I first heard about David Bowie when I was a 16-year-old, hip-hop-loving African teen growing up in late eighties Paris.
I had heard his songs Let’s Dance and China Girl on the radio. I had seen those stylish videos on MTV, but I wasn’t intrigued until I heard Queen Latifah sing his praises in a magazine interview. She said she was obsessed with him. After that, I realised he might have major street cred, and might be much more than just a versatile rock star. I started wondering who this famous, witty, and highly influential musician was.
When I showed up, a bit early by Downtown New York standards, David Bowie opened the door for me.
A few years later, I became a magazine editor and publisher and got to know his wife, Iman. When I moved from London to New York in 1998, I started hanging out with Iman, who mentored me and helped me at every stage of my career, connecting me with advertisers, hosting magazine events with me, and writing reference letters for me when I started looking for investors. One day, Iman invited me to her birthday party, at their apartment in Lower Manhattan. When I showed up, a bit early by Downtown New York standards, David Bowie opened the door for me. I told him I was a friend of Iman’s, and his reply was, ‘Me too’.
It was then that I understood where the wit and influence came from. The fame? Well, that is the power of transformation, the relevance of his many personas, and the evidence behind several important chapters in music history, which I won’t get into now. As I write this, I am sure there are thousands of music critics replaying his melodies and assessing the merits of his dozens of albums. But I must say, in passing, that I was impressed when I found out, just last week as he was about to release his latest album Blackstar, that he was a fan of Kendrick Lamar.
Never overbearing, always modest, hardly ever seeking attention, he paid attention to those around him.
I was invited to their house a few times, and every time I ran into him, he was a gracious, self-deprecating British man. Never overbearing, always modest, hardly ever seeking attention, he paid attention to those around him. I could see, from the way he treated his wife and daughter, and everyone around them, that he was a family man who constantly had to find subtle ways to retreat and escape the limelight. Privacy seemed to mean a lot to him and his family.
Although I spent a relatively small amount of time with him over the years, I was always able to position myself as the fly-on-the-wall who wanted to capture the energy of the moment. I could feel, every time he approached a small group, that with this amazing mind quietly waiting to weigh in, the conversation somehow felt elevated when he finally spoke up. I always walked out of their apartment feeling lucky to have been part of the conversation. And I know many people who, despite the sadness of the loss, are feeling lucky to have discovered the music. The man behind the music was a real prince.