Clockwise from top left: young Bowie, old Burroughs, old Bowie
It’s not my position for the kind of artist that I am – which is a person who tries to capture the rate of change – for me to adopt any given policy or stance, politically. Because my job is as an observer of what is happening.
– David Bowie
This quote is from a 1977 interview posted by Momus on his blog yesterday (along with his insta-cover of the new Bowie single “Where Are We Now”). It lends some insight, I think, into the quandary that a David Bowie (in this case, the David Bowie) finds himself in circa 2013, and perhaps into why he’s been largely silent for these last 10 years.
Back in the 70s, the rate of change was faster than it had been previously, but still reasonable enough that an artist of Bowie’s abilities (aided sometimes by illegal stimulants) could keep pace and even stay slightly ahead of the curve. Nowadays, the rate of change is so astronomically fast that no one could keep up with it — least of all a 66-year-old man with a bad heart.
His answer, it appears, has been to go completely in the opposite direction, toward radical slowness. (One album in 10 years is slow by anyone’s standards except maybe Axl Rose or Andrew Eldritch.) We have no way of knowing what the album’s going to sound like, but the only clue he’s given us so far is “Where Are We Now” — which seems blithely oblivious of the modern speed of life, instead reveling in a languid pace suiting its sentimental subject matter. (In contrast, remember how frantic David seemed playing drum’n'bass during the Earthling era, circa 1997, when he was still trying to Keep Up? Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?)
So far it seems to be working for him. About half of all Internet traffic yesterday was Bowie-related, and none of it save the initial salvo (single release, album announcement, and website relaunch) came from the man himself. I imagine him holed up in his New York City apartment today, watching with bemusement the cascading ripples spreading out from his position at the center of the universe.
As an approach to dealing with 21st-century anxiety, this is a sound strategy we would all do well to emulate. As a marketing plan, though, I wouldn’t try it at home, no matter how successful it is. What works for him won’t work for you. Why, you ask? Because he’s David Bowie, that’s why.