I had a minor meltdown on Twitter last night when I learned that David Bowie had - completely without warning - released a new single and accompanying video, "Where Are We Now," his first new music in nearly a decade (Bowie turned 66 today), from the album The Next Day, due to be released in March:
Back in high school, David Bowie was the first musician I listened to in any kind of intentional way, and he's been, by far, my biggest artistic influence in the six or so years since then (before I knew his music, he was Jareth the Goblin King and my aunt's biggest crush). As someone who's kept a fairly close watch on all the nothing that went on on the official David Bowie website until midnight this morning, I was completely stunned last night when I went to the site - just to see if there was anything there re: Bowie's birthday, as the site hadn't been updated in nearly a year (as well as for other reasons that I'll get into later), and found, instead of the pastel-colored blah redesign leftover from his last album, 2004's Reality, a new splash page announcing the new album and its first single. I was floored; I didn't believe it at first.
I've been writing poems about him for months (hold on, I'll get to these later), but never, never this. I get the impression that NO ONE - not even the traditional insiders - knew this was coming. There has been, literally, no hint of it.
As far as singles go, to me "Where Are We Now" is damn near perfect, a gently propulsive, atmospheric, piano-and-haze-drive ballad with a marvelous Bowie lilt as a vocal, with lots of German place-names thrown in (the artwork for the new album cover - if you can call it that, really; pastiche? photoshop? - is taken from "Heroes" and reflects on his time in Berlin, mid-70's), and it includes wonderfully oblique, poetic lyrics like "The moment you know, you know you know," "just walking the dead," and "You never knew that, that I could do that."
The whole thing ends with a marvelous descending piano line outro, the kinds of chords that always hit me the hardest and turn an otherwise regular song into a mood-turner. (Honestly, it sounds a lot like some of the b-side material from his late-90's and 2000's albums, which is absolutely fine with me. Tony Visconti can lay his hands on any Bowie he likes as far as I'm concerned.)
The video, too, is really wonderful and stirring. In a cluttered artist's studio (Bowie has a thing for the cluttered artist studio), two dolls - onto whose faces are projected video of Bowie and a silent mystery woman - sit before black-and-white footage of Berlin, presumably from about the time that Bowie lived there. I was particularly captivated by the woman's face projected on the doll - she doesn't sing or anything, and serves as a silent partner, but has such an intimate expression on her face that it just kills me. Bowie, too - like they're both trying to hold something huge in. Then, at the end, we see Bowie standing there, and damn, 66? The man looks GOOD.
It seemed like even his official Facebook page was taken by surprise: two hours before the website was updated (which I think happened at midnight EST, right as his birthday crept about), they posted some random portrait of him asking everyone to join alongside "DBFBHQ" (David Bowie's Facebook Headquarters, presumably) in wishing the man a happy 66th. And then, BOOM.
Today, the internet is reeling.
David Bowie has taken over the iTunes adspace for probably the first time ever. Yet a statement from Bowie's people promises no interviews, no dates, no appearances.
But this is a blog, mostly about myself, and I'm getting to that, so let's expand by way of doing the opposite: I think, for the most part, until last night everyone thought David Bowie was done forever. Finished. Spent. No more. He had every right to be, after 29 studio albums and a 40-year career. So when you're offered something completely unheralded and magnificent like this, what are you supposed to think? I had staked my claim in Bowie being gone forever (read on), so, WHAT COMES NEXT?
See, I've been writing poems lately. Poems, specifically, about David Bowie, but about a David Bowie who has effectively vanished off the face of the Earth as we know it, and gone to hide with his family, collect modern British art - which, until last night, was all that the media knew/reported he was doing - and, in my poems, examine his legacy, fearing every inch of it, every hour of his age. These poems have ridiculous long titles, things like, "David Bowie Approaches Tilda Swinton to Play Him in the Movie of His Life", or "David Bowie Discovers that His Official Website Hasn't Been Updated in Ten Months" - quite simply, things that, all of a sudden, just don't apply anymore. Now, I worry that the poems don't make any sense.
I have about a dozen David Bowie poems, and they all assume this anxious, afflicted persona of him. It's been the most fun I've had writing in a long time, and I think part of the great appeal in writing them was knowing that my version of Bowie and what he was doing with his life was just as possible as anyone else's speculation. No one knew what he was doing - he might as well be building a minotaur or reading 1001 Arabian Nights or worrying about his future. But now, this new music, this sign of activity, this giant fucking blip on the radar.
Is Bowie back? Has he put out this music only to disappear once again? What does this sudden resurgence mean for my poetry? I've come to the conclusion that it either means these poems are now completely irrelevant, or potentially more interesting and relevant than ever, since, thematically speaking, they are very much in line with what we've heard of this new music.
My plan was to make a book of these David Bowie poems, eventually. I think I'll still try. None of them have been published or accepted yet, but, we'll see. Nevertheless, this has put me in a really weird place, generally speaking. The short story collection I've been shopping around (PARTNERS) lost its latest contest last week, and now Bowie returns to silence my poems. I'm beginning to think - albeit halfheartedly - that the cosmos is trying to tell me something.
I'm moving to New York City on Friday. I'll admit, part of the original draw is that Bowie lives there, in Manhattan, and I wholeheartedly believed, in the tiniest part of my brain, impossibly, that I would be able to seek him out, to find and meet him after 10 years of public silence and tell him that I KNEW, that I wrote ALL THE POEMS for him, that he wasn't forgotten for a single second.
Now that there's this song, this album, this sudden attention, though, and my dedication seems a little... unnecessary. Insignificant. Redundant, I guess. Plus, if he's not planning to give any interviews or play any shows, then Bowie will be in super-hiding, and there's absolutely no way that I could find him.
Maybe my poems will?
You can see the delusion here, obviously, and I recognize it, too: clearly I would never have met the man, but now it just seems infinitely more complicated and difficult and unlikely. While, really, I should just be celebrating this new music. It feels like the cosmos again.
So, all in all, I don't know how much this new song changes things, but potentially quite a bit. Maybe you understand? I don't know, but this is a blog and, really, you don't have to.
Where are we now, indeed.
Thanks for reading. Do let me know if you've made it this far, I'd love to hear from you.