This morning I rewatched the “I’d Rather Be High”/Louis Vuitton thing and I have some thoughts.
- First off, what do we call it exactly? A commercial short film? A music video with product placement? It seems like it might actually be a couple of 30-second spots followed by a full run through the song. Not that it really matters what we call it; from this vantage it is a bizarre slice of late-early-21st-century culture.
- As I read the lyrics today, I am thinking this song is the dying reverie of a teenage soldier who spent too much of his short life reading. Which makes it all the more a perverse choice for a high-gloss fashion shoot. And I mean “perverse” in the best possible way — there is our old friend Bowie, up to his old tricks again, sneaking his morbid/sexy weirdness into the mainstream.
- David’s mouth never syncs up with the music, which has to be a conscious choice by the director. Is he trying to make some kind of comment about time? Clearly Art is being attempted here; as the video goes on, we start to see the camera crew and makeup artists. (“A hedge fund manager’s idea of surrealism,” sniffs O’Leary.)
- I had not previously watched the very end of the clip, wherein the bit from the “Love Is Lost” video with David washing his hands in his bathroom is reprised. This has to mean something; like, he was washing his hands of the whole thing, preparing even then for his move to the next bardo?
Next up on the hit parade is “Dirty Boys,” which for my money is one of late-stage Bowie’s best songs. It’s an outlier in a couple ways: for one, it sounds different from everything else on The Next Day, built on a Morphine-esque bass-and-sax dialogue. (The stabbing guitar that keeps barging in is in thrall to Robert Fripp’s work on Scary Monsters.)
“Dirty Boys” also traffics in sexual ambiguity in a way David hadn’t in, like, 40 years. Early Seventies Bowie’s much-vaunted “gayness” had turned out to me mostly a PR stunt; in the Eighties he was criticized by the gay community, not without reason, for turning his back on the AIDS crisis. And that opens a whole can of political worms that I’d rather leave undisturbed. I still think “Dirty Boys” is a great song, but also one you maybe don’t want to think about too much.
In looking around for relevant videos, I was braced for a barrage of homoerotic imagery, but none was forthcoming — at least not in the places I was looking. All I could find was this anodyne clip:1
One of the comments says:
Anyone else picture a burlesque show when listening to this one? Like an enchanting woman singing it all sultry.
And now that’s all I want to see. Maybe in my dreams.