And so 2013 begins. Such is our conditioning as each new year dawns…and the harsh January light illuminates all of our festive excess – that we are almost forced to consider what the next twelve months may have in store for us. Resolutions may be forgotten after a few weeks (mine go missing after a few days), but there is something wholly satisfying about a period of reflection giving way to the annual chance to wipe the slate clean and start again. And who knows, this may be our year (yes, even you at the back). After all, we’re all grown up now – proper teenagers of the 21st Century. And although we could learn a lot from the innate teenage ability for perennial daydreaming, everyone knows that whatever resolutions or dreams you wish to fulfill this year – they are nothing without hard work.
And yet hard work isn’t something you would ostensibly associate with David Bowie over the last ten years. Shortly after the release of his 2003 album “Reality”, Bowie decamped to the Manhattan district of New York and settled into life as a new father (to Alexandria, half-sister to rising film director Duncan Jones). And there he stayed, with his wife Iman, slipping into some sort of normality with no apparent inclination to ever set foot in a recording studio again. Indeed, the heart attack that he suffered in 2004 at the Hurricane festival in Scheessel, Germany whilst performing “Ziggy Stardust” seemed to have spooked the Thin White Duke for good – he disappeared from public life almost completely. His legacy was already settled: time for a rest.
And so – to paraphrase Mark Twain – whilst the rumours of his demise were certainly exaggerated, David Bowie appeared to be quite content to see out his days as plain old David Robert Jones. But of course, this is the age of the internet – such an enigmatic disappearance could only serve to fuel the fire and embolden the legend. Rumours of his re-emergence regularly appeared, always followed by the inevitable wall of silence. And so it was on Monday night that a music journalist I follow on Twitter posted somewhat rhetorically: “Just found message on phone…asking if I'd heard anything about David Bowie releasing a new single tomorrow. I haven't. Anyone?” which he swiftly followed with “I think we can safely assume it’s a load of old b*******”. Oh, how we underestimated the Ruler of Reinvention. Tuesday morning brought us not only his 66th birthday but also the first Bowie material in nearly ten years.
Much has been written about the single “Where Are We Now” already, of course. But for my money it is a strangely hypnotic and quite oddly touching track about Bowie’s Berlin days with Iggy Pop, revealing a kind of delicately nostalgic voice set against some cascading ambient piano chords and dissonant strings. Produced by long time legendary collaborator Tony Visconti, it rewards the more you listen and certainly whets the appetite ahead of the release of his 24th studio album “The Next Day” in March. What’s perhaps even more extraordinary is the fact that Bowie managed to record and complete the album without so much of a whisper in the press. This is the era of mass information, making such a well-kept secret so unexpectedly thrilling.
So it turns out that it’s new beginnings for David Bowie too and we will of course be playing the song on the show this week (I look forward to your thoughts on it). What’s more, as a small measure of respect to the Goblin King’s craftiness we will also feature his brilliant 1972 San Francisco gig as our Live On Arrival. And on top of all the usual array of brilliant music, we’ll be honouring the passing of years by looking to the past with Chuck Berry as our Undercover Writer and to the future with Beth Orton’s “Sugaring Season” as our Record Of Note. And just in case the festive break has fried your mind, it’s on BBC Radio Scotland this Thursday at 10.05pm.
Oh, and Happy New Year. To quote John Prine, I wish you luck and happiness – I guess I wish you all the best.