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.

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