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“What do I do with the time I’ve got left?”: David Bowie on life, death, and fame

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In the wake of David Bowie's death, many of his fans have begun to revisit every scrap of his life, work, and words they can find. And rightly so — Bowie was famously prolific. Here are some of Ziggy Stardust's most poignant words of wisdom on fear, fame, and how everyone should hang out with a dead body "at least once."

David Bowie on fame

Fame can take interesting men and thrust mediocrity upon them. [Esquire, 2004]

While Bowie liked to joke that being a rock star married to a supermodel was, in fact, just as awesome as you might imagine, he also never felt a need to be famous. In fact, in a 2002 interview with NPR's Terry Gross, Bowie said he wouldn't even perform if he didn't have to; he'd rather just make his music and be done with it.

David Bowie on what it means to hit rock bottom

Q: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Bowie: Living in fear. [Vanity Fair, 1998]

Many looked to Bowie as inspiration for living freely, since he did so with unapologetic abandon. "Living with fear" goes against everything Bowie and his many alter egos stood for, so it's no surprise that he would view bowing to fear as the absolute worst state of existence.

David Bowie on spirituality

Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. It’s because I’m not quite an atheist, and it worries me. There’s that little bit that holds on: ‘Well, I’m almost an atheist. Give me a couple of months.’ [BeliefNet, 2003]

Bowie had a complicated relationship with spirituality and organized religion. "I'm almost an atheist" reveals his curiosity, his hesitation, his willingness to open his mind beyond what he knew, and his drive to keep searching for the truth.

David Bowie on youth

And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds / are immune to your consultations / they're quite aware of what they're going through.

["Changes," 1972]

Bowie wrote these lyrics in his 20s, but he very well could have written them in his final years, too. While he certainly respected his peers and elders, he always expressed equal admiration for younger generations and the ways in which they choose to express themselves. (See: Bowie's mentorship of Lorde; citing Kendrick Lamar as one of the biggest influences on Blackstar, his final album.)

David Bowie on living day to day

Are we big enough or mature enough to accept that there’s no "plan," there’s no "going somewhere," there’s no gift of immortality at the end of this if we evolve far enough? … Well, maybe we can’t live like that. Maybe we have to exist and live on the idea that we have one day at a time to live—and can we do that? Because if we could do that, we may be serving some really great thing. [Interview with Guillaume Durand, 2002]

Bowie's career spanned four decades. He said goodbye to his fans with an album released just two days before his death. The dude did not know how to waste time, maybe because he was "serving some really great thing" by living in the present and not dwelling on the past or the future.

David Bowie on making the most of your time while you have it

As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left? [The New York Times, 2002]

Bowie was considering the end long before it arrived. In the 14 years that passed between making this statement and his death, he put out four albums: Heathen (2002), Reality (2003), The Next Day (2013), and Blackstar (2016). He stopped touring and spent more time with his wife and daughter.

He figured out what he wanted to do with the time he had left.

David Bowie on understanding death

Confront a corpse at least once. The absolute absence of life is the most disturbing and challenging confrontation you will ever have. [Esquire, 2004]

Is there any explaining this quote? I suspect not, but then again I haven't yet confronted a corpse.

David Bowie on loving life

Q: "Do you practice a form of worship?"

Bowie: "Life. I love life very much indeed."

[Russell Harty Plus, 1973]