I don’t want to make this an open letter, like Tim Chester’s heartfelt and reverential plea, because I don’t want to disrespect the Dame. Not to his/her face, anyway. God knows he’s given me enough joy over the years – years of restless innovation, years of knife-sharp rock fantasy, years of sleek ginger hair. It’s just those years stopped in 1983.
When Bowie biographer Paul Trynka suggested the Duke had called it a day, it was news long-anticipated, worth a well-meaning shrug and a raised glass. But not tears. There are people who’ve been out of school 10 years who haven’t seen a great Bowie album released in their lifetime. Sure, they’ve seen some that aren’t embarrassing – 2002’s Heathen plays it safe and dignified, 1993’s Black Tie White Noise is interesting if we’re going to indulge your dad trying to dance to young people’s music – but essential? Nah.
Let’s face facts, Bowie fans, the best record he’s released in the last quarter-century is last year’s 3-CD reissue of ‘Station To Station’, a masterpiece from beautiful packaging through exhilarating live sets to that stunning original album, standing at Checkpoint Charlie between the cocaine soul of ‘Young Americans’ and the regal austerity of the Berlin trilogy. Here’s the rub though: it’s 35 years old. It’s not heresy to suggest Bowie’s best days are behind him, it’s obvious. And as a man who hasn’t put out a proper album of new material since 2003, he knows it too.
What do we want him to hang around for anyway? To make an album with Rick Rubin? That’d be good. He could strip away the artifice, the veneer of cool, the cold, brittle shell – everything that makes him great, in fact – and make an earnest, raw album for everyone scared of any music released in the 21st century. Or perhaps Jack White could oversee the exhumation, and together they could make an earnest, raw album for everyone scared of any music released in the 21st century. See? Bowie looks more sensible by the hour. He’s got comfort beyond most of his peers. He doesn’t need to do it online like Iggy.
Yes, anyone under – say – 50 could be forgiven for feeling a bit hollow listening to ‘Station To Station’’s live set from Nassau Coliseum, hearing Bowie keep swinging through ‘Hunky Dory’, ‘Young Americans’, Ziggy and Velvet Underground classics like a (really very thin, gak-addled) man possessed. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to see him one last time, of course, but just study that impulse for a moment. You want to see Ziggy at his peak, not taking it slowly at pensionable age or dropping to his knees at 1992’s tribute concert to Freddie Mercury and reciting the Lord’s Prayer like some sort of proto-Bono. You never saw The Beatles either, but you’re over that now, aren’t you? Right?
Know it’s over. The signs are ignored by the pink-suited likes of octogenarian Jagger, by the Pugin-waistcoated likes of Elton, but Bowie can read the runes. There comes a point in any great man’s life when he’s at last overshadowed by his offspring. It’s only right. And thank goodness Bowie’s now being outshone by the Source Code and Moon director. In another life it could’ve been I Blame Coco. So let’s cherish him going out with dignity intact and say goodbye to pop’s original chameleon. We’ve got Patrick Wolf now.