"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed. A few people cried. Most people were silent."
This is how J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American Theoretical Physicist, recalled the testing of the nuclear bomb at the secret Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico.
These words were the ones that insisted themselves on me on 8 January last year, when David Bowie dropped without warning, his first single after a decade since his previous one. A single message on Twitter was its publicity. What ensued, included a feckless media frenzy redolent of cliche and sentimentality, sighs of relief amongst those many of whom were worried about Bowie's health and enthusiasm for returning, and contemptuous television appearances by bland and nameless news commentators reading tedious news scripts their producers fed them.
Where was Bowie now? And how was he? David Bowie is the most interesting cultural icon of his generation. On discovery, a few people laughed with delight, Boy George and Gary Kemp cried with tears of rejoice, many others just cried. When first I heard of it, my jaw loosened itself silently with a soft droop and in silence there I stood, gazing at my phone. The whole music industry was feeling the ripples from the tectonic shifts of Bowie's return. In our time of embarrassing aging rock idols, sterile teeny-bopper muck, and certain young female artists out to shock and provoke with their bland and dim music, here was David Fucking Bowie. David Bowie only makes an album when he has something to say. Even the few albums he has declared himself as failures, are very intriguing still, the mark of a great artist.
Yet again, he was one step ahead of us all. Another surprise.
I had longed for Bowie to say something about today. To say anything, really. What was on his mind? Mortality is a pregnant theme on "The Next Day", his first album in a decade, announced when the single was unleashed. Reminiscing back to his days in Berlin, and another nod backward - the ending drum beat from Five Years - makes a cameo, the cover itself is a defacement of his classic album "Heroes", and Bowie is still singing about loneliness, isolation, and identity. He blasts celebrities for their insincerity and shameless facade, making exhibition of their fears. David Bowie himself had turned his back on fame to live a quieter life with his family, ten years ago, and raise his then five year old daughter. David Bowie was back to being David Jones, full-time. Only rare appearances here and there, barely any live. That voice? Could it still do it? Indeed. And on hearing it, I sent his beautiful and marvelous wife Iman Abdulmajid a message saying "His voice is an absolute powerhouse on the new album and I have imperishable respect for him." She replied kindly, and said she would pass on the message. Our rock icons hark back to the days of the Greek gods, ancient mythology, and the human instinct to worship that reoccurs throughout history. All those whom invested some part of their own self in the modern legend of Bowie, and his interpretations of our society, were now told there would be a next day, and a next, and another day.
Bowie is in much control of how he wants to be presented, and we all each of us naturally have individual definitions, but Bowie is setting the tone. "They want to see their picture of you, and if they don't see their picture of you they're very upset," said William Burroughs, in a 1974 interview alongside Bowie, and in one of the few The Next Day press photos, David Bowie pensively sits beneath a picture of them together. Barely any pictures of Bowie have been released this year, and not even a single interview. American novelist Rick Moody, managed to get Bowie to release a list of 42 words about his album. We also got a Christmas message in the form of an audio recording, Bowie doing a vocal impression of Elvis Presley.
Who or what is Bowie? A reputation is a house of rumors. No reputation is ever an accurate translation of a person, because we are all so complex ultimately, we are only parody and provisional, there is no concrete self. That is because of the unconscious part of our minds.After all, evolutionary psychology is new enough. We are only beginning to understand the mind as a neural computer. Becoming an individual, adhering to your own personality ; becoming a wholesome human being. Shaking hands with that dark side of ourselves. Bowie's resilient exploration and dissection of identity is part of the key to our strange fascination with him.
Bowie presented to the world his own erratic, varied collection of esoterica, pop culture, mime, sexual freedom, poetry, social justice, jazz, fuzzbox, burlesque, and, a model of rebellion and courage for generations of people who were seeking something he seemed to have created. We might not know what it actually is, but we know he was, and is, on to something meaningful. Constantly giving us permission to re-invent ourselves, to try and control our own image, and he is an example of personal freedom. Bowie gave a voice to the voiceless. Perhaps he may have been unsure what he was creating along the way, perhaps not, but his instincts have given great empowerment to many people without aim or sense about themselves.
David Bowie gave courage to many whom never felt quite regular, were perhaps in despair, felt other, or isolated. I don't think he ever set himself up to be a role-model, on reading this, he might very well dismiss it all as the most tremendous bullshit, but he can never deny that the way he lived and lives his life, the art he created and is creating, and the way that he did and does it all with such fascination, dignity, unpredictability, feeling, vogue, and care, has changed the lives of so many people whom have declared him their prime example of artistic integrity. I hope this year will bring about more art from that great man whom I admired so much as a teenager, and continue to. I also told Iman, "That Mr. Bowie is the man I admire most." To which she wrote, "Me too." We can be heroes, and we can change our world, immune to the consultations of others. David Bowie helped me. Whoever, and wherever he is.