David Bowie on the two musicians who gave “intelligence” to music

More territory has been explored by David Bowie than perhaps any other artist in the history of rock music. From his glam rock heyday until his latter days in the free jazz scene, Bowie was always experimenting with the standard rock song structure, frequently leading them to unexpected places nobody else had noticed. This was evident in his work on albums like Blackstar. Bowie may have been determined to write original rock songs for the general public, but two musicians influenced his rock & roll structure.

It’s difficult to even identify the original source of Bowie’s inspiration while going over his whole record. While groups like Let’s Dance and Young Americans frequently flaunted their influences, songs from albums like Station to Station and Low essentially created whole new genres by taking the essence of rock & roll and twisting it in new directions.

Bowie was by no means the first to question what many considered to be standard rock tunes, even though it went against the grain. Bob Dylan was the rock and roll genre’s resident poet during the British Invasion, writing songs that were notorious for criticizing the establishment. With albums like Blonde on Blonde showcasing the more bizarre aspects of rock as the 1960s went on, Dylan was not hesitant to push the music into daring new ways.

Inspired by the music, Lou Reed, a teenage poet from New York, found inspiration in it as well. His work with The Velvet Underground would go on to become one of the most important sounds of the era after the fact, with many calling them one of the founding fathers of subsequent gritty genres like punk rock. Reed became a major character in the art rock scene in “The Big Apple.”

When considering Dylan and Reed collectively, Bowie believed that both musicians changed the perception of classic rock music held by most people, stating, “It was Bob Dylan who brought a new kind of intelligence to pop songwriting, but then it was Lou [Reed] who had taken it even further and into the avant-garde.”

Even though Bowie was aware of the daring steps each musician made to succeed in their own industries, his music was able to combine the two genres into one cohesive whole. Bowie was writing with the same authority as Dylan on albums like The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory, but with the same gritty style that sprang from The Velvet Underground.

“The Starman” would even go so far as to credit both musicians in the song lyrics. Songs like “Song For Dylan” and “Queen Bitch” are subtly salutatory to the musicians who shaped Bowie’s early career, as Hunky Dory is filled with songs about his numerous inspirations.

However, Bowie later dabbled in a variety of genres, including pop, rock, soul, and drum and bass, depending on his mood. He wasn’t planning to perform in the same way for the rest of his life. The most crucial lesson Bowie took up from his heroes was to always pursue your passion, whether it be for music or anything else.


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