Changes for David Bowie: Call him doctor

by Dean Johnson / Boston Herald

9th May 1999

Superstar singer David Bowie has been called many things in his 33-year career, from Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke to David Jones (his real name) and Broadway’s Elephant Man.

Today, call him Dr. Bowie.

Bowie, the speaker at Berklee College of Music’s 1999 commencement yesterday, received an honorary doctor of music degree, as did jazz sax great Wayne Shorter.

A relaxed, smiling and healthy-looking Bowie was on the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center’s main stage, in traditional cap and gown, before 10 a.m. He politely took in the opening ceremonies, occasionally glancing into the audience to make eye contact with his wife, the model Iman. Then at 10:45 he delivered a 15-minute commencement speech, a mix of jokes and anecdotes. “On occasions like this,” he said, “I really never know what to do – which is pretty much the way I’ve handled my career as a musician-writer.”

Bowie said he realized early “that authenticity and the natural form of expression wasn’t going to be my forte. . . . What I found I was good at doing was the game of `what if?’ What if you combined Brecht-Weill musical drama with rhythm and blues? What happens when you transplant the French chanson with the Philly sound? Will Schonberg lie comfortably with Little Richard?”

He spoke with affection about “my greatest mentor,” John Lennon. “Whenever the two of us got together,” Bowie said, “it started to resemble Beavis and Butt-head on ‘Crossfire.’

“Music has given me over 40 years of extraordinary experiences,” he said. “I can’t say that life’s pains or more tragic episodes have been diminished because of it. But it’s allowed me so many moments of companionship when I’ve been lonely and a sublime means of communication when I wanted to touch people.”

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