David Bowie - Icon and Visionary - Talking About the Future of the Internet in 1999
It is hard to believe that it has been over a year since the great David Bowie passed away. Of all the multitude of celebrity deaths this is one of those that struck me the hardest.
I know he was in his seventies but it was still a complete shock. Prior to becoming ill with cancer whenever he appeared on TV or did interviews he always looked so fit and well. Despite his age he always retained a certain youthful vigour.
Anyway it was synchronistic that I was thinking of Bowie and the one year anniversary of his passing that I came across a Gizmodo article which discussed an interview which he did with the BBC in 1999.
In this interview Bowie talks to Jeremy Paxman about the internet (still in it's infancy back then). The interview is worth watching not only for Bowie's incredibly prescient views and opinions but also Paxman's bizarre expressions and at time sneering tone.
For those that don't know Jeremy Paxman is a famous BBC interviewer who is known for his confrontational style. He is generally a man who is so square that he would make cubes jealous.
I don't know what is wrong with him in this interview but either he is unwell or taking some illicit substances. His responses to Bowie's entirely coherent and sensible words are very strange.
Bowie the Pioneer
In the interview Bowie discusses the rebellious and disruptive nature of the internet and how it will change the world.
In my opinion everything he talks about has come to pass which make the protestations made by Paxman as the interviewer seem all the more ridiculous.
I can't help but wonder if he had still been around what he would have thought about blockchain?
I suspect the cancer probably made that the last of his priorities but in the past as this interview shows he was very forward thinking.
In addition to using the internet when most people didn't understand what the fuss was about, Bowie was one of the first artists to utilise videogames as an art form with projects like "The Nomad Soul".
Given his forward thinking nature I think he would most likely be working on some kind of blockchain based music project right now (if we hadn't lost him).
I would highly recommend watching the video - if you do I don't think you will fail to see the similarities with what he was saying back then about the internet and the state of blockchain now.
Much of what he said could apply to things like Steemit.
The Gizmodo article did not feature a complete transcript of the interview so for those who are video phobic I have created my own below. It is also a chance form me to share some nostalgic images of Bowie himself.
Now I know why you don't often find complete video transcripts - it takes an age to transcribe a few minutes of video!
To try to make it easier to follow I have used Markdown quoting to show the questions, with bold text for Bowie's responses. I will also embed the video after the transcript.
My Personal Transcript of the Interview:
"If you were starting out now...did I read some where that you said if you were 19 now you wouldn't go into the music business?"
"I think that's probably quite right. I think I would probably just be a fan and a collector of records."
"Err...I wanted to be a musician because it seemed....it seemed rebellious, it seemed subversive. It felt like one could affect change..to a form. It was very hard to hear music when I was younger."
"When I was really young you had to tune in to AFM radio to hear the American records. There was no MTV. "
"It wasn't wall to wall blanket music and so therefore it had a "call to arms" feeling to it - this is the thing that will change things."
" - A "dead dodgy" occupation to have - it still produced signs of horror from people if you said I'm in Rock and Roll!"
"Now it's a career opportunity and the internet now carries the flag of the subversive, possibly rebellious and chaotic nihilistic..."
[Paxman gives a loud cynical sigh whilst rolling his eyes. Bowie responds:]
"Oh yes it is - forget about the Microsoft element, the monopolies do not have a monopoly, maybe on programs.."
What you like about it is the fact that anyone can say anything? Or do anything?
"From my stand...From where I am by virtue of the fact that I am a pop singer and writer...erm I really like, I embrace the idea that there's a really new demystification process going on between the audience and the artist."
"If you look back at this last decade there hasn't really been one single entity, artist or group that have personified or become the brand name for the 90s."
"Like it was starting to fade a little in the 80s. In the 70s there were still definite artists, in the 60s there were the Beatles and Hendrix. In the 50s there was Presley."
"Now it's subgroups and genres. It's hip-hop, it's girl power, it's a communal kind of thing. It's about a community."
"It's becoming more and more about the audience because the point of having somebody who lead the forces has disappeared because the vocabulary of rock is too well known."
"It's a currency that is not,"
[Camera cuts to Paxman who looks astonished. I have no idea why.]
"It's not devoid of meaning anymore but it's certainly only a conveyor of information, it's not a conveyor of rebellion and the internet has taken on that as I said."
"So I find that a terribly exciting area. So from my standpoint being an artist, I like to see what the new construction is between artist and audience."
"There is a breakdown personified by the rave culture of the last few years where the audience is at least as important as who's playing at the rave."
"It's almost as if the artist is there to accompany what the audience are doing and that feeling is very much permeating music and permeating the internet."
[Paxman has an exasperated look that is a combination between severe constipation and like he is about shit himself.]
But what is it specifically about the internet? Anybody can say anything and it all adds up to what? There's nothing cohesive about it like there was about the youth revolution in music.
"Oh but absolutely and because we at the time up until at least the 70s that we were still living under the, in the guise of a single absolute created society."
"There were known truths and known lies and there was no duplicity or pluralism about the things that we believed in."
"That started to breakdown rapidly in the 70s. The idea of a duality in the way we live, there are always two, three, four, five sides to every question."
"That the singularity disappeared and that I believe has produced such a medium as the internet which absolutely establishes that we are living in total fragmentation."
You don't think some of the claims that are being made for it are hugely exaggerated? When the telephone was invented people made amazing claims for it!!!!
[Paxman looks like he is having his balls crushed in an industrial vice whilst he says this.]
"I know the president at the time when it was first invented, he outrageously said, he foresaw the day in the future when every town in America would have a telephone!"
"Now how dare he claim that? Absolute Bullshit!"
[Bowie smiles whilst he says it.]
"No you see I don't, I don't agree."
[Paxman tries to interrupt but Bowie keeps talking]
"The internet, I don't think we've even seen the tip of the iceberg."
"I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society both good and bad is unimaginable. I think we are actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying."
It's just a tool though isn't it?
[Paxman looks like he is about to cry. He almost sobs the question out. He lifts up his hand in the air like he is about to blow Bowie a kiss but it just freezes half way and stays there awkwardly. Very odd. I don't know what drugs Paxman was doing but it looks like he was taking something.]
"No it's not. It's an alien life-form."
What do you think then?
"Is there life on Mars yes it's just landed here."
But that's simply a different delivery system there. You're arguing about something more profound?
"Oh yeah I'm talking about the actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything that we can really envisage at the moment."
"Where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so "in simpatico" it's going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about."
"It's happening in every form, it's happening in visual art, the breakthroughs..."
[Camera cuts to Paxman who looks like he is receiving a BJ right then and didn't expect the camera on him.]
"In the early part of the century with people like DuChamp were so prescient in what they were doing and putting down."
"The idea that a piece of work is not finished until the audience come to it and add their own interpretation and what the piece of art is about is the grey space in the middle."
"That grey space in the middle is what the 21st century is about."
The Video of the Interview
Thank you for reading.