Saturday, January 07, 2012

Brilliant Bowie Birthday Piece from The Guardian

I came across this super article by Alexis Petridis from The Guardian, in celebration of Bowie's proper retirement birthday upon turning 65, this Sunday.

David Bowie: myth-maker turns 65 away from limelight

 By Alexis Petridis
Photo of David Bowie
David Bowie in the 1970s, not a man destined to make old bones - or so we thought. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives
It's a cliche when a rock star reaches 65 to mention the time when it didn't look like they'd make pensionable age, but with David Bowie, who marks the milestone on Sunday, it's almost unavoidable. Look at a picture of him in the mid-70s, when he was ravaged by cocaine, living off a diet of red peppers and milk and so paranoid that he apparently kept his own urine in a fridge lest persons unknown steal it: this is not a man destined to make old bones.

It wasn't just the drugs: there was something about the intensity with which he worked during that decade - the scarcely-believable ten-year creative streak that begins with the 1970s The Man Who Sold The World and ends with the 1980's Scary Monsters And Super-Creeps – that suggests an early demise. Someone that burns that brightly probably isn't going to burn for long.

Under the circumstances, it's hard to begrudge him his ongoing semi-retirement: he last made an album in 2003, and for the best part of a decade has made only sporadic public appearances, the odd special guest spot here and there. It was precipitated by emergency surgery on a blocked artery, and lurid rumours about the state of his health have abounded ever since.

Ill or not, having achieved more in one phase of his career alone than anyone can hope to in a lifetime – so much that it's literally impossible to imagine what pop music would be like if he hadn't existed – he's entitled to take early redundancy from pop stardom.

You can mourn the loss of more music if you want, but in a sense, his absence feels strangely right. Before his retirement, he'd begun down the path taken by most august rock legends: having bullishly announced in 1990 that he'd never return to his most famous songs, he began playing the hits again – he performed Low in its entirety in 2002 – tacitly acknowledging that his best work was probably behind him. It's a pragmatism that has served everyone from Paul McCartney to Iggy Pop well, but the all-our-yesterdays approach somehow didn't suit Bowie.

The artist who drew a decisive, iconoclastic dividing line between the 60s and the 70s in the lyrics of All The Young Dudes ("my brother's at home with his Beatles and his Stones … what a drag"), Bowie's music was never about nostalgia, always the present, or, even better, the future. Furthermore, the playing the-big-hits gigs are about creating a warm, communal glow of recognition among the audience and Bowie's music was never about that either. There was almost always something distant, aloof, other about it, even when it sounded like it was speaking directly to the listeners. "You're not alone, give your hands, you're wonderful," he cried at the end of 1972's Rock 'N' Roll Suicide, the collective we're-all-in-this-together sentiment undercut by the fact that it was sung by Bowie in the guise of someone else: he's playing a role.

His music could certainly move you, but the main emotion it instilled was a kind of boggling awe, not least 1976's Station To Station, made at the height of the wee-in-the-fridge era and yet - incredibly given that Bowie claimed to not actually remember making it - arguably his best album. You listen to it, or Low, or Diamond Dogs in the absolute certainty that the person who made it was not like you or anyone else, no matter how much anyone else claimed to identify with him: not the gay kids who sat thunderstruck in front of Top Of The Pops as he casually slipped his arm around his hapless guitarist Mick Ronson ("people used to stop my sister on the street and say 'is that Mick of yours a poof?'", he later protested), not the fanatics who dressed up like him, not the legions of other artists who tried to imitate him and always fell short.

Bowie was an early adopter of the internet, but he didn't really fit with the notion of a star in the 21st century, an era when the manufacturing of pop music has been laid bare on the TV and where stars are perpetually available on Twitter and Tumblr. Rock music currently exists in a world of 360 degree connectivity that's supposed to bring the artist and the fan closer and reveal the real person behind the myth. But as the best of his umpteen biographers David Buckley pointed out, with Bowie, revealing the real person behind the myth is missing the point: "the myth has far greater resonance and is far more intriguing than stolid attempts to identify a 'true' essence … his appeal has lain in the generation of myths." Those myths look likely to remain intact forever, which seems perfectly fitting.

I've no bones about Bowie finally "making old bones". I miss him(well...maybe I miss him as a 30 year old) but completely respect his will and desire to laze on the chaise, wrapped in a glitter Snuggie watching old Benny Hill reruns and eating kippers.  I mean, he sold that back catalogue for a cool billion with a reason, right? I wonder if he's a closet gamer? Or has an ant farm/toy train/Dark Shadows memorabilia collection in his penthouse. Maybe he's the guy who bought all of Elton John's wacky glasses from the 70s. Perhaps an arcade size Dance Dance Revolution game is set up in one of his den's, and he just hits, pops and jiggers on the lit up dance floor in his Let's Dance era grey silk suit (that's been taken out a few inches),  Maybe he knits colorful scarves  or is making plans to launch his own line of Make Up.  Ham radio?

It is quite unbelievable that his son (once Zowie, now Duncan Jones: Director of the films Source Code and Moon), gets more media play than dear old dad these days .  Hell, even Iman doesn't know where he is. So many rooms, so little time to look.

Happy Birthday's to becoming the real life Thin White, Wrinkled, Constipated and Cranky Duke.


  1. That is an interesting article. Hats off to David Jones for being his own editor and not forcing out "contractual obligation discs" just because he thinks he should.

  2. clive3:50 AM

    I like the courage of the thin white duke.Thanks David.God Bless.Clive.

  3. I don't know if it is courage or complacency, but either way he's more than earned his reclusive behavior. It's downright frightful out here.

  4. Anonymous6:24 PM

    Do you really think this is a super article? I suppose its enthusiasm is likable, but it isn't very well written and all the wackiness at the end is a bit annoying.

  5. The wackiness at the end is my personal commentary. Thank God it's annoying. That's precisely what I was going for.