Beck calls David Bowie a “guidepost” in glowing essay

He's someone that you set course to or measure what you're doing against."


Rolling Stone dedicated its latest issue to David Bowie, and it includes a handful of personal tributes written by longtime collaborators and fellow musicians. Previously, we read Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor’s heartfelt words on The Man Who Fell To Earth.

Now, Beck, who famously covered Bowie’s “Sound and Vision”, has shared his thoughts on the late, great music innovator.

Among his fond memories, Beck recalls the first time he saw Bowie in concert, his love of Hunky Dory and Low, and the fascinating conversations he was fortunate to have had with the legend. He also says Bowie had been an artistic “guidepost” for him, and that he considered the Thin White Duke “the top of the mountain.”

Below are a few choice excerpts.

On seeing Bowie in concert for the first time:

“I first saw David Bowie play live in ’83 on the Let’s Dance tour. At that point, he was in his mid-thirties, but he already had the weight of a legend. It was at the US Festival in San Bernardino, and there were maybe 100,000 people. He really stood out to me even as a child because there was this gravitas and weight that really set him apart; it was like seeing Sinatra or Elvis.

The way he anchored a stage was striking. He could do so much with so little, he could just be there to hold the audience. I don’t hear this mentioned a lot — maybe there’s a hint of it in that clip of him with Bing Crosby — but I always thought of Bowie as kind of a bridge from the era of the crooner to the rock frontman. He somehow straddled those two worlds in a way that nobody else did, bringing that effortless worldliness and marry it with the rock frontman.”

On how Bowie’s records set the standard for music:

“David Bowie started making records around the beginning of my life, and his career kind of tracks with my life. There’s always been a David Bowie record. He’s always been doing something. He’s always been kind of guidepost or gravitational force for me. He’s someone that you set course to or measure what you’re doing against. If you’re working on something intently and you don’t know if it’s complete garbage or a waste of time, there are certain works or artists you look to and go, ‘How far off course am I here? Because I know that’s good. That’s the top of the mountain, and are we going the opposite way here?'”

On the album Low and covering “Sound and Vision”:

Low is another one of my favorites. Its almost like you’re hearing something new being born in that record — out of krautrock and electronic and the sort of nascent punk and all the sounds in that record. I covered “Sound and Vision” a couple years ago with almost 200 other musicians. It was surreal and insane trying to get that many people to play together at the same time. I never heard anything from him about it, but I hope that it didnt make him cringe or anything.”

On the conversations he shared with Bowie:

“I spoke with him a few times. He was one of my favorite conversations ever. He had an electrical conversational wit and was familiar and conversant on so many things. He had an intellect that was so alive and so engaged. It’s very rare. He was just right there on everything: art, music, new bands, comic books, Japanese temples. It was just everything.”

Read Beck’s full essay over at Rolling Stone. Revisit his “Sound and Vision” cover below.