Saturday, January 12, 2013

A world in shock

No, this is not about war, crimes or politics. It is about music. And to be specific, rock music.

And to really nail it down, about David Bowie. 66 years old on 8 January and a music icon. After an enormously successful career he suffered a heart problem while performing in 2004. 


This, according to "sources", prompted him to reevaluate life and concluding that almost 30 years in the music industry including writing, recording, producing and performing as well as acting in several movies, nurturing a number of other artists, being an early starter in the music internet business (bowienet) and somehow also paint... was enough.

Time to retire and devote life to his wife Iman and daughter Alexandria (now 12) as well as son and movie director Duncan Jones.  He has since lived, for being a rock icon, a very quiet life outside the limelight. When he did not even make so much as a statement on his 65 birthday last year most of us fans as well as "those in the know" gave up and accepted the fact: he simply does not want.

And I think we accepted it with crace, so to speak. Rather than Rolling Stones churning out remakes of the same music over and over, Rod Stewart in Las Vegas singing "classics" or others from the same era that has gone more or less pathetic Bowie has always had the hallmark of being restless, more focused on next album than on the ones released. Better to go while still good (Heathen is really good, Reality not so - I think) than becoming irrelevant?

And then boom. Out of the blue. On his 66 birthday suddenly his dormant website davidbowie.com and his facebook page announces a newly released track and a coming album release! It went to iTunes UK nr.1 immediately and is doing well whereever iTunes are allowed (not here, needless to say).

The hype is huge and apparently at least 1 other artist was unlucky to announce a release on the same day... poor guy. "Why" you may ask if you are not interested in Bowie or what is loosely termed Rock music?

Well, it is a kind of "state of shock". Somehow a total icon, constantly being watched by journos, paparazzis and fans alike, managed to keep a complete lid on the fact that he for TWO YEARS has been recording new music. Few, if anyone, has managed anything even close to that media blackout.

And that is just so bastardly clever. Whatever your opinions on Bowie and his music there is no doubt that underneath it all lies the mind of a very clever businessman. He foresaw the whole digital or rather filesharing revolution, in an interview round 2000 predicted that music will be like "tap water". Went internet, sold email addresses (no I have no sinclair@bowienet.com) and made another fortune on top of the one he alreay made.

So a comeback after over TEN YEARS of mainly total quiet creates a hype like few others. Talk about huge expectations.

The other part has to do with his artistical persona. The Chamelon of Rock, Mr. Restless, Ch-ch-changes. The few times we fans and critics alike have been disappointed with any of his 30 or so albums were when he went predictable. The followup to "Let's Dance" in the 80's, "Tonight, was disaster apart from a few good songs though the worst (in my opinion) was "Never Let Me Down" and the whole Spider Tour thing. Brr, I still shudder. The 1 album I refuse to get.

Many many are the albums that did not get good reviews when released and left fans confused. But grew in sales and acclaims over time. "Diamond Dogs", "Young Americans", "Low" and "Heroes" were so shapeshifting that even core fans had problems taking them in. Then periods of silence, then the "1.Outside" and then "jungle" album "Earthling" and suddenly performing with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails!

Then sort of quiet again, "Hours" are in my opinion 1 of the "lesser" releases. He must have been, for once, nostalgic as he apparently recorded a full album of songs from his 1966-67 debut and then flushed it. Of course it got leaked on internet (tap water...) and even I admit it is not very good.

In 2002 I was on my way to Maputo Mozambique and managed to buy newly released "Heathen" at Joburg airport. Once arrived I had a rented Kia with a good soundsystem.. I have no idea how many times "Slow Burn" and "Everone says Hi" made me stay in the car rather than go to the place I lived - that had no sound system.

"Reality" and the recorded live tour where he suffered heart problems on stage is in my opinion "good but not amazing". I have the live album and for the first time ever I heard a "I have done this so many times I can do it in my sleep" David Bowie. Not the restless, "it can be done different" artist I had come to expect.

So again, when he sort of disappeared I thought like "cool, go while on top of things. Have a nice retirement, I have all your music to listen to".

And then the Shapeshifter himself comes back. As someone pointed out not at all ashamed of being 66, instead releasing a video and photos where he looks decidely old, and again with music that leaves fans and critics divided.

So there are my musings of the hype around the comeback of an ageing rockstar. I think we need to see Bowie more as a director than necessarily just a music performer. Like some directors of movies the focus changes as you age and we are still to see what is to come.

Finally: the new song and video "Where are we now". The video has already been analyzed to pieces on internet but it turns out that the odd room it is shot in is simply the director's studio.. and the woman the director's wife. No early life love, not Björk or whooever. The song itself is slow, somewhat eerie and haunting and has numerous references to his life in Berlin during the 70's when he shared a flat with Iggy Pop. Is it good? Yes. Is it a hit? I will be surprised, regardless of iTunes sales.

But then again, that is his strength. To always surprise. And that is where he totally outperforms other megastars and icons, regardless of age.
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