David Bowie Lists His Musical Influences in Berklee Commencement Address: Watch

David Bowie speaking at the Berklee Commencement Address

David Bowie was a man of many styles. He could even wear a university gown and cap with panache.

The late music legend donned the academic formalwear when, in 1999, he accepted an honorary doctorate at the Berklee College of Music, video for which has emerged online.

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The Thin White Duke also delivered the commencement address at Berklee in which he shared with the audience some tales of his own life, and of his musical development and motivation and how he was drawn to the idea of “manipulation of signs rather than individual expression.” 

Bowie told of how, as a young muso he “learned enough saxophone and guitar and what’s euphemistically called ‘composer’s piano’ to get my ideas over to proper musicians (at which moment he then held his arms toward the crowd). And then I went on a crusade, I suppose, to change the kind of information that rock music contained I adored.” Bowie's list of influences, as told by the artist himself, included John Coltrane, Harry Partch, Eric Dolphy, Velvet Underground, John Cage, Sonny Smith, Anthony Newely, Florence Foster Jenkins, Johnnie Ray, Julie London, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Edith Piaf and Shirley Bassey.

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He also shared stories involving “perhaps my greatest mentor” John Lennon (they were introduced at a party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor) and told a gag which involved Bassey, a full bladder and a sink at a working man’s club. Bowie signed off with this line: “Remember, if it itches, play it.”

Watch the clip below.