Dear _____ :
I have to admit it doesn’t bother me terribly much that Bowie finally bit the deathcock… although it is certainly unsettling, because the first time I heard him (in 1969) he was actually YOUNG, a man in his twenties, I think. So, to watch the better part of anyone’s life-cycle like that is a little eerie. As I’ve said elsewhere, Superstars are there to remind us that we all age, decline and die. Or just die.
But it’s not as though I knew DB or was into his music lately (though, have you heard the “outtakes” from Outside? Much more interesting than the original album version)… I think I reached a point about 15 years ago when I really wanted/needed an Artist to be clearly trying to transmit a message or complex personal aesthetic of some kind, which would then justify me putting the time into digging the message/ aesthetic out, but even Dave admitted he was more about surfaces. I found listening to Fiona Apple’s “Idler Wheel…” (about 20 times) more rewarding than anything I’d listened to from Bowie since Scary Monsters.
No one could beat him on the level of cool, but quite a few Artists in Lit/ Music/ Film were more engaging on all the other levels. And poor old Scott Walker, who Bowie ripped off yet again in Blackstar (laugh)*… you can tell Scott’s gasping and sweating to transmit something in his late-phase stuff, unlistenable as it is. But Bowie too often fell back on being super-cool and appropriating the inventions of others. A towering figure in the annals of performance, yes! But even geeky old Andy Partridge (XTC) managed to dwarf Dave, artistically, with, say, the unflaggingly fresh “Apple Venus”, most of which is buzzing with trenchant, grown-up lyrics and humbly inventive arrangements (and Peter Murphy, one of Dave’s stylistic children, managed something much more interesting than most of Dave’s late work with “DUST”)… I feel Dave paid a price for being so cute for so long. Too much of his audience wasn’t astute or picky enough to force him to meet them on a higher level… he always got away with being unsurpassedly cool. At my age, “cool” only occasionally grabs me.
It doesn’t matter to Bowie now but I think it bothered him near the end, when he knew he was sick and had to confront the matter of legacies. You can literally hear him trying one last time to pull off something quite serious with “Blackstar”, and, considering the fact that he had all the money he’d ever need (therefore nothing to fear regarding record sales), the sky should have been the limit, aesthetically, with “Blackstar”… he could have been shockingly direct and real (for a change) or shockingly, eye-openingly nuts. But you hear him falling back on Scott Walker’s work in the title track, and relying on lots of the stuff he’d already tried, c. “Black Ties…”, in the closing track. It’s poignant. In the end, I believe, it turns out that Bowie didn’t really have a helluva lot to say and he said it with impeccable polish his entire career-life.
He had a good run, that DB. I’ll be more disoriented when Don DeLillo goes, though.
(Raising a glass of grape juice to Dave’s stylish ghost…)
Now. Who’s next….? Ringo?
*To quote a pertinent YouTube comment:
The elephant in the elevator, though, is Bowie’s shameless stylistic kleptomania… his early career is like a nature film of a clever parasite as it jumps from Newley to Bolan to Walker… citing any of the three as mere “influences” would be a cynical joke of the highest order. If Walker is at times “pretentious” (the postmodern horse is a tough ride), at least he arrives at his pretentiousness honestly, as the original “Scott Walker”, and not as a billionaire imposter.
UPDATE APRIL 21 2016:
“Now. Who’s next….? Ringo?”
Well, we didn’t have to wait long to find out. Prince! Who is/was only a few months older than me. I’m dreading the orgy of hyperbolic eulogies to come; as irritating as Bowie’s canonization became, it wasn’t half as bad as Prince’s will be, simply because Prince’s average fan is dumber than one of Bowie’s.Which is my idea of an epitaph.
ADDENDUM: Prince’s deathday (at 57) is Queen Elizabeth ll’s 90th birthday. Which is either an irony or a metaphor or an off-color pun of some kind…
I was in London during the drought year of 1990 and I recorded this August 5th Milton Keynes Bowie concert off the radio from the flat on Talgarth Road (a cassette I kept for 15 years)… Bowie’s “Elvis comeback in Vegas” comeback… his peak! A well-recorded, sharply-performed thing! Highlighting Bowie’s talents as an exacting band-leader…