The Tao of Starman: David Bowie in His Own Words, Throughout the Golden Years

Photo: Terry O'Neill/Getty Images

David Bowie did hundreds of television, magazine, and newspaper interviews during his half-century career — from a stunning 1972 Melody Maker interview in which he proclaimed he was gay, and a legendary 1974 Dick Cavett Show interview where his cocaine abuse and exhaustion were evident, to a candid 1976 Cameron Crowe interview for Playboy, and on through a funny, revealing 2002 GQ cover story.

Although Bowie didn't always seem terribly pleased while doing an interview, and hadn't given one in more than a decade before his death, there's enough wit, wisdom, and advice present in what he left behind to last us a lifetime. In his early days, his willingness to give an inflammatory quote about anything controversial turned him into a celebrated misfit philosopher, a beacon for the disenfranchised. But as time went on, Bowie often seemed uncomfortable discussing some of his earlier exploits, and deflected questions with genteel humor and self-deprecation.  

Although modest about his own accomplishments (because he disliked looking backward), Bowie was incredibly self-aware, which led to eloquent soundbites that spoke to what it meant to be an artist and to live a creative life. Above all, he was ferociously smart and curious, which kept interviewers on their toes and made conversations feel more like provocations than anything. He left us with a guidebook on how to live life on our own terms, a master at embracing the cutting-edge while never losing sight of the present moment.

Here are the must-read dispatches from Ziggy’s home planet.


"In answer to your questions, my real name is David Jones and I don't have to tell you why I changed it. 'Nobody's going to make a monkey out of you' said my manager." —response to a fan letter, 1967

"I find that I'm a person that can take on the guises of different people that I meet. I can switch accents in seconds of meeting somebody—I can adopt their accent. I've always found that I collect. I'm a collector. And I've always just seemed to collect personalities, ideas." —London Weekend Television Program, 1973

"Ziggy was a very strong character and I'm not sure I've lost him. I quite like the way I look at the moment so I don't intend to change it. My only reason for changing appearance is because I get bored and in my book being bored is the biggest sin!" —Mirabelle, 1974

"My strength has always been that I never gave a shit about what people thought of what I was doing. I'd be prepared to completely change from album to album and ostracize everybody that may have been pulled in to the last album. That didn't ever bother me one iota." —Q, 1989


"I'm gay, and always have been, even when I was David Jones." —Melody Maker, 1972

"Someone asked me in an interview once–I believe it was in ’71 — if I were gay. I said, 'No, I’m bisexual.' The guy, a writer for one of the English trades, had no idea what the term meant. So I explained it to him. It was all printed — and that’s where it started. It’s so nostalgic now, isn’t it? Seventy-one was a good American year. Sex was still shocking. Everybody wanted to see the freak. But they were so ignorant about what I was doing. There was very little talk of bisexuality or gay power before I came along. Unwittingly, I really brought that whole thing over. I never, ever saw the word gay when I first got over here to America. It took a bit of exposure and a few heavy rumors about me before the gays said, ‘We disown David Bowie.’ And they did. Of course. They knew that I wasn’t what they were fighting for. Nobody understood the European way of dressing and adopting the asexual, androgynous everyman pose. People all went screaming, 'He’s got make-up on and he’s wearing stuff that looks like dresses!'" —Playboy, 1976

"The biggest mistake I ever made was telling that Melody Maker writer that I was bisexual. Christ, I was so young then. I was experimenting ..." —Rolling Stone, 1983

[in response to a question as to why he said he was gay] “I found I was able to get a lot of tension off my shoulders by almost ‘outing’ myself in the press in that way, in very early circumstances. So I wasn’t going to get people crawling out the woodwork saying [seedy, muckraking voice]: ‘I’ll tell you something about David Bowie that you don’t know …’ I wasn’t going to have any of that. I knew that at some point I was going to have to say something about my life. The quote has taken on far more in retrospect than actually it was at the time. I’m quite proud that I did it. On the other hand I didn’t want to carry a banner for any group of people, and I was as worried about that as the aftermath. Being approached by organizations. I didn’t want that. I didn’t feel like part of a group. I didn’t like that aspect of it: this is going to start overshadowing my writing and everything else that I do. But there you go.” —MOJO, 2002

"I was incredibly promiscuous. [Laughs.] And I think we'll leave it at that." —Friday Night With Ross and Bowie, 2002


"I'm an instant star. Just add water and stir." —Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies, 2003

"I've always believed that thing that if you want to be known and want to be seen you go out clubbing a lot with some bird on your arm so that you get cameras and you do things to attract attention to yourself. I mean, the most I get when I'm going out is, 'Oh, hello David, I didn't expect to see you here.'" —i-D, 1987

"Fame itself, of course, doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant." —Performing Songwriter, 2003


"I believe in an energy form. I wouldn't like to put a name to it." —London Weekend Television Program, 1973

"What I do is I write mainly about very personal and rather lonely feelings, and I explore them in a different way each time. You know, what I do is not terribly intellectual. I'm a pop singer for Christ's sake." —GQ, 2002

“The lesson that I’ve probably learnt more than anything else is that my fulfillment comes from that kind of spiritual investigation. And that doesn’t mean I want to find a religion to latch on to. It means trying to find the inner-life of the things that interest me — whether it’s how a painting works, or exactly why I enjoy going for a sail on a lake — even though I can’t swim more than 15 strokes." —The Telegraph, 1996


"I know this is very cliché, but I feel that now that I'm thirty-six years old, and I've got a certain position, I want to start utilizing that position to the benefit of my ... brotherhood and sisterhood. I've found it's very easy to be successful in other terms, but I think you can't keep on being an artist without actually saying anything more than, 'Well, this is an interesting way of looking at things.' There is also a right way of looking at things: there's a lot of injustice. So let's, you know, say something about it. However naff it comes off." —Rolling Stone, 1983

"It occurred to me, having watched MTV over the last few months — it's a solid enterprise, it's got a lot going for it. I'm just floored by the fact that there's so few black artists featured on it. Why is that?" —MTV interview, 1983


"I did [acid] three times. It was very colorful, but I thought my own imagination was already richer. Naturally. And more meaningful to me. Acid only gives people a link with their own imagery. I already had it. It was nothing new to me. It just sort of made a lot of fancy colors. Flashy lights and things. 'Oh, look. I see God in the window.' So what? I never needed acid to make music, either.” —Playboy, 1976

"The only kinds of drugs I use, though, are ones that keep me working for longer periods of time. I haven’t gotten involved in anything heavy since ’68. I had a silly flirtation with smack then, but it was only for the mystery and enigma of trying it. I never really enjoyed it at all. I like fast drugs." —Playboy, 1976

"Incredible losses of memory. Whole chunks of my life. I can't remember, for instance, any — any — of 1975. Not one minute!" —Rolling Stone, 1983


"Something we really got into on the late-'70s albums was what you could do with a drum kit. The heartbeat of popular music was something we really messed about with." —interview with Brian Eno, 1995

"The history of any art form is actually dictated by other artists and who they are influenced by, not by critics. So for me, my vanity is far more interested in what my contemporaries and peers have to say about my work. A lot of it just comes from pure pleasure, you know?" —interview with Brian Eno, 1995

"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." —USA Today, 1990

"I'm terribly intuitive — I always thought I was intellectual about what I do, but I've come to the realization that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing half the time, that the majority of the stuff that I do is totally intuitive, totally about where I am physically and mentally at any moment in time and I have a far harder time than anybody else explaining it and analyzing it. That's the territory of the artist anyway: to be quite at sea with what he does, and working toward not being intuitive about it and being far more methodical and academic about it." —NME, 1984


"I wish myself to be a prop, if anything, for my songs. I want to be the vehicle for my songs. I would like to color the material with as much visual expression as is necessary for that song." —NME, 1972

"I was never very hot on sophisticated taste when it got too sophisticated. I didn't mind a sense of elegance and style, but I liked it when things were a bit off — a bit sort of fish-and-chips shop." —Rolling Stone, 1987


"Every time I make an album, I tend to take the road to commercial suicide because I actually revolt against the last album I made, especially if it's been successful. I think it's to keep me in sort of desperate straits, because if I get too comfortable, I write really badly — I write terrible songs." —Record Collector, 1993

"I don’t think I ever resolve anything on my work. There are inevitably a series of questions in as much as anything else. And they try and capture an atmosphere that I’m living through to a certain extent." —Alternative Press, 2001

"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." —USA Today, 1995


"I don’t think I ever felt that life was very long. It was certainly no surprise to me that I got old. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I was always terribly aware of its finiteness, and I always believed that if we only have this one life, then let’s experiment with it." —The Telegraph, 1996

"I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring." —onstage at his 50th birthday party, 1997