writing processes that he "seems" to use:

"I've got a narrative, literary oriented kind of an album, which is very much about crafted songs. There's something which is more experimental which is more interested in playing around with hybridization or juxtapositions ... And there are other things which definitely are written for the stage, more kind of theatrical things, where the motivation and the momentum for the thing comes from what I'm seeing in my mind for the stage itself."

So that's the technique - which as Bowie tells interviewer John Martin, "really depends on the project at hand." But what about the inspiration?

"It's all despondency, despair, fear, isolation, abandonment," says Bowie.

(To put a business application on that for you captains of capitalism: Those forces exist in any market, or potential market. They are opportunities - if not for songs, for products! For services! Get creative).

At the time of the interview, Bowie was despondent over the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He was also frustrated with "day to day life" and with growing older - not with age itself, but with the inevitability of death and "the lack of years left."

With creative catalysts like that, sometimes you can throw out your style guide. Writing can just happen, as it did with Bowie's last album, Heathen in 2002.

Bowie recalls how early one morning:

"The words starting appearing out of nowhere. I just couldn't control them. And I realized what it was about. And I was in tears by the end of the thing. It was a traumatic moment for me. Possibly it was an epiphany. I don't know. I'll have to go a look at epiphany in the dictionary and see if it was an epiphany."

Behind every great man. Maybe marrying two professional models helps the creative process. Above, Bowie with his second wife, Iman.

Why so traumatic? Because as Bowie explains, his unstoppable lyrics were about, "A man confronting the realization that life is a finite thing, and that he can already feel it, life itself, actually 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."

Fortunately for Bowie, who is now 66, he often has more control over his writing pencil. For instance, sometimes he finds "inspiration" from other musical artists.

You mean you occasionally steal ideas, interviewer Martin asks.

"No, not me guv," quips Bowie. "I'm as clean as the driven snow."

But perhaps the biggest revelation of the interview: The Starman is afraid of spaceships. All of that outer space stuff from his classic records metaphorically reflected his inner space, he explains.

"I wouldn't dream of getting in a spaceship," says Bowie. "It would scare the shit out of me. I have absolutely no interest or ambition to go into space whatsoever. I'm scared of going down to the end of the garden."

It doesn't matter where you feel safe David. Keep cranking. Hopefully the end ain't nigh.

Photos: Heathen from Adam Bielawski; Rebel Rebel from Beeld En Geluid; Bowie and Iman from David Shankbone. All via Wikimedia.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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