David Bowie was always a leader, a forward thinker who constantly dared the establishment to look at itself before it even dared try to figure him out. He died late Sunday night after an 18-month battle with cancer.

For those of a certain generation, you remember when MTV played music videos – 24 hours a day in fact. For those not from a certain generation, you’ve heard from elders who have cursed the day MTV stopped playing music videos in favor of teen centric programming. Back in the early days of MTV, there was a noticeable absence of African-American music videos. It wasn’t until Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” in 1983 that music videos from African-American artists were prominently featured and before “Billie Jean”, Prince’s “1999” broke the color barrier for black artists on MTV in 1982.

None of that sat well with Bowie who, by 1983 was already an iconic figure in music and had hit arguably his commercial peak with “Let’s Dance” (later sampled by Puff Daddy for “Been Around The World”). In an interview which has made the rounds on the Internet today following the “Changes” singer’s passing, Bowie ripped into MTV, questioning the network for its lack of African-American representation in regards to videos. Former MTV VJ Mark Goodman was the MTV subject to feel Bowie’s wrath as he detailed in the book, VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave which was published in 2013.

Bowie pestered Goodman, who was interviewing the artist in regards to his Lets Dance album about the lack of diversity.

“It occurred to me having watched MTV over the last few months that it’s a solid enterprise,” Bowie said of the then-two-year-old network, which had a number of his music videos in heavy rotation. Dressed in a natty suit and absentmindedly picking at lint on his socks, though, Bowie clearly had more than faint praise on his mind. “It’s got a lot going for it. I’m just floored by the fact that there’s so few black artists featured on it. Why is that?”

By that time, Bowie had already been working with a then unknown Luther Vandross who eventually broke into his own superstardom. Bowie’s leadership and eccentrics happened to bridge funkmaster Nile Rodgers & guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. It was Rodgers who alerted Bowie to the original issues at MTV and pointed out very sharply that the only time artists of color appeared on MTV at the time was at “2:30 in the morning.”

“There seem to be a lot of black artists making very good videos that I’m surprised aren’t being used on MTV,” Bowie told Goodman. Goodman, playing a company man in the back and forth could only answer what MTV’s views were at the time. “We have to try and do what we think not only New York and Los Angeles will appreciate, but also Poughkeepsie or the Midwest. Pick some town in the Midwest which would be scared to death by… a string of other black faces, or black music,” Goodman said. “We have to play music we think an entire country is going to like, and certainly we’re a rock and roll station.”

All of it is awkward and all of it puts Goodman & MTV in a very weird predicament. But that was Bowie, daring the establishment to see him for what he was and try their best to deal with him. He will be missed.

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