Bowie on Books & the Gift of Curiosity

Bowie’s intelligence, the liveliness of his mind, his pursuit of knowledge and understanding, his respect for learning, his engagement with ideas, and his desire to share his enthusiasms are all reasons why he remains an intriguing and inspiring voice.

Today’s post collects some of Bowie’s observations on teaching and learning.

When he’s been asked what he would have been had he not been involved in music, his first response is a painter. But the second is revealing:

I’m not quite sure that “librarian” would have been quite the right word. Something where I was quite close to books and research. I love poring through books. I like the objects; as much as I like the Internet, I could never give up my library. Wife and the library, those are the two things that I probably would never give up.

Queried by Charlie Rose in the mid-1990s, Bowie mentioned a third career option: a teacher, especially one who introduced young people to new things. In 1996 he told Mick Brown of the Telegraph,

`If I’ve got a new rave about something I’ll just talk endlessly about it and I’ll explain where it comes from and how it started.’ If he had no artistic abilities of his own, he says, he would be `absolutely and perfectly satisfied to learn and teach’.

As a parent, he wants to see his children share his enthusiasm for learning.When his daughter was an infant, Bowie told interviewers that he wasn’t the type of dad who changed diapers, but he was very much looking forward to when she was ready for books.


Bowie is not a passive receiver type reader, but one who wants to follow where the book he is reading is taking him. In the 1970s, his “very eclectic and very catholic” interests led him into some “dodgy areas.” When Mick Brown asked about the occult, Bowie noted that Station to Station was his

“step-by-step interpretation of the Cabbala, `although absolutely no one else realised that at the time, of course’ – which led, in turn, to `Grail mythology’ and then to an unhealthy interest in the role of black magic in the rise of Nazism. `Being seriously involved in the negative,’ as he puts it.”

During the “Earthling at 50” interview sessions, Bowie reflected that he was “too out of it” to see the connections between Himmler’s search for Glastonbury and Nazi racism. The older and wiser Bowie also advised that

“Nobody professing a knowledge of the black arts should be taken seriously if they can’t speak Latin or Greek.”

It isn’t at all surprising that as a born researcher, Bowie is an internet enthusiast. In 1999 he told Uncut’s Chris Roberts:

. . . a few years ago I started reading books on Gnosticism, a form of early Christianity, an interest I have. I found stuff on the Internet I could never get through in my lifetime. Prior to that, I’d have spent hours in a research library picking up bits and pieces which I’d have to take back, and which I could look at only one at a time. But this way, you can flip from aspect to aspect, drag up all the references you could want, looking at a 100 books a month. It’s beyond belief, a researcher’s dream.

Bringing it all together —  then letting it go:

Bowie recognized early on that the internet could be a teacher’s dream as well, a way to share what he found intellectually and artistically exciting.  During its early years his website,, provided an outlet for this desire. His journal entries commented on new artists he admired and what he was reading. He provided an intriguing book list, which unfortunately he did not update, and he largely abandoned the journal in summer 2003 (there were six posts in ’04, none in ’05, four in ’06,  and then there were none.).

During the late 1990s and early ’00s, Bowie also used the net as a means to be mentor and patron to young visual artists at the now defunct bowieart. Then he considered that work to be done:

For over seven years David Bowie and Bowieart has supported over 2000 emerging artists at a crucial time in their careers through successfully pioneering and encouraging online viewing of art, thirteen exhibitions ranging from solo shows to large group exhibitions, and sponsorship. The online model introduced by Bowieart in 2000 was revolutionary; and whilst it is still unique as a sponsorship site, it is no longer exceptional. There are now a number of comparable sites dedicated to showcasing artists work, and individual web presence is very accessible. The web environment is different from the one in which Bowieart launched, things have moved on and it is time for Bowieart to do so.

In 1999, Bowie considered adding archivist to his aspirations as well, telling Start Clark of Hot Press

“I have so much stuff, it’s unbelievable. Even in my out-of-my-nut stages I seem not to have thrown anything away. I probably have more than anyone else around – if that definitive book would ever come out. I think it’s much more likely I’ll end up archiving completely on the net. Just assemble the stuff that’s collected over the years. Like a presidential library – but for rock stars.”

Now he no longer seems to have any interest in adding to

Moreover, inexplicably, the links to archival materials that were a feature of the site in years past no longer function.

Very sad and very strange.

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