David Bowie Saw the Downfall of Rock ‘n Roll in the Growth of the Internet
Written by Rich Monetti on April 4, 2020
Visionary in more ways than just Music
Twenty years ago before Facebook and Twitter drew us all closer together (or further apart), David Bowie sat down with Jeremy Paxman of the BBC to discuss the future we know now. He recounted Rock ‘n’ Roll, rebellion and how the internet would not only change music, but clue us in on a world that was far more stratified than we had believed.
A bit ahead of Jack Black’s lament in The School of Rock that MTV ruined Rock ‘n’ Roll, Bowie’s prescience puts it almost as well. “Rock ‘n’ roll had this call to arms. This is the thing that can effect change. It was this dead dodgy occupation that produced signs of horror,” said Bowie. “Now it’s a career opportunity.”
Internet Can Still Stick it to the Man
American Idol, The Voice, and the mass produced worship of the false god of fame says as much. But Bowie saw enough depth in the technology that the future would hold ample opportunity for true rock gods to still stick it to the man. “The internet now carries the flag of the subversion,” asserted Bowie.
In turn, Bowie foresaw a cyclical relationship where audience input could have a real impact on artistic output. So indie rock fans can simply follow on Twitter and engage in such a feedback loop.
As a result, he saw the delineation emerging between audience and artist interpretation. A “grey area,” he said, that held no bounds. And today we see how that has come to fruition. Specifically, the manner that this gap can take on a mind of its own in the form of Facebook groups and conversions threads that have no end.
Corporate Gods still Rule
This is hard to miss if you’re an artist. But the internet providing anyone the chance to partake hasn’t yet opened the door to a mass broadcasting of counterculture that the ‘60s and ‘70s thrived on.
So where are today’s Rolling Stones holding sway over their corporate overlords? Unfortunately, they are forced to acquiesce to spending the night together as long as profit margins say so.
This means the keepers of the kingdom these days have Lady Gaga and media consolidation aplenty to make up the difference. Worse yet, a listen to our classic rock stations has no one stepping into replace the old rockers, and the 250 songs they play over and over again.
Bowie foresaw the Divided States of America
So while we wait for a savior to make the connection to this subversive glut of independence and undo the damage of MTV, Bowie also saw the internet as far more than just an enhanced delivery system to bring news and mail. “I don’t think we’ve seen more than just the tip of the iceberg. The potential for what the internet is going to do—good and bad—is unimaginable,” he predicted.
At the same time, he didn’t envision the free flow of information leading to more understanding. Instead, the internet demonstrated a far wider split among the masses. “There used to be known truths and known lies, and there was no duplicity or pluralism in what we believed. That began to break down in the mid ‘70s, where we saw each story had two, three, four sides to it. That reality has produced such a thing as the internet and establishes that we are living in total fragmentation,” the classic rocker foretold.
A universe of websites with points of view on end—and dedicated followers to further stratify—Bowie was ahead of his time in more ways than one. Of course, he also exhibited no strain to face the changes that weren’t so apparent to the rest of us.
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