I Never Saw David Bowie Play Live

And I’ve never owned a David Bowie tee-shirt.  Or any Bowie merchandise other than his albums. But like tens of millions around the world, who are today mourning the loss of one of music’s best loved, most diverse, and most influential artists, I sure as hell have long been a fan.

Oddly enough, I had in mind to buy Bowie’s new and final album Blackstar over the weekend. I didn’t get a chance to do it and was as stunned as everyone else to wake this morning to headlines reporting the artist’s passing.  No doubt plenty will be written by better critics than I about the new album and the entire Bowie oeuvre in the days to come.  But by way of continuing the theme from the post I wrote about recorded music being the most valuable, can anyone really imagine the world of recorded music without David Bowie?

Neither can I. And that’s why I will continue to argue that today’s digital-media cheerleaders who claim to be copyright critics are fundamentally cultural cynics.  They tell us that the next David Bowie no longer needs a copyright in his own work because technology has enabled the artist to bypass traditional investment models. But the fact is that neither the people who say this—nor most of us fans for that matter—have a clue how one produces the sounds of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, and so on.

These same cynics say “the world doesn’t owe the artist a career,” which is both true and entirely beside the point.  I mean does anyone, who is today sharing his or her personal Bowie moments on social media begrudge the man so much as a dime’s worth of his success?  Whatever his net worth was as of this morning, it’s meager compensation relative to the tens of billions of emotional impressions he gave to the world.  Laurent Rejtö, co-founder of the Woodstock Film Festival, wrote on his Facebook wall this morning, “He made me a better person through his art and by proving, as he did throughout his life, that you don’t have to be a cog in the machine.”  How much is that worth exactly?

The truly galling irony, of course, is that this particular talking point—that we should presume to reevaluate in the digital market what the artist “deserves”—has been injected into the public consciousness specifically by tech billionaires, who actually do believe we are all cogs in their machine.  This is probably the most offensive theme in what many so generously call the “copyright debate”. The truth is so much of the chatter isn’t a debate at all, really; it’s just a collective heavy sigh, patiently tolerating a lot of silly ideas.

After all, we’d have Internet search with or without Google’s more unsavory practices; and we may all get bored one day and abandon Facebook and Twitter; and we’ll have music streaming one way or another; but can you actually imagine having lived the past 30-40 years of your life without your personal soundtrack including songs by David Bowie?  Neither can I.

Rest in peace, Ziggy.

© 2016, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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6 comments

  • Beautiful, David.

    This is the standout for me: “The truly galling irony, of course, is that this particular talking point—that we should presume to reevaluate in the digital market what the artist “deserves”—has been injected into the public consciousness specifically by tech billionaires, who actually do believe we are all cogs in their machine.” Yep. And they are pretty upfront about it, in my view.

  • Of course techdirt is using the fact that US terrestrial radio can’t do an all-Bowie tribute (due to an obscure law) as an anti-copyright cudgel.

    bowie also talked about “music like water,” which is used by free advocates who ignore that for most of the world clean water costs money. But I have reason to believe that Bowie was not the anti-copyright zealot people think. For one thing, he loved reading, and he understood the importance of writers.

    • That’s SOP for Techdirt. In 2002, Bowie predicted the end of copyright by 2012–he was wrong of course–in a somewhat matter of fact fashion, not championing that change, merely predicting it. He also used his licenses in creative ways, created bonds to buy shares in his master recordings. He was far from an anti-copyright zealot.

    • Robbing the dead seems to be just about Masnick’s style.

  • “can anyone really imagine the world of recorded music without David Bowie?”

    “Live performances are great. Even in a small venue where the acoustics suck and the beer is warm, watching performers play favorite songs among an audience of other fans is almost always exciting. But, by and large, this is not how we form personal relationships with music. We form relationships with songs because they are recorded, because they are portable and are, therefore, with us in our day-to-day lives. This is how certain songs become the soundtrack to our most visceral experiences, both good and bad.” http://illusionofmore.com/recorded-music-most-valuable/

    Thank-you David for these affirmations about the powerful, ever lasting connections one makes through recorded music. In the fifty years I’ve been going to concerts I’ve rarely seen a well known band not struggle with introducing their new music to an audience. People go to hear bands for the music they already know and love, the music they’ve been listening to, in some instances for decades.

    This is how they actively participate with the performer, they know the songs. Not just the music, but what those songs actually mean and mean to them. Rarely, when a band is introducing new material does it generate the kind of enthusiasm and connection that they do from the songs their fans already know and love.

    It is no surprise that Bowie’s last recording is being snapped up at a record pace while his other recordings are being played and streamed by hundreds of thousands if not millions of fans globally. Apparently, Bowie spent the past year working on this farewell gift, something that is happening less and less when artists record today.

    And as David points out so eloquently, this is the heart of the matter for those of us who fight for a music business that rewards artists fairly for great work. We fight for greatness, realizing that artists who don’t make money from their recordings will invest less of their time and energy in making them. And no one will disagree that great live performances are built on songs.

    And it the recordings that keep those performances vibrant and alive long the show is over.

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