Like many, I woke up Monday morning to discover David Bowie had died following an 18-month private battle with cancer, or as some folks in my Twitter feed hoped, he had simply gone back to his home planet.
The loss of this charismatic rock legend shook the world, inspiring many to share our favorite moments of his illustrious career.
My earliest memories of Bowie are my mom playing his 1983 hit “Let’s Dance” and dancing around our living room together, watching Labyrinth countless times, and having either one of my parents turn the volume up whenever “Golden Years” or “Changes” came on the car radio. My mom would tell me about his Ziggy Stardust character from the 70s and I would think, “Whoa … this guy is so weird … and so cool.”
Yep, just what me and countless others of all ages thought.
Bowie was a chameleon. He pulled on new identities — new skins — and wore them about, making something amazing while in them, then shedding them for the next. He was more than Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane or Jareth the Goblin King, he was the King of Reinvention and Innovation, and he did it with class and style.
Born David Jones, he changed his name in 1966 at age 19 after Davy Jones achieved fame, concerned at possibly being confused with the wholesome, young-faced Monkee. At 19 I was preoccupied with who knows what, but I doubt it was taking the first steps of building a personal brand.
Not David Bowie. He knew he needed — and wanted — to set himself a part. David Bowie was always unapologetically Bowie.
Over the next 40-plus years, that’s exactly what he did, spanning the divides of sexuality, gender, musical styles, film, characters … he did it all, and he did it because that’s who he was. No one questioned what he did … we all knew it was Bowie creating new art.
We could all stand to learn a thing or two from The Thin White Duke, as marketers, as dreamers, as humans.
On his 50th birthday at Madison Square Garden, David Bowie said:
I don’t know where I’m going from here but I promise it won’t be boring.
And in an interview with “60 Minutes” in 2002, he shared:
I’m just an individual who doesn’t feel I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I’m working for me.
Take his words to heart, marketers. Be bold. Reinvent. Don’t be afraid to take risks, create something strange and beautiful.
Know who you are, and if you don’t, stop and figure it out. It might take a while, and that’s okay. Bowie spent time in his early career grinding through things, figuring out the industry, music and himself.
Many consider his persona Ziggy Stardust as the start of his success, and if that’s the case, he had been performing almost 10 years prior with extremely limited success.
But that never stopped him.
He went on to reinvent himself, time and time again. He didn’t get comfortable in any one aspect of his fame, and he didn’t make the same kind of music over the course of his career; instead he pioneered glam rock, introduced fans to Philadelphia soul, German electronica and more. Reinvention and innovation.
David Bowie took risks and believed in what he did, and in doing so, he leaves a world full of art, as well as a dedicated fan base of strange and beautiful people.
Marketers: Find yourselves, then find yourselves again. Shake things up. Be weird. Be genuine. Believe in what you’re doing, put yourself into it, and delight people who go from being strangers to being your customers, then finally declaring themselves your most loyal fans.
Find your inner Ziggy Stardust and shine on.
Note: My local independent radio station, WXPN, dedicated their airwaves to Bowie on Monday. My earbuds were in the entire time I wrote this post, bopping along to “Jean Genie” and “Rebel Rebel,” and trying to keep from actually singing aloud and disturbing the rest of the people in the editorial bullpen. Then again, who knows … maybe they would have joined along.