“Planet Earth is blue. And there’s nothing I can do.”
That’s a line delivered by the character Major Tom in David Bowie’s 1969 classic Space Oddity, though it’s also a fine description of how fans of music and art around the globe feel this morning upon learning of Bowie’s passing.
As time marches on, the death of one’s heroes is inevitable, but this particular passing really stings, thanks to the incredibly diverse legacy left by the prolific musician, occasional actor and all-around icon. It seems strange that an individual as vibrant and singular as David Bowie could be taken by something as commonplace as cancer, but I suppose we can take heart in knowing that Bowie’s exemplary body of work will last well beyond his corporeal body.
Certainly, the end of David Bowie’s physical time on this planet does provide a perfect opportunity to reflect on the man’s uncommon wisdom and fiercely independent perspective...traits that can absolutely prove invaluable to any investor. So feel free to crank up Ziggy Stardust as we count down some key lessons investors could take from the life and legacy of David Bowie.
1. Look Beyond your Own Backyard
Born and raised in South London, it should come as no surprise that David Bowie was inspired by rock and rollers like Elvis Presley, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Though, unlike many aspiring rockstars, Bowie quickly moved on from rock idol worship, finding inspiration from mime, commedia dell‘arte, German expressionism and many other eclectic artistic styles. Over time, this gave Bowie his distinct - and distinctly international - perspective.
In an increasingly interconnected global marketplace, this sort of broad perspective can prove utterly invaluable. For one very contemporary example, whether you had investments in China or not, if you were watching their markets over the past few weeks, you might have had the good sense to pull out of commodities and any number of related sectors that collapsed due to China’s market woes.
2. Don’t be Afraid of Reinvention
Say you’ve always been a healthcare and energy investor. This strategy could have done very well for your portfolio the past few years, though you likely took a serious hit from energy in 2015, and it appears that profits from healthcare and biotech may finally be starting to wane.
So what’s a health and energy investor to do? Try becoming a transportation and banking investor! Or if you’re feeling particularly bold, why not a “sharing economy” and cannabis investor? The point is, just because you’re known for one thing, that doesn’t mean you can’t reinvent who you are, and what your aspirations might be. After all, Bowie followed up his seminal rock persona Ziggy Stardust with his post-apocalyptic image as the Thin White Duke, before moving to Berlin to take up painting, followed shortly by an extended stint producing New Wave and pop music. Point being, if something isn’t working for you...try something else.
3. Own your Mistakes...then Abandon Them
Every great investor has at least a few horribly off-base predictions under their belt for companies that never quite got off the ground...likely leading to brutal losses. Warren Buffett held stock in UK supermarket retailer Tesco (TSCO) even while it’s value continued to plunge throughout 2014, Netflix (NFLX) debuted Qwikster in a notoriously mismanaged bid to move toward streaming, and David Bowie briefly embraced fascism in a particularly dark phase as the Thin White Duke in the 1970s. While in the grips of addiction to cocaine, Bowie was quoted as saying “Britain is ready for a fascist leader…” and, even more provocatively, “Adolf Hitler was one of the first rockstars.”
Bowie would later retract the comments, blaming them on mental instability due to drugs - and, to be fair, there is plenty of evidence that drug use put Bowie in a very dark place indeed. Bowie’s career before and after had always been marked by a distinct inclusiveness, so it seems entirely fair to take Bowie at his word when he says, “I was out of mind, totally, completely crazed.”
4. Sure, Greed is Good...but so is Selflessness
Bowie has been a massive influence on countless musicians and artists, though he has always been quick to credit his own idols - and even assist them with their own careers. Showing a distinct lack of narcissism, Bowie has often eschewed the spotlight in order to write and produce material for artists like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Mott the Hoople - in many cases providing them “pop hits without causing them to abandon their individuality.”
Though investors can (and should) think about what’s best for their own portfolios, it can be very gratifying and mutually beneficial to share market knowledge, insights and wisdom. If you ever spot a potentially lucrative trade that doesn’t quite fit your needs at the moment, it can only help to point it out to those you trust and admire.
5. If you Feel Lonely...You Might Just be Ahead of the Curve
David Bowie’s music, art and film roles are filled with characters that seem like lonely outsiders. Whether they're alone, hurtling through space, or aliens who have fallen to Earth, they never seem to fit in. Today, though, it’s abundantly clear that Bowie was never alone...he was just far, far ahead of the curve.
Bowie’s glam-rock persona was busting through barriers long before the phrase “gender fluid” became the Internet’s favorite trending topic, and everyone from Madonna to Lady Gaga to Kurt Cobain to Arcade Fire has made clear that they’ve found substantial inspiration from his work. And of course, there’s the many accolades he achieved over the years, including induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. The point is, in the long run, it can pay to be a pioneer.
RIP David Bowie.
Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke and your many other creations will no doubt long live on.
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