An open letter to David Bowie- the last lap of the thin white duke?

Dear David,

Well that was a nice surprise.
We thought you had retired but there it was, a new Bowie single. For people of a certain age this was very exciting – an instant hit of nostalgia that you slyly tap into with the song asking Where Are We Know as the former glam kids suddenly came to a full stop and felt old in the best possible way.

Embracing age- the last great radical pop costume change for the king of costume changes?
For the younger people the single with its spectral video was a confusing moment of media gushing about a song by someone you had never heard of. The talking heads were claiming that your single David was showing up modern music for being an artless, talent vacuum- proving that most people are not listening any more. But that’€™s not your fault and I’€™m sure you would not approve of this mindset.

As comebacks go, David, this was a perfect piece of showbiz executed with all the panache and sense of high drama that highlighted all the great moments of your career. I mean, who could ever forget when you ‘€˜retired’€™ Ziggy and people at school were in tears, not realising that was music hall shape shifting at its best and it was always that mixture of high camp, music hall and alien other worldliness that made you so great.

We all thought you had gone, sat there counting your stocks and shares from your flotation that made you one of the richest rock stars ever and the fact you got away with recording an album in the middle of the twitter age where privacy is 140 characters away from being breached was remarkable.

But now we all know, you are back with a single that caused intense Internet argument yesterday as everyone had an opinion on the single and no-one does that nowadays.

David, I’€™m on the side of the lovers in more ways than one and this is a great single- a luscious, yet world weary ballad with a tinge of nostalgia that speaks directly to the fading peacocks from the seventies who loved the door you opened in their youth, allowing them to be camply flamboyant dandys on the grey streets off the UK.

Coming back with a ballad, even though your Tony Visconti produced album is more rock, is quite crafty – you have wrong footed everyone again€“ just like you always did- just when we think we know you you’€™ve already gone somewhere else – never boring.

Your voice still sounds perfect- how did you manage that? It floats above the track with that air of mystery that was always the real key to your whole shtick. There are lots of neat references to Berlin – the great German capital that is booming now and was the place to be when you lived there in the mid seventies- the camp western holiday camp surrounded by the wall and the grey drab communist rule- kinda like an analogy for your position in the pop world if you think about it.

The single grows and builds and swirls in a way that no-one can be patient enough to construct in these too bust binary days when we are in such a rush, too busy too feel anything.
Anyone who grew up in the seventies had to listen to it- it was a pop culture Kennedy assassination moment when everything stopped at once for those that cared and it was for a pop record- how wonderful is that? Lots of older music fans have been talking and writing endless stuff about it whilst the youth are busy looking you up on widipedia trying to find out who you were.

Can I say it’s great to have you back? When I was growing up in the seventies you were the man, or a different kind of man. Like the Beatles had done in the sixties you surfed what they used to like to call the zeitgeist by taking from the fringes to give to the mainstream and making it seem like your own. Every single was a signpost through the decade from your Syd Barrett art lab roots to the romping king of glam rock when you were the carrot topped alien that dockers would like to fuck with your fragile and beautiful voice shimmering through dreamscape songs with those action packed, genius lyrics.

You then gave us white soul with great suits before going to Berlin and making those great proto industrial records as well as saving little Iggy from his wanton self destruct- both of you fitting right into the middle of the punk rock wars and then the post punk scenario.

The last album that was great was Scary Monsters- the last album of the seventies as an era and a record that is often overlooked but is spooked with even more brilliant twisted weirdness than anything you ever did in your in pomp.

After that you reflected the eighties by making loads of money and the odd good record before making less releases that only a fan could love- always different but not quite as captivating before ‘€˜retiring’€™ to New York where excitable tabloids would occasionally make out you were dead or dying or disappeared.

But all the time like a crafty old dame you were making an album that has got everyone talking…David, you still know how to make a great entrance!

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. IF… (and I mean.. if… ) all artists are controlled by their management… and if said management are controlled by the Chelsea Lodge, the entertainment section of Freemasonry…..whereby it is decided which artists’ music the public should “like”….. IF this is the case.. should we regard Bowie’s output in the 70’s (before management) and then in the 80’s (managed up to his wonderful cheekbones) as very different Brother John? And in this context, what are we to make of his “lost weekend” and subsequent return? Time to dig deep to uncover the bones of this skelton in the cupboard. (Charlie is a digging deep enthusiast and will gladly advise… for a fee.)

  2. About digging deep.. I’d just like to add that Robin regards this as an emotional/spiritual activity, but its not really.. you just place your back paws slightly apart, then follow your nose, and engage in a digging movement with your front paws… And that way, you discover all kinds of stuff on the internet…. but it does mess up the keyboard a bit. One Woof Love… Sir Charles. (Ps.. Mick… now I wanna be your dog… Just sayin,)

  3. Re, the comment above sniffing out the truth. I’m sure I read or heard that his manager of the 70s Tony Defries almost bankrupt him and Bowie managed his own affairs from then on.
    A lot of people write Bowie off after Scary Monsters and get yet excited about his re-emergence. This is probably because he was always out there and available to the masses. Most people don’t realise a good thing till it’s gone.
    Personally I grew up with Bowie’s music in the 80s. Ashes To Ashes brought him to my attention and from then on I’ve purchased every album since. In the late 80s I purchased the 70s back catalogue and was totally blown away with Hunky Dory and Ziggy etc and discovered it was much better than the 80s output. In retrospect his 80s albums were poor really and yet the singles were absolutely fecking amazing. I feel this is due to being nearly bankrupted and he had no choice but to re create himself as a hit factory, after all there’s no money in remaining a cult status hero. The 1997 Earthling album divided fans, I don’t like drum and bass as it goes but I thought this was ground breaking, he created an new kind of alternative sound. However if you are one of the people wrote Bowie off after Scary Monsters and love the new single then I can I suggest you check out the Hours and Heathen albums they’re superb.

  4. “the twitter age where privacy is 140 characters away from being breached” Great comment!
    I never really had any interest in Bowie, although friends did. Perhaps because at the time (80’s) he was at the height of his commercial pop career. Recently however I’ve quite taken to “Heros”. I like the new tune, I think its it’s great. Nothing special on it’s own, but really something good in the context of his career and recent interlude. Summed up nicely here.


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