David Bowie’s struggles

Tonight is the second last night of a David Bowie Theatrical Tribute Show I’ve been doing with my band Robot Child at Gasworks in Port Melbourne, called ‘Changes’. It’s been been so much fun to perform such an incredibly good (and diverse) catalogue of songs and it’s been really well received by audiences. Conceiving and realising the show in only a couple of months though was, at times, painfully challenging and what I’m starting to realise is that this might just the cost of being truly creative – like David Bowie. Here’s a piece I wrote for the show’s program:

‘You just sit at your typewriter until little drops of blood appear on your forehead’. Sports writer Red Smith on creative process.

From a distance, David Bowie’s incredible career seemed effortless. One brilliant success followed by a stunning reinvention and then… more success. But when you look closer, it was punctuated by struggle, doubt and failure. This has come as some comfort to me in helping create Changes – a theatrical tribute to the music of David Bowie.

$140M in album sales aside, Bowie endured the same suffering we all do. Every writer, every painter, every designer, every creator. When Mott The Hoople rejected his song Drive In Saturday, Bowie was so annoyed he went to his hotel room and shaved his eyebrows off. One night he had a lengthy chat to Lou Reed… only to later discover it was not, in fact, Lou Reed. He battled drugs and then there was a 10 year hiatus.

Bowie’s hardships should provide a some level of validation and relief to anyone who regularly shares part of themselves in the name of art whilst simultaneously living with the fear that it might be worthless. It’s not easy… even for one of the greatest contemporary artists of our time.

Talent shows try and tell a different story. They are the snake oil salesmen of the creative world. They tell young artists they just ‘have it’, they have the ‘x factor’ but it’s a mirage (unless performing show tunes at Westfield Doncaster fulfils you as a person). Making great art isn’t genetic whether you’re a young David Bowie or an ageing Andy Warhol. It involves suffering and sacrifice.

And the bad news is – there’s really no cure. Even success doesn’t shield you from artistic struggle. It just creates new problems for you to deal with. Bowie’s success with Ziggy Stardust came with added expectation about what was to follow. Fans and Record labels wanted more Ziggy and were annoyed when he went in different directions.

We chose the name ‘Changes’ for our show not as a specific reference to the chameleon- like quality of Bowie but more broadly as a reference to the challenges artists have to adapt to. How do you cope with failure? How do you maintain relationships when you you have thousands of fans? Where do you find inspiration?

And it’s the struggles of many artists that have informed the creation of the main character in ‘Changes’. Visual artists like Jean Michel Basquiat whose battle to be recognised as an artist in his own right, not just a black artist was never ending. Like Bowie, he also struggled with fame and having his work ‘hyped to death’.

Yes, I’ve had my own struggles putting this show together with Kendall Rundle over the last couple of months but they’re trivial next to the man whose music is being pilfered here. Bowie endured for 40 years to provide us with the most incredibly bizarre, diverse and inspiring bunch of songs to celebrate in ‘Changes’. The show is not a close examination of Bowie’s life, it’s a celebration of his music. Sure, I’ll take a pat on the back for my part in it but Bowie is the real hero.

Why do you love about David Bowie? Leave a comment below…

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