Bill Wyman on David Bowie’s Golden Years: Assessing a Radical Career

I don’t know who at New York Magazine managed to persuade former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman (or is it the other Bill Wyman?) to write an essay on David Bowie, but you have my thanks. Over to Mr. Wyman:

I very rarely have felt like a rock artist,” David Bowie used to say. “I’ve got nothing to do with music.” More than 40 years on, we see now he was dissembling on both counts. But as with any great act of self-creation, there was an element of truth in the obfuscation, and the roles he was playing in addition—some species of musical-­theater provocateur, a high-art celebrity indulging in a low-art mechanism, a transgressive social poet manipulating a pop-cultural moment—seem plain. He was the first rocker to deliberately separate himself from the personae of his songs and onstage characters in a way that challenged his audience. The stardom that resulted was unlikely—he was, let us remember, a self-described gay mime. But he did it at a time when rock had grown a little too serious and self-satisfied, and life in his homeland was in many ways bleak. “Your imagination can dry up in England,” Bowie reflected. He wanted to show us that music still had the capacity to wow and outrage, to open new worlds. And since he was also one of the most adventuresome song­writers of the day, and because in those songs there was frequently something human and real, he pulled it off. David Bowie—indigestibly arch; unfailingly cerebral, distant, and detached—was always sincere about his insincerity, but never insincere about his sincerity. At the time, this distinction was as crucial and confounding as the highly sexualized, polymorphously perverse demimonde he celebrated. He mocked rock seriousness, even as he delivered some of the most lasting songs of the era, all the while carrying himself like a lubricious aristocrat, drawing, with a sort of kinky noblesse oblige, strength from his audience’s adulation and in turn bestowing his blessing: E pluribus pervum.

We blink, and he is nearing 70, courtly and calm. The onetime un-not-watchable figure has been uncharacteristically quiet for nearly ten years, perhaps because of a collapse backstage during a tour in 2004; it turned out he’d had a heart attack. But now he is returning with his first release since 2003’s Reality, titled The Next Day…

[continues at New York Magazine]

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  • http://www.facebook.com/FONling Bjørn Hahalolden Parramoure

    Lexicon on full display, this reviewer flexes his diction muscle with words I had to look up — Logorrheic, Aperçus, Oblige, Noblesse, Dissembling, Demimonde, Lubricious, Envoi, and Apotheosized. This reviewer lavishes praise on Bowie’s most famous hits but then proceeds to heap disinterest on all of bowie’s 90′s to now material, incuding two of Bowie’s greatest later-day albums: his 1995 industrial jazz fusion album 1. Outside (which he made with Brian Eno and toured on with Trent Reznor), and his achingly gorgeous, highly personal, critically acclaimed 2002 album Heathen. “Bowie lost the spark that once made even his failed experiments so interesting,” reports the reviewer, referring to by name every album Bowie’s released from the mid 80′s to today. This reviewer doesn’t appear to have done adequate research on the subject of Bowie’s albums.

  • http://www.facebook.com/FONling Bjørn Hahalolden Parramoure

    Lexicon on full display, this reviewer flexes his diction muscle with words I had to look up — Logorrheic, Aperçus, Oblige, Noblesse, Dissembling, Demimonde, Lubricious, Envoi, and Apotheosized. This reviewer lavishes praise on Bowie’s most famous hits but then proceeds to heap disinterest on all of bowie’s 90′s to now material, incuding two of Bowie’s greatest later-day albums: his 1995 industrial jazz fusion album 1. Outside (which he made with Brian Eno and toured on with Trent Reznor), and his achingly gorgeous, highly personal, critically acclaimed 2002 album Heathen. “Bowie lost the spark that once made even his failed experiments so interesting,” reports the reviewer, referring to by name every album Bowie’s released from the mid 80′s to today. This reviewer doesn’t appear to have done adequate research on the subject of Bowie’s albums.

    • Ittabena

      Ah, Noblesse Oblige! The childhood memories that brings back. Dad was a USMC Drill Instructor and I heard that phrase over and over as a young child. The rest of them have me stumped too though.

  • echar

    Even the “bad” Bowie songs are pretty awesome compared to the less authentic groups. Excellent article, thanks for sharing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SQdBxVjZx4

  • DrDavidKelly

    Yeah ‘Outside’ is awesome! The most underrated album of all time?

  • DrDavidKelly

    Yeah ‘Outside’ is awesome! The most underrated album of all time?

    • Matt Staggs

      Pretty solid effort, and I loved it, but I tried listening lately and it sounded extremely dated.

      • DrDavidKelly

        Really dated? It’s only 12-13 years old. I guess it has that schmick production sound – thanks to Eno. But lo-fi just wouldn’t have worked in a concept album of this sort. Have you read ‘A Year with Swollen Appendices?’ – Eno diary covering the making of Outside and other stuff.

      • DrDavidKelly

        Really dated? It’s only 12-13 years old. I guess it has that schmick production sound – thanks to Eno. But lo-fi just wouldn’t have worked in a concept album of this sort. Have you read ‘A Year with Swollen Appendices?’ – Eno diary covering the making of Outside and other stuff.

      • DrDavidKelly

        Really dated? It’s only 12-13 years old. I guess it has that schmick production sound – thanks to Eno. But lo-fi just wouldn’t have worked in a concept album of this sort. Have you read ‘A Year with Swollen Appendices?’ – Eno diary covering the making of Outside and other stuff.

  • BuzzCoastin

    considering how well written the article is
    I’m assuming that Bill Wyman the writer
    is not that Bill Wyman aka William George Perks
    otherwise it’s nice to know a 70 year old rock star has a new album coming out

  • echar

    You can listen to the whole album on Itunes. It’s streaming free.

  • tomasiepants

    Personally, I enjoyed Tin Machine and especially Black Tie White Noise. His remake of Scott Walker’s Night Flights was awesome. In the late 90s I kept seeing that album in clearance bins ( especially with cassette tapes ). It would tick me off so I’d buy them. Just because I felt it shouldn’t be in a clearance bin!

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