David Bowie was a rock star, actor, artist, entrepreneur, father, friend, style icon, creative idol, and one of the world’s most successful musicians. While at his core, he was simply an old-fashioned British singer-songwriter, who loved to tear apart musical and social conventions, he didn’t stop there. We all tend to bring particular traits of our character to the fore, depending on the circumstances or the people in front of us, but Bowie went a step further, and named these personality traits after made-up characters, giving each one distinctive costumes and identities.
Bowie was heavily influenced by psychologist Carl Gustav Jung’s theories on archetypes. In particular, he ‘played’ with gender roles both on and off stage. He wore a dress on the cover of The Man Who Sold The World, his character Ziggy Stardust was openly bisexual, and Bowie had relationships with both women and men in his private life, before falling for and marrying model and cosmetics pioneer, Iman. Thanks to Bowie’s sexual curiosity and experimental attitude towards sex, an entire generation of gay men and women were able to relate to, and identify with, an inspirational public figure.
Bowie was born in Brixton, south London, in 1947, and began his career as a musician in 1963. It wasn’t until 1969, however, that he topped the UK singles charts with Space Oddity. He might have been passed off as a one hit wonder, but the artist burst back onto the scene in 1972, leading the glam rock wave with his alter ego Ziggy Stardust, who revolutionised rock’n’roll theatrics, and then cemented his popularity with an incredible performance of Starman on UK music television programme, Top of the Pops. Even though he had seemingly struck on a winning formula, Bowie killed off his alter-ego, and in a pattern that he would repeat throughout his life, he radically changed direction with the soul album Young Americans. He then turned his sights to film, and played the lead role in the cult film The Man Who Fell to Earth. After writing the album Station to Station in a cocaine-fuelled frenzy of creativity, he moved to Berlin and defied all expectations once again with the minimalist albums, Low and Heroes.
In the late 1970s, Bowie took Broadway by storm with a critically acclaimed performance in The Elephant Man, and scored another hit single, Ashes to Ashes. He reached his commercial peak in 1983 with Let’s Dance, before shunning the pressures of fame and reinventing himself with the band Tin Machine. He continued to metamorphose over the following years, composing the soundtrack for Hanif Kuerishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia, and dabbling with drum ’n’ bass in the high-concept album 1. Outside, as well as proving his status as an actor in various other film roles.
In 2004, he disappeared from the public eye for almost a decade before surprising the world with The Next Day and his critically acclaimed final work, Blackstar. He died of cancer on the 10th of January 2016. We can all aim to learn from David Bowie’s approach both to his work and to his personal life. There is a common misconception that every successful artist or musician is born with an innate quality, an extraordinary talent that they are simply born with, and which sets them apart from everyone else. This is not the case: Bowie was not born predestined to become a successful artist; he learnt and honed certain skills and habits, and so can we.