Changes

David Bowie was between albums, which meant he was in another artistic transition. I opened the door to the mastering room, our studio’s best and most comfortable listening environment, to check in on him and make sure he had everything he needed. He turned eagerly toward me. He wore a suit and stood alone on the other side of the room with the mastering console between us. It was early 2000, and this was an important day for him. He would be meeting with the label executives from Sony Music’s Columbia Records — for what reason none of us knew at the time. But having Bowie in the building for any reason was a big deal. Today is the second anniversary of his death, and what I remember most about him is his deference in this private moment.

I feel confident imposing change on myself. It's a lot more fun progressing than looking back.

David Bowie

Barriers

Virgin had released David’s previous album, Hours. While some described it as a masterpiece, it had lackluster sales. Greg Tate for Rolling Stone wrote that it’s “an album that improves with each new hearing.” But listeners had become fickle about waiting for gratification, and so an album like this needed stronger promotion. I suspect David was meeting with Columbia executives to discuss future albums, because Sony Music had written the book on promotion and the coordination of worldwide releases.

Once I had stepped into the room, David came over quickly, understanding the need to eliminate the barriers of the console and distance. His eyes focused on me intently as he walked toward me, and a gentle smile appeared on his lips. He greeted me with his soft, English-accented “Hello.”

DB RIP

Writing for The New York Times, John Pareles calls Bowie “the infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking songwriter…”

Deference

I did the perfunctory studio exec thing, introducing myself and making sure he was comfortable, and I asked if there was anything I could get him. He hesitated with his reply. At that moment, I realized the wholeness of this man: He was in service to me. His eyes said it all: “On the contrary. I’m so very grateful to be here, thank you.” There was an awkward moment as I adjusted to this, but he was patient. We had a laugh, and then he complimented the room and the facility. I wished him well with his meeting, and as I started toward the door, he stepped over and opened it for me.

Two years later, in June of 2002, Columbia would release Heathen, David’s 22nd studio album and his highest charting album since Tonight in 1984. David and Columbia continued their partnership, following up with Reality (2003), The Next Day (2013), which made it to No. 2 on the US Billboard 200, and Blackstar (2016), which was released on his birthday two days before his death. The album made it to No. 1.