Ever wonder how David Bowie crafted his memorable song lyrics? The English singer and songwriter, who died Sunday, once described his method to BBC as part of the documentary Cracked Actor. He'd mash up words and phrases he'd picked out first on albums like Low, Heroes, and Lodger, and on later works, including Outside and Earthling, by using a computer program:
"I'll take articles out of newspapers, poems I've written, pieces of other people's books, and put them all into this little warehouse — this container of information — and then hit the random button and it'll randomize everything and I'll get reams of pages back out with interesting ideas," he told BBC.
It's a strategy that dates back to the 1920s, at least, when Dadaist artist Tristan Tzara used it to write poetry. Bowie was apparently directly influenced by Beat writer William Borroughs, who told Bowie about the cut-up technique he had developed in the 1960s. It's an idea that Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt further popularized in the '70s with Oblique Strategies, a printed predecessor of the computer program Bowie would later cite using on albums like Outside and Earthling.
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In turn, Bowie inspired others. As Atlas Obscura notes, he is the indirect reason everyone used to have silly poems on their fridges.
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