A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 3, 2014, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
To me, David Bowie is in the very top tier of artists — with capital letters. He’s proved himself so many times that I sit back and trust him. Often, he’s so far ahead of the game, it takes time to catch up. Bowie doesn’t strike me as someone who sits down to write songs and says, “That’s my collection of what I did this summer.” With Bowie, there’s a mission statement, a set design, a feel and a whole new identity — a construction that he’s created to voice and stand in the middle of the stage.
When The Next Day came out [in March], I was genuinely surprised — a new album from Bowie? That’s fantastic. I didn’t even know it was on the horizon, particularly with the rumors of his health circulating for the last few years. Then I was kind of pissed off because, between finishing an album and going on tour, I didn’t have long chunks of time to absorb it. I listened to it while going back and forth to the Valley for Nine Inch Nails rehearsals. It was a puzzle — it didn’t sound like how I thought it might sound. I thought maybe it was a bit conservative sonically. But over several months, it made its way into my playlist on countless bus rides; when I’m sitting alone to listen to music, I reach for The Next Day.
I’m still unraveling the riddle that he presented. I’m still getting new meanings out of the lyrics. What I thought was conservative production now feels forward-thinking. Like any great album, it’s revealed itself to be something that wasn’t what I initially thought. The marketing, too, felt like a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t like the Arcade Fire album [Reflektor] and its yearlong rollout, where it was like, “OK, I get it. You’ve got an album out, you’ve played every TV show in the world.”
Bowie is the most important figure to have inspired me. To a kid growing up in rural Pennsylvania, out of reach of college radio and on the wrong side of the Internet — in isolation — to see this alien creep in, this larger-than-life character who was smart … he’s been a consistent reference point as somebody who is uncompromising. He has found an audience yet challenges that audience and continues moving forward in a fearless way.