David Bowie in his own words: What he told about religion, music and his disdain of fame

by 24USATVJan. 8, 2021, 4 p.m. 20
-

David Bowie, born Jan. 8, 1947, was a transformative figure who remained constant in his dedication to exploring and defining new forms of expression.

With '70s albums such as "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars", "Diamond Dogs" and "Heroes," he realized rock 'n' roll's breadth and elasticity. The singer/songwriter was reborn yet again in the 1980s, when he collaborated with Nile Rodgers on "Let's Dance," an album that reaffirmed Bowie's penchant for funk and his pop savvy.

On his birthday in 2016, just days before he died of cancer at 69, Bowie released "Blackstar," an adventurous, jazz-informed album.

Unlike many of the myriad performers he influenced — Madonna, Lady Gaga and Trent Reznor among them — Bowie remained an elusive figure, as private in personal matters as he was charismatic as an entertainer. By turns androgynous and dapper, rugged and ethereal, he kept admirers guessing in a way that would be unimaginable for an icon coming up in the age of social media.

When he did speak out, it was because he had something to say. In honor of Bowie, pop music's most enduring chameleon, we're looking back at excerpts from his interviews with USA TODAY:

On comparing himself to his favorite novelists: "Some straight prose writers just put me on the floor. They make me think we are so useless in rock 'n' roll. We just seem dwarfed, you know?"

On lacking an instinctive affinity for songwriting: "If I had a talent, it was for looking askew at everything, possibly more than my contemporaries. But I had to really push myself to be a writer."

On performing: "I was never a natural entertainer, and I've never really enjoyed it very much. I don't crave applause. I'm not one of those guys who comes alive on stage. I'm much more alive at home, I think."

On his creative legacy: "I feel so knocked out that something I've done has permeated these little seeds I've unwittingly planted. … In the back of my mind, I think there was always a sense of, 'There — follow that.' "

On aging: “Everything I read about hitting a midlife crisis was true. I had such a struggle letting go of youthful things and learning how to exist and have enthusiasm while settling into the comfort of an older age. It was an awful period. ... Now I'm comfortable with my age and what I've achieved."

On the evolution of dance music: “Dance music is no longer a simple Donna Summer beat. It's become a whole language that I find fascinating and exciting. Eventually, it will lose the dance tag and join the fore of rock."

On his fascination with extraterrestrials: “An armchair Jungian would say the whole thing is about my own ongoing spiritual search. My interior life has always been one of trying to find a spiritual link, maybe because I'm from a family of separate religious philosophies: Protestant and Catholic. As a kid, I wondered where I fit in. Do I actually even believe in Christianity? It was sometimes traumatic, but now I don't mind the hunt. I know that I won't find the answer, and that's all right. The search for certainty is definitely a road to insanity.”

On religion: “I feel more drawn to agnosticism or Buddhism (than Christianity). I'm probably an agnostic troubadour. It's in everything I write. … We are so suspicious of organized religion, both the morality of it and the question of whether the medieval hierarchy of the church actually functions in this era. It's been suggested by various philosophers that the passionate thing to do is to kill God and reinvent him. Maybe we're in the process of doing that.”

On the future: “People feel they have to fend for themselves far more than they ever used to. (They) worry more about how to get through the week than what they will do in five or six years. That's not a bad thing. Let's get today right before we start casting out ridiculous expectations about the future."

On Nirvana’s cover of "Man Who Sold the World": "I thought it was extremely heartfelt. … Until this point, it hadn't occurred to me that I was part of America's musical landscape. I always felt my weight in Europe, but not here. It's lovely."

On eschewing road-tested favorites on his Sound + Vision tour: "I prefer a magnificent disaster to a mediocre. I cannot with any real integrity perform songs I've done for 25 years. I don't need the money. What I need is to feel that I am not letting myself down as an artist and that I still have something to contribute. It just doesn't work for me to go on being Major Tom. I don't want to end up in Las Vegas."

On darker themes in art: "Popular culture has always addressed our fears and anxieties. I understand why there is so-called gratuitous sex and violence in art. ... It's psychologically important to society to have Shakespearean darkness expressed and those gladiatorial things played out."

On approaching 50: "I cannot express to younger people how great it is to be this age. I, like them, would never have believed it. It's like describing the taste of a peach. They'll find out when they get here."

On being a fortysomething rocker: “I could make a new album, pad out the show with big hits and do that interminably until I'm wheeled out on stage. So it might not be a bad idea to call it a day on this selection of songs. It can be awfully treacly to keep looking over one's shoulder."

On his love for underground music: "When I was a kid, I was first on my block with the newest record, and I'd promptly drop it like a hotcake if someone else started liking it too. I still like music, art and literature that touches areas of your unconscious that are not normally provoked."

On his stalled acting career: "You have to show some commitment, and I'm not good at wining and dining the right people or studying acting or showing much interest. It's unutterably boring."

On his preference for living all over the globe: "I'm really never happier than when I'm somewhere I totally misunderstand and I have no idea what's going on."

On why he swore off drugs in the ‘80s: "To stay alive, as mundane a reason as that. I wasn't getting any joy out of my life, so I changed it. … I was destroying myself very rapidly."

On his disdain for fame: “I don't see anything glorious about fame. Anyone who strives for it must be out of their gourd."

-

Related Articles

HOT TRENDS

Why 'One Night in Miami' ends with Sam Cooke singing on TV

by 24USATVJan. 16, 2021, 7 a.m.2
HOT TRENDS

WR Josh Gordon suspended indefinitely again

by 24USATVJan. 16, 2021, 6 a.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Thomas loses Ralph Lauren as sponsor after slur

by 24USATVJan. 16, 2021, 5 a.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Yale celebrates legacy and impact of Martin Luther King Jr.

by 24USATVJan. 16, 2021, 4 a.m.2
HOT TRENDS

End of Merkel era begins as German CDU picks new party leader

by 24USATVJan. 16, 2021, 3 a.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Yankees, DJ LeMahieu Nearing Agreement

by 24USATVJan. 16, 2021, 3 a.m.2
HOT TRENDS

In The Marksman, Liam Neeson Idles in Place

by 24USATVJan. 16, 2021, 1 a.m.2
HOT TRENDS

University events will commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.

by 24USATVJan. 16, 2021, 1 a.m.2
HOT TRENDS

‘Outside the Wire’ Review: At War With the Robots

by 24USATVJan. 16, 2021, midnight2
HOT TRENDS

NRA seeks bankruptcy protection, plans move from New York to Texas

by 24USATVJan. 16, 2021, midnight2
HOT TRENDS

Dustin Higgs, Poughkeepsie native, may become 13th Trump execution

by 24USATVJan. 15, 2021, 11 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Sylvain Sylvain, New York Dolls Guitarist, Dies At 69

by 24USATVJan. 15, 2021, 11 p.m.2