David Bowie & Other Rock Legends on Life, Art & Aging

Photo by Brian Duffy

We dug through our archives for our favourite quotes from renowned singers and songwriter—from Bryan Adams to Stevie Nicks to Sting and Loretta Lynn.

David Bowie, who passed away last month at age 69, never shied away from the subject of aging. On the contrary, to the very end he re-invented himself creatively while embracing the maturity of age privately.

“I’m very at ease, and I like it. I never thought I would be such a family-oriented guy. I didn’t think that was part of my makeup,” the classic rocker once said. “But somebody said that as you get older you become the person you always should have been, and I feel that’s happening to me. I’m rather surprised at who I am, because I’m actually like my dad.”

The news that Duncan Jones, Bowie’s son, and his wife are expecting their first child, which he told Bowie back in December, is almost bittersweet, knowing the rocker would have been a grandfather. It’s almost impossible to imagine Bowie in the role – Ziggy Grampsdust anyone? – and yet, like every other role in his life, we’re sure he would have adapted wonderfully.

With Bowie’s words in mind, and as Lady Gaga prepares to pay tribute to The Thin White Duke with a medley of his songs at this Sunday’s Grammy Awards, we dug through our archives to find some of our favourite quotes from interviews with renowned singers and songwriters – from Bryan Adams to Stevie Nicks to Sting and Loretta Lynn – who’ve sat down with Zoomer over the years.

* Rock legend Bryan Adams on whether it’s possible to know an artist through their music:

“I don’t think anybody can totally reveal themselves through their music. There is always going to be a question mark, and that’s the intangible and beautiful thing about music. You can’t analyze everything about it because it is a mystery, and that’s incredible and exciting.” Click here for the full interview.

* Country legend Loretta Lynn remembers her “best moment” as a recording artist:

“Well, I’m really not that good of a singer. I just sing. Somebody asked me the other day what’s the best moment I ever had since I’ve been recording, and I said when Pavarotti had his show in L.A. He wanted me to do a show with him and I did that was one of the neatest memories because I loved him. He was such a great man … That was something that nobody else could say [they did], that was in country music. They could not say that they’d sung with Pavarotti. But he fell in love with the song, “One’s on the Way.” [Laughs] Isn’t that funny? He loved that song. I couldn’t believe it.”

* Glass Tiger’s Alan Frew on how music aided in his recovery after his stroke in 2015:

“The need to recover and get back to being the vocalist who performed these songs at this level is helping propel and inspire my recovery. I have set the bar high and I won’t settle for anything less so now the challenge is set and the mountain has to be climbed.” Click here for the full interview.

* Jann Arden reveals one of her most important life lessons:

“If there is one thing that I have learned in these past five decades, it is to laugh. Laugh, laugh, laugh. I have always been able to look at my life and see the profound humour in even the darkest of days.” Click here for the full story.

* Molly Johnson, whose 2014 album Because of Billie celebrated the music of Billie Holiday, talks the “gravitas” jazz music deserves:

“You know, jazz musicians, it’s funny, we never rehearse. This is for amateurs. That’s the rule, right? You’re going to run the chart, you’re going to get the arrangements straight, and then you’re going to go play it. And if you can’t do that, then you really should stay home. And you can quote me on that, because it’s annoying. There’s so much life that has to have been lived in order to give those songs the authenticity that they deserve. That’s another piece to this. You’ve got to have lived a certain life to give it the gravitas it deserves.” Click here for the full interview.

* Randy Bachman on being broken:

“When you get to a certain age you have experienced situations where you are broken – your heart, your mind, your soul – and you’ve also broken other people’s hearts and minds and souls. It’s a double-edged sword and when you live through that, you can either OD, you can go and be a hermit in the woods [or] you can face it head-on and go, ‘Screw this, I’m going to celebrate this and put it into my acting or painting or into an album and appeal to everybody else who’s going through these same changes … Without the bad times, you don’t know what the good times are. You’ve got to have a couple of strikeouts and then you really appreciate hitting and getting on base. And if you get a home run you really appreciate that.” Click here for the full interview.

* Harry Belafonte on his mission as an activist and an artist:

“I sang my song both musically and socially; who I am is on the table and a lot of people came to it approvingly. And in that approval, I was given a solid platform on which to launch my mission [for] social development, activism and the things I did politically … Let’s put it this way: I’m not an artist who became an activist; I’m an activist who became an artist.” Click here for the full interview.

* Petula Clark on legendary Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, who was famously smitten with her:

“We never met. It’s strange because I was coming to Toronto fairly often and he was here and he didn’t try to contact me and I certainly wouldn’t have had the nerve to contact him. I didn’t know of his affection for me anyway. And then suddenly he was gone and it was too late. So I read a lot about him and I read what he wrote about me and I was very touched. I was very flattered by it. And I started listening more carefully to his music and it goes everywhere with me … I feel as if I should have met him. I think we would have got on very well together.” Click here for the full interview.

* Tom Cochrane recounts how Terry Fox inspired him to continue pursuing music when he was young and disillusioned:

“You look back all [the] sleeping in vans and sleeping in station wagons to save money because you didn’t have money for a room. And maybe two or three nights where you wouldn’t sleep in a real bed. You know, you’re living on a shoestring. And we’re driving back from Winnipeg to Toronto and I’m wondering, “Why the heck am I doing this? Sleeping in the back of the station wagon, we’re taking turns driving. And outside of Thunder Bay, traffic stops and the rain’s pouring down and [I] look out the window and this police car goes by and then slowly, out of the drizzle, comes this one-legged boy running. And you wonder whether it’s tears or whether it’s rain running down his face, and he’s looking ashen, [and] you can see the pain but you can see the courage in his face. And that was the last day he ran. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was a moving experience, and I thought, ‘How tough is my gig? How can I complain about this? I’m able to make music. I’m making people happy with the music.’ And it sort of changed my outlook on life, you know? It was one of those markers that you pay attention to and you go, ‘I’m going to keep at this for a little while longer.’ So it was a powerful experience.” Click here for the full interview.

* British rocker Sting on the art of performing decades-old classics:

“I can still get the high notes. Once I can’t get those, I’ll stop embarrassing myself. Some of those songs I wrote over 30 years ago. My job as a singer is to do them like I wrote them this afternoon with the same energy and excitement and sometimes with more insight. I’ve sung ‘Roxanne’ just about every night of my professional career, and it’s loose enough an arrangement to explore harmonically different facets all the time. Miles Davis only played six or seven tunes his whole life onstage. He knew it didn’t matter what the head was, he could explore, so it’s much the same with my old songs. They’re not written in stone. They’re not sacred cows. They’re vehicles for exploration.” Click here for the full interview.

* Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks teaches us how to listen to music:

“You forget how great a sound is until you actually listen to a vinyl record. You forget why we loved vinyl so much. And then, you know, we also love cassettes … I have a [two-in-one] cassette and CD player. I’ll have my assistant make me a CD of [a digital album] and I’ll put it into my CD/cassette [player] and then I’ll [transfer] it from CD to cassette. And then I’ll listen to it back on a cassette. And the difference – the way it sounds, that way, from CD to cassette [to] the way it sounds digital – there’s no comparison. There’s something that’s just kind of warm and friendlier and bigger in a way. Not necessarily louder but … greater. I can’t even explain it. It’s just I think that whole analog thing comes through as soon as you put it back to tape. Try it.” Click here for the full interview.

* Tony Bennett explains his artistic approach to longevity:

“As soon as you get burnt out singing, you go over to painting. As soon as you get burned out painting, you go back to singing – and it feels new again, every time. Maybe if you did just one thing, eventually you’d say to yourself, ‘I’ve got to take a vacation and get away from this.’ I never feel burnt out. To me, I’m on perpetual vacation. I’m very fortunate.” Click here for the full interview.

* Art Garfunkel on how much fun it is to sing the Simon and Garfunkel hit “Bridge Over Troubled Water”:

“If you don’t think I get a kick, like the listeners do, when that third verse begins and you’re [setting up] for “Sail on silvergirl” – that’s good record making. I’m sorry. It’s like an automobile going into another gearshift that’s so much fun to shift into.” Click here for the full interview.

* Eric Burdon of The Animals remembers when the British Invasion turned sour:

“Well, when it started out, [the various British bands involved] were like brothers in arms. We were all friends and we’d get together and have a drink after a show. It was a real tight knit club of people. But then the big money started coming in, and the big agents and managers got their hands on the dough, and then there was a need for competition and so the camaraderie was lost by about ’67. I hated the expression British invasion. But we were young, we were from Britain and we were in America playing their music to them. That was a big thing to be able to pull off.” Click here for the full interview.

* Robbie Robertson reminisces about the music of his youth in the 1960s:

“I do miss the unity of that time. Music was the voice of that generation, when the feeling was we have to stand up and make a difference. Now everything is so fragmented, it’s hard to know what people believe in. There’s a lot of [new] music that I do like and appreciate but every once in a while I find myself thinking, ‘Say something. Do something. You know – mean it.'” Click here for the full interview.

* Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s long-time lyricist, on how he’s more passionate now about painting than he ever was as a songwriter:

“Oh yeah, I’m much more intense as a painter. I was a little cavalier in the early days as a songwriter. I mean, I just felt that maybe I just threw it out a little too easily. I don’t know – maybe it came to me easily, but I was a whole different person back then. At that point in time, [I had] that sort of, ‘Well, it’s me and Elton against the world.’ If I go back on a lot of those early songs there are things I would probably like to spend a little more time on and I could probably improve on them and people probably wouldn’t necessarily agree with that.” Click here for the full interview.

* Canuck crooner Paul Anka discusses how he maintained his longevity after the British Invasion of the 1960s changed music forever:

“I stayed very viable as a writer, whether it was The Longest Day or The Tonight Show theme. And my cred stayed very real, so it separated me from all those other kids I grew up with … And then when you write “My Way,” and you’re attached to Sinatra in that way – you know, perception … Now, more than that, it all came from the periphery – the press, the audience, those people that really make it happen for you to last because they show up. All I had to do was stay true to what I was about, stay true to what my talent was, keep the integrity, and continue to grow. I continued to grow from decade to decade and what I was doing and not giving up. The worst thing you can do is predicate your life on making money and then saying “I’m quitting” because then you die. You stand still, they throw dirt on you. To me it was always do it, keep doing it. The flag’s not in the mountain. Keep doing better things, better work. Keep writing, and hopefully the people get it. And that’s, to me, the best knowledge that I can put forth on that.” Click here for the full interview.

* Susan Boyle talks her rise to fame at age 48, and how it may have turned out if she’d struck it rich sooner:

“Well, I drew my inspiration from my own particular circumstances…and I never gave up when it came to my destiny. I hoped one day that it would actually materialize because I’m a big believer in dreams coming true.

I draw a lot of strength from my faith, and I draw a lot of strength from the fact that I enjoy what I’m doing. I think, to keep going, it’s enthusiasm. It’s infectious.” Click here for the full interview.