Simon Price: I think perhaps unlike any other pop artist, David Bowie has the power to change lives. As an artist, he has inspired other artists more powerfully than anyone I can think of. He has to be the most influential artist of all time, without any doubt.
Jeremy Deller: The way I see Bowie in the 1970s was the equivalent of Warhol in the 1960s. They both ruled the decade; they defined it and they changed it.
Thurston Moore: I remember seeing that Ziggy Stardust cover and looking at that misty, rain-drenched street and that photograph: that was the city and that was, in a way, a new frontier – to actually go to the city as opposed to go to the country, which is what you were supposed to do in rock and roll.
British news reader: Britain’s power and influence has declined since the beginning of the century and the question is: is this a trend that we can reverse?
Simon Price: He was coming out of the 1960s at a time when all of the idealism of the 1960s had soured and died. A lot of people felt that these were end times – that we were looking at the end of the world. There was the first stirrings of environmental disaster, there were all kinds of wars going on. He was reacting to that in a way of first setting the scene, with songs like ‘Five Years’ – literally saying we’ve got five years left to live – but also saying it’s going to be a lot of fun, let’s celebrate the end of the world, let’s party in the ruins. I think that’s what Ziggy Stardust the album is all about.
Jeremy Deller: And I would have seen him on Top of the Pops; this was an era when Top of the Pops was basically all the information that you got as a child about popular culture and the outside world. It gave you an idea of how music could look – what music looked like but also what it sounded like.
Simon Price: If you remember that by the time he became famous, homosexuality in Britain hadn’t long been legalised. He was portraying what you might call ‘the life of bi’ in a way that didn’t make it seem tragic, or some kind of hidden underground secret, but made it seem like incredible fun – and when you think of things like that you can see how he must have blown people’s minds at the time.
Daphne GuinnessWhen I did see an image of David Bowie for the first time I was just astonished to see this other-worldly person. He’s got such an interesting face; those cheekbones, the teeth, that very androgynous style that he had. He wears clothes that are elegant, he knows what suits him, he’s incredibly good-looking, his eyes are very, very extraordinary. He was an enormous influence. I wanted to be David Bowie from the age of four.
Jeremy DellerI remember as a teenager getting ‘Low’ on tape and playing that a lot. As an album, it’s almost the perfect album. Thinking that was done in 1977, it still sounds like it was made tomorrow almost, there’s still a futurism about it, which is very unusual. Everything on that record informed everything that was going to happen in the 1980s – in terms of music production, the sound of music and use of synthesisers and other instruments, more traditional instruments.
Simon Price: Around 1980 – around the time of ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and the ‘Scary Monsters’ album – the artists who were big at the time were always name-checking David Bowie and saying what a formative influence he was, and finally David Bowie turns up himself making this record right in the middle of the New Romantic movement which pretty much says ‘I was here first, you’re on my territory, I’m not on yours’ – I think that that was a really fascinating moment in pop.
Ziggy Jacobs: ‘Ashes to Ashes’ in particular started an entire trend of putting film-quality production material in to music videos, things that were tossed aside as being not necessary for music videos.
Simon Price: It’s not completely autonomous. His genius is actually collaborative and he’s always achieved his effects by working with the best people he can find. Whether it’s choreographers like Lindsay Kemp, photographers like Mick Rock and producers like Brian Eno, Tony Visconti… they’re all part of the Bowie story and he wouldn’t be what he is without them.
Jeremy Deller: His attention to detail is probably what’s constant, his attempts to be a bit ahead or to do something that’s different.
Ziggy Jacobs: I think the thing that’s remained a constant throughout all of the personas and all of the work is the flux. It’s a beautiful thing that the changeablilty is a constant.
Daphne Guinness: He became that person, I think that’s consistent – the level of intention remained the same. He’s a purist… He’s an artist.
Simon Price: His writing is actually quite pared down and quite minimal in a lot of ways – and lyrical in the literal sense of being very poetic: the way that he puts words together for the way they feel together aesthetically as much for the meaning. Just the beauty of words jammed together – things like referring to a ‘slinky vagabond’ or ‘talking about Monroe and walking on snow white’. Who knows what it means but it just sounds absolutely fantastic – it kind of fizzes and crackles out of the speakers.
Ziggy Jacobs: The thing that makes David Bowie unique as a performer and a musician is that he is a performer first. It’s as much about the dramaturgy of his personae, it’s as much about a full-scale performance as it is just about an album, or just about a song.
Daphne Guinness: There’s no disconnect that you find with some people these days who dress-up ‘as’ so-and-so. It was so much part of the freedom to do it, because now it’s much more difficult – it’s much more thought-out that reinvention process, but it came from him. He did it with an ease that is uncanny – that’s what makes him different. He is uncanny.
Jeremy Deller: Its just everywhere, it’s so big you can’t see it the scale of the influence of someone like that – it’s just throughout. It left rock culture and became part of popular culture, and then mass culture. It’s like the air you breath almost, in terms of popular culture.
Thurston Moore: I think the title ‘David Bowie is’ is pretty honourable to David Bowie because he is. I mean everything we see in our culture of music and fashion, etcetera – a lot of that information is really tantamount to Bowie.
Ziggy Jacobs: It is important that the title’s in the present tense and that it’s not just that the V&A thought it would be interesting or provocative – it’s that it has to be because he’s present, because he’s always making work.
Simon Price: He genuinely is still an active artist and he’s nobody’s museum piece, or zoo animal, or frozen exhibit.
Daphne Guinness: So I think David Bowie is, he always will be.