Learning From Bowie

Travis Richardson_5x7_300dpi (1) by Travis Richardson

Sadly, we all know about David Bowie’s surprise death. The youthful man of 69 never seemed to age as he had an almost unquenchable “Lust for Life,” drinking in as much as he could. I can’t say anything more enlightening than other people have said over the past week, but I want to look at a few of his qualities and see how we can use them for writing or other art.

Restless innovations

I remember hearing a Bowie interview on Fresh Air years ago. When Terry Gross asked him questions about the Ziggy Stardust, he mentioned that was part of his life for about 18 months. His career encompassed so much more. Between 1969 and 1980 Bowie put out 13 albums. That is an a mind boggling number. He wasn’t just a vocalist, but he played guitar, piano, saxophone, just to name a few instruments. Not only did he change his hair, but he also changed his music style and personas. As writers, being restless and reaching outside of our comfort zone can lead to exciting innovations.  


This image is taken from fastcocreate.com



Inspired by others, but he did not imitate

Bowie was a big Bob Dylan fan. Yet his music would never be confused with that folk hero or the Greenwich Village music scene. He started as an aspiring folk singer with his given name David Jones. He changed his surname to Bowie (based on Jim Bowie and his knife) so he would not be confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees. Like Dylan, he produced a lot of music, but he made it own. As writers we should be reading constantly, understanding what other writers are doing, but write in our own voice. 

Generosity and kindness:

There are many stories of Bowie’s kindness and generosity. From saving Iggy Pop, to reviving Mott The Hopple‘s career, to helping out an obscure Maine band. I have a single degree of separation from Bowie. Years ago I worked for director Uli Edel, editing together a video from dozens of home movies for his stepson’s Bar Mitzvah.  I also recorded the event and after party too. Uli’s first film was Chistiane F. I asked him how he was able to get Bowie music and concert footage. He said he wanted to use the song “Heroes” for a scene (below), so he and his producer wrote to him. Bowie asked to see a cut of the film. He not only let them use the song, but he filmed a concert for them.  Bowie’s participation no doubt helped propel the film to international status.

It’s good help others, especially new writers who need advice or help.



Bowie worked with several stars including Tina Turner, John Lennon, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury, and Annie Lennox. He also had many friends in the entertainment industry. As a crime writer, I am in organizations such as Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. I also try to attend crime writing conferences every year. Try to find your writing community and get to know fellow writers, it will make a difference. 

Money, Art and Perseverance:

According to celebritynetworth.com, Bowie’s net worth is valued at $230 million. The point being that he made art and money. He endured some lean years, especially in the beginning when several singles flopped, but he stuck with his pursuit of music and it paid off. That is he made money loving what he was doing. Writing is a tough gig and making a living from it is harder than ever before, but it is not impossible. 


There are more inspirations we can pull from Bowie’s life, but I’ve ran out of time. You can find a writing spreadsheet and project tracker  on my website if you’d like to make writing goals this the new year.


Travis Richardson has been a finalist for the Macavity short story award in 2014 and 2015 as well as the Anthony short story award in 2014. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in crime fiction publications such as Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, Jewish Noir, and All Due Respect. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter Ransom Notes, reviews Anton Chekhov short stories at  http://www.chekhovshorts.com,
and sometimes shoots a short movie. His novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record.  www.tsrichardson.com 

I have two stories come out this year so far. “Being Fred” in Thuglit Issue 21 and “Tim’s Mommy Lied” in Shotgun Honey.

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20 thoughts on “Learning From Bowie

  1. Bowie was a class act and a force of one. While not a huge fan of his music, I was always a fan of the man. You are correct, there is so much to be learned from the life of others. We don’t live long enough to learn everything by experience. It is wonderful to learn from some of the best. Althought the Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet almost didn’t happen, it is one of my favorite collaborations of all time. We’ve lost a great source of inspiration, but his legacy…
    Thank you for a thoughtful and influencful post. Doris


  2. I was a huge Bowie fan growing up and his death deeply saddened me. His Glass Spider tour was my first “big” concert experience at Dodger Stadium. I remember being awestruck by the elaborate costumes and sets and of course, Bowie himself. I find it shocking that he has never had an album go #1 in the US until now. Someone said something interesting when he passed. They said it feels odd that he is dead because Bowie never seemed human. He is otherworldly and I see what they mean. He is ziggy stardust, up in the sky. Thanks for the insightful post, Travis.


    1. That is so cool you got to see him live. I missed an opportunity in Berkeley… when he was playing at a high school! I know what you mean about the other worldliness of Bowie and how he never seemed to age. I still don’t get how Keith Richards is alive.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, what an awesome experience that would have been to see him at a high school! I’m sure you’re kicking yourself so I won’t rub it in. 😉 Yeah, I believe Keith Richards is an alien.


  3. Travis, I think you are so right, all forms of art can influence and inspire the other forms. I love painting, music, writing, and all kinds of arts and crafts. I remember David throughout the years, but I don’t know that I was a fan of his. Love the ever-changing photo, and the links. We all learn from each other. Thanks. Cher’ley


  4. Great post and gives me something to think about. Like your analogies and links. Inspiration for any art form can come from many directions and examples. Thanks for providing it from this direction.


  5. When I first heard of Bowie’s death, I went to YouTube and listened to some of his music. My ‘friend’s’ father hadn’t known who he was. Charles grew up in the late ’50s and is stuck in a time warp… he doesn’t care for much beyond 1963. For me, I am impressed by how he was cutting edge. I liked him in ‘The Hunger.’


  6. “It’s good help others, especially new writers who need advice or help.”

    Thank you, Travis, for an inspiring post and a gorgeous spreadsheet. ~ A New Writer Who Needs Advice and Help


  7. Good post, Travis. I also like the way you’ve linked his versatility with what is possible in writing. Going off in a different direction might not seem initially to be a good move if instant success doesn’t happen, but might just be perfect for the development of that author’s voice.


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