It's difficult to pinpoint precisely what it is that made David Bowie the epitome of cool, because he was always evolving. For Bowie, it was always about art and attitude. From the moment he exploded onto the music scene in the late 1960s, he proved that the hippest thing you could do was be confident in your own skin, even if your perception of that skin—and what you covered it with, or who you bared it to—was always changing. With his persistent belief in the fluidity of identity, Bowie showed us that taking risks and believing in your own capabilities was the dopest way to live. He also gave a really great interview. In honor of the Starman, here are nine things he taught us about how to live your best life in this real cool world.
1. Believe yourself worthy of being seen and heard.
In a 1976 interview with Cameron Crowe for Playboy (one of his most famous), Bowie explained his philosophy with unmatched hubris: "Am I, as a human being, worth talking about? I frankly think, Yes, I am. I’ve got to carry through with the conviction that I am also my own medium. The only way I can be effective as a person is to be this confoundedly arrogant and forthright with my point of view. That’s the way I am. I believe myself with the utmost sincerity."
2. When it comes to fashion, follow your gut.
"I liked how things went together, and it interested me how it all worked," Bowie told Rolling Stone's Kurt Loder in 1987. "But I think I was always drawn to the crass, so that saved my ass, really: 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. We wore gold corduroy jackets, I remember, and brown mohair trousers and green, brown and white ties, I think, and white shirts. Strange coloration."
(He was also the OG dumpster-diver back in the day before it was hot, as he told Time Out in 1983: "A popular thing was to go down the back of Carnaby Street late at night and raid the dustbins. Because in those days if anything showed the slightest sign of deterioration, or a button was missing, or there was the least thing wrong with it, they used to throw it out, so you could pick up the most dynamite things down there!")
3. Sex is sex—it doesn't matter who you have it with.
One of the coolest things David Bowie showed the world was that sexual attraction and identity is fluid. "When I was 14, sex suddenly became all-important to me," he told Cameron Crowe in 1976. "It didn’t really matter who or what it was with, as long as it was a sexual experience. So it was some very pretty boy in class in some school or other that I took home and neatly fucked on my bed upstairs. And that was it. My first thought was, Well, if I ever get sent to prison, I’ll know how to keep happy."
4. Take yourself apart, layer by layer.
"I realized I had become a total product of my concept character Ziggy Stardust," he told Crowe. "So I set out on a very successful crusade to re-establish my own identity. I stripped myself down and took myself apart, layer by layer. I used to sit in bed and pick on one thing a week that I either didn’t like or couldn’t understand. And during the course of the week, I’d try to kill it off. I think my lack of humor was the first thing I picked on. Then prissiness. Why did I feel that I was superior to people? I had to come to some conclusion. I haven’t yet, but I dug into myself. That was very good therapy. I spewed myself up. I’m still doing it. I seem to know exactly what makes me sad."
"I always have to look for some kind of light at the end of the tunnel," Bowie explained later in life to Kurt Loder in 1987. "Having a son does that. You change a lot. I think when you're young, you feel it's kind of exciting to have that kind of negative feeling about things. But that changes as you get older. That's the one thing that does change. The energy doesn't change; it just gets channeled in a different direction."
5. Keep searching for new, good music.
"For me music has been the glue that's kept my life together," Bowie >wrote in 2006. "The way that I write it, everything that goes in comes out somehow, in my music all my influences connect and produce something that I hope is my own expression of what I listen to and what I love... If you come up today and listen to Arcade Fire you'll hear Talking Heads in there. If you listen to Bob Dylan you're listening to most of the history of American music and so it is with all of us, we are what we listen to in some ways. I think it's probably the most exhilarating of the journeys that you can take to just be in a record store and pour through the things that are on offer there and try and enrich your life with those things."
And if Bowie thought it was cool to hold onto old records and CDs and cassettes then it's cool for us, too: "It seems to me that the hardest part of collecting sounds, in whatever format, is, after a few years, deciding which ones to keep and which ones to give away. I can't ever make those decisions so I therefore never get rid of anything. I no longer live in my house as there's no room left between the boxes of CDs, 45s, cassettes, and of course my vinyl albums, for me to get on with other life matters. Sounds won."
6. Go where the wind takes you.
"We know what can happen—you can get a job, go to work, you can follow that line of perceived security," Bowie told The Telegraph in 1996. "But I think there’s a different kind of security, which is trusting to and living by a code, of almost drifting where the wind takes you. And I spent well into my 20s doing that—just throwing myself wholeheartedly into life at every avenue and seeing what happened. Taking drugs; being totally and completely and irresponsibly promiscuous. Just getting into situations, and then trying to extricate myself from them as they occurred...And I think I have done just about everything that it’s possible to do—except really dangerous things, like being an explorer. But anything that Western culture has to offer—I’ve put myself through most of it."
7. Let your freak flag fly.
"Nothing matters except whatever it is I’m doing at the moment. I can’t keep track of everything I say. I don’t give a shit. I can’t even remember how much I believe and how much I don’t believe. The point is to grow into the person you grow into," Bowie told Crowe in that iconic Playboy interview. "I haven’t a clue where I’m gonna be in a year. A raving nut, a flower child or a dictator, some kind of reverend—I don’t know. That’s what keeps me from getting bored."
"I was always interested in the guys that didn't fit into the mainstream," he noted in an interview with Soma magazine in 2000. "And because I'm a populist-minded person—I'm not some avant-gardist intellectual that strives to be high-minded—I found I naturally became a high-art/low-brow bridge because I had my feet firmly planted in both. So I could bring these eccentric ideas to the mainstream and people would listen to me. I could take Japanese Kabuki theater and put it on Ziggy Stardust and it made sense. I could take what some considered really strange ideas and make them accessible to larger amounts of people. That's what I found I was really good at doing and, most importantly, what I really enjoyed doing."
8. Take the time to figure yourself out.
"Now I know what it is I do," he continued, in discussion with Soma's Stefan Chirazi. "I didn't know what I was doing as a kid and I certainly didn't know why I was doing it. I only knew certain things: that I was uncomfortable as a blues singer, that I was not comfortable as a soul singer, and that time after time, it struck me that I was uncomfortable being in any genre. I didn't feel a natural 'anything.' And then, when I suddenly started taking bits of things and putting them together in a new way, mixing all the colors, mixing some blues with folk with artistic ideas in books about Japan, I realized I was a guy who did collages. I was a collagist! I was good at hybridization, at juxtaposing things that shouldn't, and often didn't, make sense."
9. Work hard at everything, including relationships.
"One thing one always has to work at is relationships, and it wasn't until the late '80s that I started to become more open," Bowie told Chirazi. "Someone told me that you reach a certain age and either completely diminish as a person or become the person you always should've been. Age brings one of two things: either a feeling of complete and utter defeat or understanding that it's about living the moment. If you harness yourself to that energy of enjoying the day as it comes along and put yourself to bed at night knowing that you did everything to the best of your abilities, didn't hurt anybody, and continue to cement relationships between yourself, friends, and family, then you're all the better for it. And an accumulation of days like that gives you a real sense of fulfillment."