The Next Day

4 Mar

None of us are getting any younger, and this has to be the plague of a rock star’s existence. In addition to hip replacements and grandkids and whatever other worries they share with the common folk, they also have to make peace with the fact that they aren’t who they were when they became famous. An image of themselves at the peak of fame – young, leather-clad, sexy, invincible – must stare back at them like a mournful ghost every time they look in the mirror.

David Bowie did himself a huge favor by 1) being a musical and marketing genius 2) making well-publicized overhauls to his performing persona over time so he didn’t get stuck in one he couldn’t maintain and 3) being comfortable enough with himself to stay out of the limelight until he had something he wanted to say.

Bowie The Next DayHe waited until his 66th birthday last January to release “Where Are We Now,” the first single from his newest album, The Next Day.  This took pretty much everyone – fans, the press – by surprise. Since a serious on-stage heart attack in 2004, he’d kept a low profile and hadn’t made public that he was recording new material.

The album artwork is simply brilliant: a clean white square obscuring one of his most iconic images, the cover of his 1977 release, “Heroes.” You can’t see his two-tone eyes or his youthful glamour or his stunning black hair. That’s past; that’s been done; you can’t access it anymore. It’s time for something else.

I am just beginning to absorb the album, which will stream on iTunes until it’s available for purchase in a few days. I’ll leave it to the critics to  put it in its proper place in Bowie’s musical canon, but I truly like it. It’s got a great deal of perspective and depth without being inaccessible or arty. While I appreciate his more recent albums, especially Heathen, The Next Day seems warmer, more compassionate. Bowie – a performer who specialized in putting a dramatic distance between himself, the characters he portrayed and his audience – connects to the listener in a very human way.

Always fond of  his visual impact, it’s no surprise that two of the songs have been released via video. “Where Are We Now” is rather strange and subverts his glamour from the get-go: he appears only as a distorted face projected on a two-headed doll. (It’s David Bowie singing mournfully about Germany … what else would you expect?) The other, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” mangles his past identities into a freaky Mobius strip that turns fame in on itself. He’s supported by kindred spirit Tilda Swinton – who, by being in the same room as he is, proves they really aren’t the the same person after all – and a couple of  young doppelgangers:

(It must be noted that there is some half-naked carryings on in this film … but if you look carefully you’ll see that the only one naked to the waist is a man … isn’t he?)

As a man and a musician, David Bowie makes us hopeful. We have more than one chance; we have any number of lives to live, full of discovery and challenge, unbounded by age yet informed by history. Each next day gives us a clean white page on which to begin anew.

Added bonus: In case you haven’t seen the Lincoln-sponsored web ads, Beck produced a remarkable concert version  of Bowie’s “Sound + Vision.” He employed an impressive bank of more than 150 musicians–gospel singers, electric guitarists, strings, percussion, even a yodeler and a singing saw–standing in a ring around the seated audience. There’s a whiz-bang 360-degree video experience, which (if you have the bandwidth) uses your computer’s webcam to follow your eyes as you focus on any element of the concert you wish. Or you can enjoy the standard definition version shot more like a typical concert video–which is still pretty nifty. Grab your earphones and give it a listen and don’t worry: no one’s half-naked in this one.

See you on the flip side …

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3 Responses to “The Next Day”

  1. jumbledwriter March 4, 2013 at 2:12 am #

    I would say Bowie has served himself quite well by having been and continuing to be a genius.
    –JW

    • lpon45 March 4, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

      Long may he continue, too. Thanks for reading!

  2. marmaladefille March 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    Really enjoyed this–and especially what you said about that “clean white page” because I think that’s just the sort of signal he’s sending out. It isn’t over until it’s over–as long as there’s me, as long as there’s you. Bowie honestly dropped off my radar for years (as many things have) and I’m glad he released this one because I am discovering that I missed a whole lot of good stuff in the 1990s and after (“Earthling,” “Outside,” “Heathen”). I appreciate your take on the cover. Good going!

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