Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

David Bowie at 65

It will not have escaped your attention that David Bowie turned 65 at the weekend. There were a few gigs to mark the birthday, plenty of lengthy articles hailing the man hitting the bus-pass milestone and a lot of Bowie …

Tue, Jan 10, 2012, 13:46


It will not have escaped your attention that David Bowie turned 65 at the weekend. There were a few gigs to mark the birthday, plenty of lengthy articles hailing the man hitting the bus-pass milestone and a lot of Bowie on the radio. What was missing, though, was Bowie himself. The man behind Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke and Bowie bonds sat this one out.

But there’s nothing new about this: Bowie has been absent from the music business coalface for quite a few years now. There’s the odd murmer from other parties (such as this to-do about Bowie’s retirement when a biographer did some musing to flog a book) and there’s always chatter about a new album, but the Duke abides.

What’s fascinating about this silence is how it has amplified our view of the performer. While many of his peers spend their time doing heritage band tours to grow the pension pot (slowly demeaning themselves and causing lots of back problems as they do), Bowie just stays quiet. You won’t find him, as Alexis Petridis points out, telling us about his daily grind on Twitter. You won’t find him plotting a comeback by appearing on The X Factor or American Idol. There’s a dignity in Bowie’s refusal to play the game. Why bother with the industry stuff when the myth is far more enticing and exciting? And that legacy continues to shine brightly the longer Bowie stays away.

It’s just guesswork to think about a new Bowie album or even what it might sound like, but you can be sure Bowie would know exactly what he was doing and what he was after long before he goes into the studio if that ever happens. I read Nile Rodgers’ fantastic “Le Freak” over the Christmas break and he talks in the book about working with Bowie on the “Let’s Dance” album.

When the artist and the producer first talked about the album, Rodgers remembers Bowie going on about “the freedom to be flexible and do music the way he wanted…he was compelled to find what was beyond the horizon”. While this was music to Rodgers’ ears, who was keen to find new experimental means of composition at the time, what Bowie wanted was an album with hits. As simple as that. He wanted Rodgers to give him hits. And he got an album full of radio hits.

At the time, Bowie didn’t have a record deal so he paid the bills for “Let’s Dance” himself which might explain why the recording sessions in New York with the band recruited by Rodgers took just 17 days. “Let’s Dance” revolutionised Bowie’s career. It may not be remembered as fondly as those albums from the Seventies like “Low” or “Station to Station”, but it’s the one which set up Bowie as a commercial giant and got him back on mainstream radars when it came to radio and tours (the subsequent Glass Spider tour fetched up in Slane in 1987).

On that occasion, Bowie got what Bowie was after and there’s little to suggest that it wouldn’t be the same next time out – if there’s ever to be a next time. An artist like Bowie doesn’t get to this position without weighing up the options, taking wise counsel and recruiting the right people every time. Perhaps he’s just waiting for the right people to come along. Perhaps he’s decided that there’s little he can add to the story right now. Perhaps, indeed, he’s decided that silence is the best policy in his golden years.

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