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David Bowie and the Myth of the Lone Genius

For #mentalhealthawarenessweek I made an Instagram Reel about the myth of the Lone Genius, using David Bowie as an example.

I bloody love Bowie, but he did not produce all that wonderful music alone, and spending years trying to live up to Lone Genius Status caused me more mental health problems than you can shake a stick at.

And it’s not just the creative arts: desperately chasing the myth of the Lone Genius is how we end up with maniacs like Elizabeth Holmes.

Anyway, here's the video, with transcript below. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section!

For mental health awareness week I thought I’d make a video especially for composers, writers, choreographers, filmmakers, addressing one of the most damaging myths of our culture, that of the Lone Genius.

Take Life on Mars by David Bowie - a great track by a Genius Artist. But the music was based on “Comme D’habitude” by Jacques Revaux, which we now know as “My Way.” The beautiful piano part? That was devised and played by Rick Wakeman of Yes. The gorgeous string section, which personally is what I think really makes the track, was written by the criminally under-appreciated Mick Ronson, who of course, also plays the perfect guitar solos. Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey on Bass and drums, and the whole thing was overseen by producer Ken Scott.

A lot of us already suffer with an all-or-nothing attitude - if it’s not a masterpiece then it’s rubbish. And because we’re brought up believing in The Lone Genius, we end up denigrating everything that isn’t a masterpiece that we did first time on our own.

The lone genius is a romantic concept that’s easy to market, but the reality is much more complicated, and we as creators must stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to live up to these impossible fictions.

Only David Bowie could have been David Bowie, but he couldn’t have been David Bowie without the collaboration, support, and brilliance of a LOT of people. And that’s true of everyone popularly regarded as a lone genius - whether that’s Prince or Mozart or even Albert Einstein.

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