It was one year ago today that David Bowie broke a long silence with the release of “Where Are We Now.” Which makes this as good a time as any to ask… well, where are we now?
It’s 2014 now, in case you haven’t gotten the memo. I suppose this happens to everyone with the passage of time, but the numbers attached to the years we’re living in seem more and more surreal to me. I can remember when the arrival of 1976 was a big deal. Then 1984, then 1999…9/11 seems like a relatively recent event to me, but all these are now receding into the distant past.
There are only two responses to this. One is to panic, and the other is to focus on the present moment and forget all about the numbers.
Which brings us back to Bowie, because the moment has arrived for me to name my album of the year for 2013. I am giving it to David for The Next Day, as there was little doubt I would, though I had to at least go through the charade of considering others. Read more »
I am pleased to report that as of this week I have officially fallen in love with David Bowie’s new album. It took a little while — the compositions on The Next Day are not, for the most part, immediate grabbers. And the production style is very dense and overloaded, making a complete listening of the album somewhat exhausting; it is best heard four or five songs at a time, say in the car while driving back and forth between Eureka and Arcata.
But just when I started to fear The Next Day was going to come and go without making much of an imprint on my consciousness, I found the songs popping into my head at random times and places. “(You Will) Set The World on Fire,” “Dirty Boys,” “Valentine’s Day,” “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die”: great tunes all.
If I do have a criticism, it’s the way the album’s assembled: The sequencing seems pretty haphazard and it could use a little trimming. None of the songs are terrible, but 45–50 minutes are optimum for any album, especially one this information-rich. Fortunately, modern technology makes it pretty easy to create your own version; here’s the one I’ve been listening to lately. Read more »
I love Station to Station the album, but I am here today to talk about “Station to Station” the song. My favorite Bowie song, like my favorite Bowie album, changes from moment to moment depending on a complex set of factors, chief among them being what I happen to be listening to at the time. The wheel probably lands on “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” more than any other song, but “Station to Station” has been getting a great deal of play around my place lately, so it is often my favorite for at least 10 minutes at a time.
Length is one of the defining characteristics of “Station to Station”; at approximately 10:10, is one of the longer songs in the Bowie oeuvre. But of course it is really many songs in one. In my research I have identified eight different movements:
0:00-1:13 This is the intro. It starts as a wash of white noise, under which a chugging rhythm that resembles the sound of a train emerges. At :30 a whistle is heard, and though there is no voice saying “All aboard!”(except perhaps in my head), the meaning is clear enough: We are in for a journey. I always quite enjoy this part, because it means the next 10 minutes will be unusually pleasurable ones. After that the rhythm speeds up, dopplers, and the sound of the train’s wheels can be clearly heard. At 1:04 a single guitar note becomes audible, feeding back and distorting into a more solid tone, and a very subtle rhythm track kicks in, leading to… Read more »
It’s going to be all Bowie, all the time for awhile as the Bowie Nation girds itself for the release of The Next Day, scheduled for, um, the next Tuesday.
I have been working on managing my expectations for this album, which would have to be insanely great even to crack my list of top 10 Bowie records, and has virtually no chance of threatening the top 5 (in alphabetical order, Diamond Dogs, Hunky Dory, Station to Station, Young Americans, and Ziggy Stardust; the exact order varies depending on season, time of day, atmospheric pressure, and other factors). It helped that The Next Day was unexpectedly available as free download on iTunes for a couple days. I listened to it just enough to conclude that it does not suck and it fact shows great promise; now I am content to sit back and wait for the actual physical object to arrive via U.S. Mail. Yes, I am old-school that way.
In the meantime, let’s talk a little about the second single, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).” It may not be the greatest song David’s ever written, but man, it’s one hell of a video. Provocative, would be my one-word review. In case you haven’t seen it:
Truth be told, the spectre of another David – Lynch – looms large over this production. He was not involved as far as I know, but his footprints are all over it: the subversion of suburban normality, doppelgangers, food fetishism, weird jumpy cuts and changes of speed; all that’s missing is midgets talking backwards. Bowie knows from David Lynch, we can be sure – he appeared in the Twin Peaks movie, Fire Walk with Me – so I doubt the resemblance is accidental. Instead I imagine Bowie saying to his director, “Give me a Lynch-type thing here.” Well, Mr. B has always been one to steal from the best; and had Lynch in fact directed this, it would have been the best thing he’s done for 20 years. So no one is harmed, I don’t think.
It’s a nice touch by Bowie casting himself as the straight-laced everyman whose life is upended by the intrusion of a freaky celebrity couple. Young Bowie, with his combination of devastating charisma and ambiguous sexuality, was the bane of uptight parents everywhere; but with the passage of time he became almost cuddly, which was nice for him perhaps but not so rock’n’roll. In his golden years he seems to have made a conscious choice to embrace his freakitude. So The Next Day, I think, marks the return of not just David Bowie the artist, but also David Bowie the provocateur. This is a welcome development indeed.
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.
Over the last couple days I’d been thinking what I could post to mark David Bowie’s 66th birthday today (also the birthdays of Elvis, 78; Bill Graham, 82; Graham Chapman, 81; Stephen Hawking, 71; Soupy Sales, 87; and on a slightly lesser note, R. Kelly, 46). It was hard to generate too much enthusiasm, as David appeared to have shuffled off into retirement after his last album, Reality, in 2003. It was going to be a link, maybe, to the video for the original version of “Space Oddity,” circa 1969.
But the tricky Mr. B beat me to the punch, shocking the world by releasing a new single and announcing a new album shortly after midnight. What is perhaps most shocking is that he managed to keep it a secret for so long. As an article in the Guardian said,
It’s incredible that, in an era of gossip websites and messageboard rumours, one of the biggest stars in the world, presumed retired, can spend two years making a new album without the merest whisper of it reaching the public. But somehow he did it.
Another interesting twist is the cover, which appears to be simply the cover of the “Heroes” album, with the word “Heroes” crossed out and a white square with the words “The Next Day” obscuring much of the content. Strange and provocative — well done, Mr. Jones and co. As for the music, I like the single — I’m not sure yet if I love it — but I can’t wait to hear more. How long till March?
For some time now I’ve been looking forward to the day when Bowieism will officially be recognized as a viable option when it comes to choice of religion. (None of the presently available ones really suits me; if push came to shove I’d probably check the box for “agnostic,” unsatisfying as that might be.)
But I suppose it will only happen after David is gone, and I’m in no hurry for that. Although he doesn’t seem inclined to give us any more music at this point (or to ever again update his website, for that matter), I hope he enjoys a good, long, healthy retirement. The prospect of a planet without David Bowie on it is not one that I relish.
Of course, Bowieism would require accepting the fact that God recorded “The Laughing Gnome,” made albums like Tonight and Never Let Me Down, and let Hunt Sales sing in Tin Machine. But compare these with some of the things other gods are guilty of. War, famine, pestilence, the existence of evil in the world — are these things not worse than that disco version of “John, I’m Only Dancing”?
Much as some people judge others based on their feelings about Jesus, Allah, or JHVH, a person’s attitude toward Bowie can change my opinion of them for better or worse. Now not everyone who loves Bowie is a mensch; and not everyone who doesn’t is a fool; I’m just saying that all things being equal, I am much more likely to get along with the Bowieist than the non-Bowieist.
At this very moment I am listening to “TVC15″ and hearing some vocal harmonies on the right channel that I never noticed before. I must have heard this song hundreds of times. Of course I can be a little dense but still…remarkable when you keep finding new things in the seemingly familiar…that is Art, my friends.
Mr. David Bowie turns 65 today, so now he can officially retire — though he seems to have done so already, with no new album since Reality in 2003. Well, never mind…we got plenty from David…I just hope he is enjoying his Golden Years.
Here’s an underappreciated Bowie gem from back in the day: 1967, to be exact.
This video of Mr. Bowie on the Dinah Shore show in 1975 is not of the highest quality, but it does have a few things to recommend it. Dinah herself gives a nice intro, during which we get a brief glimpse of the show’s other guests, which include Henry Winkler and the great Nancy Walker. (Nancy Walker! Are you there, Tommy V?) And then we get to see 85-pound David Bowie absolutely belting out “Five Years” backed by his Plastic Soul touring band, who give the song a little different flavor than the Spiders did.
“Don’t talk of dust and roses
Or should we powder our noses…”
—D. Bowie, “Big Brother”
Among the things I’ve learned from Marc Spitz’s Bowie is that if you want to weigh 85 pounds like David Bowie did in 1984, you should try a strict diet of
cocaine, coffee, Marlboros, red and green peppers and whole milk from the carton
In fact cocaine is one of the more important characters in the book, David’s constant companion throughout the mid-70s, a key contributor to the making of Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, and Station to Station, just for starters. I was surprised to find that it didn’t get its own entry in the index, although there are 21 entries under “Bowie, David, cocaine addiction of”—not to mention 11 more under “drug-induced paranoia and psychosis of,” which is itself reason enough to think twice about trying the David Bowie Diet. I myself have always been terrified of cocaine, in part because of what it did to David Bowie while helping him make some of the greatest music ever recorded. Read more »