I vaguely remember looking over the track listing of The Next Day before it had come out and noticing that there was a song called “Valentine’s Day.” Bowie being Bowie, it seemed unlikely that this would be a Hallmark moment.
And indeed, though on the surface “Valentine’s Day” is one of the poppier numbers on the album, underneath it is a pretty grim piece of work. Without ever actually coming out and saying it, David gradually lets us know that Valentine is a psychotic school shooter, and his “day” is the one on which he will carry out his killing spree — and, as these things go, probably end up dying himself.
It is perverse and perfect. Says O’Leary:
It wouldn’t be as chilling if Bowie hadn’t made the song so catchy, with his Beatles chorus vocals (compare his ooo-la-la-las to those of “You Won’t See Me”) and [Ear] Slick’s guitar arpeggio fills. Even the line about Valentine’s victims — “Teddy and Judy down”—has a sad Sixties echo to it, calling back to Ray Davies’ Terry and Julie in “Waterloo Sunset“; in a brighter time, the song could have been about them, a pair of lovers trying to work things out. Instead they’re just bodies lying in a classroom.
The video, unlike the other Next Day productions, is an old-fashioned one where the rock star holds a guitar and lip-syncs his new single. But Bowie is absolutely riveting in it, staring pitilessly into the camera as he delivers the bad news. No attempt is made to hide his age; instead it lends authority to his judgment, which is that in 21st century America, every day is Valentine’s Day.
In a weird sort of epilogue:
On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Miami suburban town of Parkland, Florida, United States, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others. (Wikipedia)
In a different world we might worry that Cruz was inspired by Bowie’s song. But in this one the occurrence of a Valentine’s Day shooting is just a statistical inevitability.
And that’s the last of the Next Day songs. Thanks to all of you who have consented to have your inboxes clogged over this last month-plus. The thread will now pause over Thankgiving and resume in December with Blackstar — wrapping up, at least for now, sometime around the end of the year.