Writer Rob Sheffield Talks Paying Homage to Musical Hero David Bowie in New Book 'On Bowie': 'He Refused to Rest on His Laurels'

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David Bowie performing in 1982.

Rob Sheffield writes musical love letters to his book subjects. In his tender memoir Love Is a Mix Tape, he eulogized his late wife; Turn Around Bright Eyes limned the joys of karaoke (and new love). In the funny, poignant and wickedly insightful On Bowie (Dey Street Books, June 28), this lifelong David Bowie superfan pays homage to one of his musical heroes. Billboard asked Sheffield to share some of his favorite Bowie memories.

The book is filled with so many dazzling observations about Bowie’s life and art. As a Bowie-loving teenager, was there a lyric that spoke to you most?

The whole Major Tom mythology was really etched on my brain. Still is. The part in “Space Odyssey” where he sings, “I’m floating in a most peculiar way/The stars look very different today,” helped me see the universe as a creative adventure rather than some sinister plot.

 

Do you have a favorite Bowie lyric today?

It’s one from “Stay” on Station to Station, a song that I love because he’s trying to make a pass at someone and he’s really nervous, which is not the kind of situation we normally picture Bowie in. When he sings, “Right is so vague when it brings someone new/This time tomorrow I’ll know what to do,” it’s such a strangely humane line.

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Favorite Bowie look?

Probably late-’70s Bowie, when he is wearing leather knickers. Or the new-romantic Bowie from 1980 in the “Ashes to Ashes” video, where he’s wearing a clown suit. Nobody else could look cool after wearing a clown suit.

 

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You never met or interviewed Bowie. If you had been able to, what’s the one question you would have asked him?

I would’ve asked what sort of musical adventure he wanted to try that he hadn’t tried yet. The fact that he refused to rest on his laurels way after the point where he could have, or maybe even should have, always set him apart.

This article originally appeared in the July 2 issue of Billboard.