It’s rare for a figure in music to enjoy a full career without once compromising his creative integrity. The basic need for stability—or, sometimes, the allure of wealth and fame—often leads artists to stagnate as they appease an established audience or pursue greater commercial success at the expense of innovation.
After all, an artist’s livelihood depends upon the public’s acceptance of his work. And for David Sylvian—a singer-songwriter who has dedicated his life to exploring diverse and challenging realms of musical expression—this is a source of frustration. “I’m not currently thinking about a future in the arts,” he told Uncut in 2018. “To quote Sarah Kendzior from her book The View From Flyover Country, ‘In an article for Slate, Jessica Olien debunks the myth that originality and inventiveness are valued in U.S. society: “This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it.”’”
Today, Sylvian is an enigma. Since beginning his musical career in the late 1970s, he has gradually removed himself from the public eye. A lack of enchantment with the vices of pop stardom drew him to solitude as a young man, and he has lived in near constant seclusion for almost two decades. Formerly idolized by tweens for his androgynous beauty, in contemporary photos he is bearded and modestly dressed, his once radiant and meticulously styled hair hanging in a mane like straw. He has not toured since 2007, he seldom grants interview requests, and his last studio album—if an hour-long spoken word poem could be classified as such—was released eight years ago.
But a devoted fan base still surrounds him. In late October this year, they were treated to something that seemed unfathomable mere months before when the BBC released an audio diary recorded by Sylvian and promoted as his first engagement with the media in 14 years. The program, a celebration of his oeuvre, illustrates the breadth of his talent and the richness of his compositions. As he comes closer to disappearing completely, such a reminder of everything he has accomplished seems especially important.