David Bowie: A Case Study of the Established Artist as Fan

“At another Bowie-organised party in Paris Kraftwerk had put in an appearance, receiving a five-minute standing ovation as they entered
blank-faced and got up in full- blown 1930s retro style, like the musical
equivalents of Gilbert and George. Bowie was enthralled: “Look how they are, they are fantastic!” he kept repeating…”
In his book on David Bowie’s Low, Hugo Wilcken recounts an oft-cited non-meeting of musical minds. What is illuminating here is the shallowness, the dumb enthusiasm of Bowie’s reaction, like a kid unable to contain his enthusiasm before a favourite sports hero. Or indeed pop star. This is because Bowie was, and remains, fundamentally a fan. This paper will use the example of David Bowie in attempting to understand the phenomenon of the established artist as fan, and the contribution that the fandom of these figures can make to the forward momentum of popular music, and it’s development as a form. In particular, it will address the usefulness of artist-fans as filters, isolating key elements of the more radical musical conceptions of their (generally less commercially successful) peers and making them suitable, by dilution or hybridization, for consumption by a mass audience; and their role as the ‘musical conscience’ of the mainstream, ensuring that the obscure but influential artists who provide their inspiration get their due.

John Harries, Recording Artist