I still can’t believe what David Bowie did on the 8th January 2013. Take a decade off for good behaviour, then show up unexpectedly and place the question “Where are we now?” into everyone’s consciousness. After so long a silence it is quite a remarkable achievement. Shut up for ten years, record a secret album, release new song on 66th birthday suprising everyone and entering top ten charts everywhere. Classy.
It wasn’t just the audacity and the coolness of the carefully maintained anti-hype which made it such a great event. It’s a very intelligent choice, to come in quietly. A nostalgic, observational song it’s a surprising choice of comeback but a good one, which catches the seriousness of these entropic times perfectly.
That Bowie scored a hit is no surprise. An intelligent man who has known and worked with highly creative people in many fields all his life, his early success could have been a one-hit wonder – he worked hard to get the audience he has. Tony Oursler’s video is a huge part of this. But by producing a complex meditative piece, a personal retrospective with a plaintive, questioning chorus, a lyric full of Berlin place-names sung in a sometimes frail voice, he makes an artistic statement which is typical Bowie, pleases fans everywhere and adds a few million more, no doubt.
If Bowie has genius it’s as much in his reading of the times we inhabit. The new song’s observant, nostalgic mood is a perfect foil for all the noisy self-assertion out there. Bang on for this historical moment, unrest everywhere, civil wars, bullets and bombs, it’s sympathetic to the mood of now. Berlin was a city under siege when Bowie lived there, with a free and bomenian culture. In the din of the endless regurgitated pop music machine, it stands out as an original as it catches a general mood. There’s a brand new dance, but I don’t know it’s name.
Having heard the question I can’t wait for the album, which is supposed to be full of variety and quite rocky. Perhaps that’s another subterfuge. Anyway, he got everyone’s attention most beautifully.
To quote another English poet from south London, the artist William Blake,
“The imagination is not a State: it is the Human existence itself.”