There are certain artists about whom we speak of their influence upon other artists, and whatever larger culture we subscribe to, to such an extent that we risk turning inspiration into currency. The discussion becomes just another metric—like sales or Spotify plays—by which we can judge art. For all our talk of taste and singular discernment, nothing is allowed to be beautiful without evidence.
On the other hand, the existential bean counters who judge art by hard sales far outnumber us delicate souls who prefer a slightly less tangible standard by which to justify our record collections. Unless we’re looking to see Patrick Bateman as misunderstood truth-teller, or to rate the Eagles’ Greatest Hits as the peak of human achievement, we’re going to have to go to bat for the ineffable.
There is another, even more utilitarian, reason for valuing influence. One of the very few aspects of David Bowie no longer being alive that isn’t impossibly sad is the comfort in both his lasting influence and the knowing that the man lived long enough to see the influence he had. Life is sad, for all of us left behind, but we take comfort in the fact that David Bowie’s influence spans not just from his one lifetime, but from the multitude of his aspects he expressed throughout that life; the multitude of iterations of David Bowie that lived and died (and, when it made sense to tour on his greatest hits, lived again) within a single gaunt frame. There’s the old joke about how the thousand hepcats who bought the first Velvet Underground album each formed a band. If that joke is true, then at least a thousand bands had a first rehearsal every single time David Bowie debuted a new hairdo.