Other musicians scoffed at the web. David Bowie started his own Internet service provider.

Some musicians (cough Metallica cough) saw the Internet as a Wild West threatening their ability to control fans' access to their music. David Bowie saw things differently.

In 1998, only 42% of American households had Internet access. Compared to the 74% of households with Internet access today, that's a pretty huge difference.

After releasing his 1996 song "Telling Lies" as a web-only single and selling 300,000 copies (a huge number in any era), David Bowie decided the Internet provided a unique opportunity to interact with fans in a new way.


The only issue was getting more people online. And the best way to do that if you can't wait for the rest of the world to catch up? Start your own Internet service provider.

So, that's what David Bowie did.

Image by Ralph Gatti/Getty Images.

On Sept. 1, 1998, David Bowie launched BowieNet, "the world's first artist-created Internet service provider."

For $19.95 a month, users could access the Internet and many fancy Bowie-themed perks, including an @davidbowie.com email address, 5 MB of personal webspace, unreleased audio and video tracks, and "exclusive music content provided by the Rolling Stone Network."

In short, BowieNet was creative and ground-breaking, and I wish I'd known about it at the time so I could have been jeangenie@davidbowie.com instead of hlibby@not-my-real-email.ca.

The BowieNet landing page in 2000. Image via DavidBowie.com.

As the Internet grew and evolved, some artists (like Prince) changed their minds about it. David Bowie never did.

He held online art exhibitions, offered his voice and his image to video games, and encouraged fans to remix his music on the new site BowieArt. Bowie did all of this because he believed in the power of the Internet, calling it "subversive and possibly rebellious and chaotic and nihilistic."

That statement is from a 1999 interview with U.K. Journalist Jeremy Paxman. Watch Paxman's face as Bowie talks about the internet:

Sorry, J-Pax. This is the face of a man who just doesn't get it. GIF via Clorpse/YouTube.

For a good third of this 16-minute interview, Bowie tries to explain the power of the Internet for artists and creators.

"I appreciate that there's a new demystification process going on between the artist and the audience," Bowie says. "I think we're on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying. [The Internet's] an alien life form."

It's hard to state in a few sentences how special Bowie's attitudes were and still are.

Giving fans increased power to access and interact with artists was a scary concept in 1998. By 2000, musicians like Metallica and Dr. Dre were suing Napster (and the university students using it) for sharing MP3s of their music. In 2014, Taylor Swift famously announced she'd be removing her music from Spotify — one of the world's most popular streaming music services.

Image by Jo Hale/Getty Images.

Yet, Bowie's approach to the Internet remained the same: Let the fans in, let them connect with each other and with you, and allow yourself to be surprised and delighted by what happens.

BowieNet operated as an ISP until 2006 and as a fan community until 2012. By the time it closed its doors, its creator was rewarded with a Guinness world record for "first celebrity ISP" and a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bowie's management announced his passing yesterday with posts on Facebook and Twitter — cutting out the PR middlemen and going straight to the fans with the most important news.


Just as Bowie would have wanted, and the Internet enabled him to do.

Image by Justin Tallis/Getty Images.

Heroes
via James Anderson

Two years ago, a tweet featuring the invoice for a fixed boiler went viral because the customer, a 91-year-old woman with leukemia, received the services for free.

"No charge for this lady under any circumstances," the invoice read. "We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible."

The repair was done by James Anderson, 52, a father-of-five from Burnley, England. "James is an absolute star, it was overwhelming to see that it cost nothing," the woman's daughter told CNN.

Keep Reading Show less
Heroes

I live in a family with various food intolerances. Thankfully, none of them are super serious, but we are familiar with the challenges of finding alternatives to certain foods, constantly checking labels, and asking restaurants about their ingredients.

In our family, if someone accidentally eats something they shouldn't, it's mainly a bit of inconvenient discomfort. For those with truly life-threatening food allergies, the stakes are much higher.

I can't imagine the ongoing stress of deadly allergy, especially for parents trying to keep their little ones safe.

Keep Reading Show less
LUSH

Handmade cosmetics company Lush is putting its money where its mouth is and taking a bold step for climate change action.

On September 20 in the U.S. and September 27 in Canada, Lush will shut the doors of its 250 shops, e-commerce sites, manufacturing facilities, and headquarters for a day, in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike taking place around the world. Lush is encouraging its 5000+ employees "to join this critical movement and take a stand until global leaders are forced to face the climate crisis and enact change."

Keep Reading Show less
Planet
Photo by Annie Bolin on Unsplash

Recent tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have sparked a lot of conversation and action on the state level over the issue of gun control. But none may be as encouraging as the most recent one, in which 145 CEOs signed a letter urging the U.S. Senate to take action at their level.

Keep Reading Show less
popular