I don’t know who at New York Magazine managed to persuade former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman to write an essay on David Bowie, but you have my thanks. Over to Mr. Wyman:
I very rarely have felt like a rock artist,” David Bowie used to say. “I’ve got nothing to do with music.” More than 40 years on, we see now he was dissembling on both counts. But as with any great act of self-creation, there was an element of truth in the obfuscation, and the roles he was playing in addition—some species of musical-theater provocateur, a high-art celebrity indulging in a low-art mechanism, a transgressive social poet manipulating a pop-cultural moment—seem plain. He was the first rocker to deliberately separate himself from the personae of his songs and onstage characters in a way that challenged his audience. The stardom that resulted was unlikely—he was, let us remember, a self-described gay mime. But he did it at a time when rock had grown a little too serious and self-satisfied, and life in his homeland was in many ways bleak. “Your imagination can dry up in England,” Bowie reflected. He wanted to show us that music still had the capacity to wow and outrage, to open new worlds. And since he was also one of the most adventuresome songwriters of the day, and because in those songs there was frequently something human and real, he pulled it off. David Bowie—indigestibly arch; unfailingly cerebral, distant, and detached—was always sincere about his insincerity, but never insincere about his sincerity. At the time, this distinction was as crucial and confounding as the highly sexualized, polymorphously perverse demimonde he celebrated. He mocked rock seriousness, even as he delivered some of the most lasting songs of the era, all the while carrying himself like a lubricious aristocrat, drawing, with a sort of kinky noblesse oblige, strength from his audience’s adulation and in turn bestowing his blessing: E pluribus pervum.
We blink, and he is nearing 70, courtly and calm. The onetime un-not-watchable figure has been uncharacteristically quiet for nearly ten years, perhaps because of a collapse backstage during a tour in 2004; it turned out he’d had a heart attack. But now he is returning with his first release since 2003’s Reality, titled The Next Day…
[continues at New York Magazine]