If an artist is always in the state of becoming, Bowie spent a lifetime exploring- trailblazing the outer limits and sending back transmissions of things to come. He stayed in the fast lane for forty years, recording albums, touring, and acting, until a heart attack on stage in 2004 made him take stock. He spent a nine-year hiatus to recoup and to be a stay-at-home dad (he and wife Iman had a daughter in 2000). But Bowie surprised everyone in 2013 with an outstanding new album called The Next Day, which was released during a flurry of art shows and a massive retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The V&A exhibit celebrated his career in music, fashion, graphic arts, fine art, and set design, all of which which Spy Vibers can see in the exhibit catalog, David Bowie Is. He recorded The Next Day in secret- his first album in ten years- and it quickly went to number one in charts around the world. The vibe of the record was energetic and experimental. Probably of interest to Spy Vibers, Bowie also seemed to mine his "Berlin period" with Brian Eno and Iggy Pop during the 1970s by re-exploring themes of the city, most notably in Where Are We Now? The cover image itself was a re-appropriated version of Heroes, made originally in 1977. Fans enjoyed spotting various references to the artist's past, including a connection between Five Years (Ziggy Stardust/1972) and the track, You Feel So Lonely You Could Die. Besides its sweet echo of Presley's Heartbreak Hotel (Bowie and Elvis shared a birthday), the more interesting layer to this song was its thematic connection to tradecraft and the dirty business of espionage. One couldn't miss the allusions to dead drops, secrets, betrayal, and assassination. During promotion for The Next Day, Bowie starred in a video for another track, The Stars (Are Out Tonight), with the wonderful Tilda Swinton, who was also invited to give the opening speech for the exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Below: still from The Stars (Are Out Tonight).
Swinton herself had an artistic fascination with Berlin. She made an experimental film study of the Berlin Wall in 1988 called Cycling the Frame. Twenty-one years later she starred in a marvelous and meditative film that re-examined the presence -even in its absence- of the Wall called The Invisible Frame (2009). The film invited the viewer to travel with Swinton by bicycle along the scars and remnants of the Wall, an experience that became a long portrait of the city and of perceptions of identity and territory. Below: Bowie's The Next Day ala Berlin-era iconography Heroes.
Bowie followed The Next Day with an album called Blackstar, which was released on his birthday in 2016. Sadly, he passed away only two days later at the age of 69. Speculations arose quickly that "blackstar" may have referenced his fight with cancer. That skinny 1960s Mod kid, who had once dreamed of becoming Little Richard's saxophone player -only to become the king/queen alien of glam, experimental oracle, actor, artist, designer, and cutting-edge pop star, David Bowie- was no more. No one could deny the message of his farewell video, Lazerus, in which he sang of mortality, donned one of his old costumes, climbed into a coffin-like wardrobe, and disappeared from the world. It was his creative way to say farewell to the persona of David Bowie. And then David Jones himself was gone. Below: still from the set of Lazerus.
A final small batch of songs (No Plan) and a stage musical Lazerus (inspired by the 1963 novel The Man Who Fell to Earth) were released posthumously. Like many people, I still feel that it's difficult to reconcile Bowie's passing. It's been hard to imagine someone so creative, so prolific, and so forward-moving would ever stop. And although I can't quite understand a world without him, I know his creative spirit lives on in his work. When Tilda spoke about Bowie at the V&A, she talked about how he had been a kind catalyst for so many people to embrace their alternative identities and basically let their freak flags fly. I like to think that his own courage and individuality will continue to inspire young people to follow their own vision, whether it be about personal identity or about creative ideas. Below: The young Mod with so many miles still to go!
For Spy Vibers who have never explored the fascinating career of David Bowie, you have a lot to look forward to! Although it's difficult to choose a short list of his work, here is my "Essential Bowie." If 1960s-era material is a priority, check out the Deram album, David Bowie (1967) and the 1969 promo film, Love You Till Tuesday.
Screen: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), The Hunger (1983), Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983), Labyrinth (1986), The Hunger (tv/1999-2000).
Docs: Ziggy Stardust, Ricochet, Reality Tour, Storytellers, Five Years, The Last Five Years, Finding Fame.
Albums: Space Oddity (1969), The Man Who Sold the World (1970), Hunky Dory (1971), Ziggy Stardust (1972), Aladdin Sane (1973), Pin Ups (1973), Station to Station (1976), Low (1977), Heroes (1977), Lodger (1979), Scary Monsters (1980), Baal (1981), Outside (1995), Earthling (1997), VH1 Storytellers (2001), Heathen (2002), The Next Day (2013). There have also been great sets released over the past few years that offer deeper exploration, including Nothing Has Changed, Five Years, Who Can I Be Now?, A New Career in Town, and Loving the Alien. Below: Bowie in the 1960s.
Selected Spy Vibe Posts: New Year Cosmonauts, Neil Innes R.I.P., Claudine Auger R.I.P., OHMSS at 50, Italian Job 50th OST, Charles Schulz Modern, Paul Desmond, Python 50th, Randall Hopkirk 50th, Thunderbirds Day, Lazenby Returns to MI6, Dr. John R.I.P., Spy Vibe Radio: Lupin III, Lupin Ska, Spy Vibe Prime, Zigomar Translation, The Village: Part 1, Monkey Punch R.I.P., Bubble Girl 63, ITC Soundtracks, Spy Vibe Radio: Public Eye, UFO Prime, Spaceship to Mars, Modesty Blaise Companion, Spy Vibe Radio: Fantomas, George Day, Fantomas Blu, Dark Shadows Doc, Bedazzled Blu-ray, Mary Quant Exhibit, Laika Calypso, Lost in Space Japan, Spy Dust Calypso, Atomic Cafe, John Barry Mono, Interview: John Barry Book, Land of the Giants Score, Skyfall Concert, Dearest Emma, Spy Vibe Radio: Upperseven, Ogilvy at Elstree, Mabuse Propaganda, Bond Beatles Day, Spy Vibe Radio: Liquidator, Diabolik LP, Fab Dresses, Eurospy Music Collection, Beetle Bailey in West Berlin, Why Mort Walker?, Spy Vibe radio: The Beatles Help!, Avengers Critical Guide, The Spotnicks, Benny Spies, James Pond 0017', Satire Stones, Annette Andre Book, Cat Day, Spy Vibe Radio: Get Smart, Caine: My Generation, Interview: Ian Ogilvy, Horror of Party Beach, Sylvie Vartan Renown, Ringo At 78, Dark Shadows Strips, Spy Vibe Radio: Flint, Archie Batman 66, Paul at 76, Beatles Pac-Man, Spy Vibe Radio: Jerry Cotton, The Invaders, 007 Horowitz Book Tour, McGoohan/Prisoner Event at Elstree, The Prisoner Interviews Vol 1, British Underground Press, Interview: Fab4 Mania, Bond Cocktail Book, Bond at Bletchley, Spy Smasher, Spy Vibe Radio: Peter Gunn, Agent Zero M, New Prisoner Comic, Dr. No Villains Edition, Spy Vibe Radio: Danger Diabolik, Dr. No 60th, Oy-Oy-Seven, Spy Vibe Radio (UFO), Cold War Comic Strips, Thunderball Event, Mission to India, Mort Walker Celebration, Peter Wyngarde Celebration, Batman 66 Exhibit, Prisoner Fifty Event, Ian Fleming Publications 2017-2018, Interview: Ed Hulse Pulp, Avengers Audio Drama, Interview: Callan At 50, Interview: Playboys, Spies, Private Eyes, TWA Returns, Spy Vibe Radio 8, Interview: Ryan Heshka, Mid-Century Modern Schulz, Agent Werewolf, Johnny Sokko 50th, Interview: Trina Robbins, Eddie Izzard, The Prisoner Capt Scarlet 50th, Hugh Hefner R.I.P., Jack Good R.I.P., Interview: Shaken Not Stirred, Callan 50th, Spy Vibe Radio 7, The Prisoner 50th Event, Spy-Fi Event, Kaho Aso 007, Two Million, Bo Diddley, Carnaby Pop, Le Carre Events, Billy Bragg Skiffle, Elvis 68, Jack Kirby The Prisoner, Casino Royale Concert, Review: The Prisoner Vol 2, Interview: The Prisoner Essential Guide, Maud Russell Mottisfont, Spy Vibe Radio 4, Batman Gallants, Adam West R.I.P., Village Triangle, Roger Moore R.I.P., Spy Vibe Radio 3, Sgt Pepper 50th, Satanik Kriminal OST, 60s Overdrive, Make Love in London, Spy Vibe Radio 2, Spy Vibe Radio 1, James Bond Strips, Propaganda Mabuse, Interview: Police Surgeon, XTC Avengers, 1966 Pep Spies, Batman Book Interview, Exclusive Fleming Interview, Avengers Comic Strips, Robert Vaughn RIP, UNCLE Fashions, Thunderbirds Are Pop!, Interview: Spy Film Guide, Lost Avengers Found, The Callan File, Mission Impossible 50th, Green Hornet 50th, Star Trek 50th, Portmeirion Photography 1, Filming the Prisoner, Gaiman McGinnins Project, Ian Fleming Grave, Revolver at 50, Karen Romanko Interview, Mod Tales 2, Umbrella Man: Patrick Macnee, New Beatles Film, The Curious Camera, Esterel Fashion 1966, Exclusive Ian Ogilvy Interview, 007 Tribute Covers, The Phantom Avon novels return, Ian Fleming Festival, Argoman Design, Sylvia Anderson R.I.P., Ken Adam R.I.P., George Martin R.I.P., The New Avengers Comics, The Phantom at 80, 007 Manga, Avengerworld Book, Diana Rigg Auto Show, The Prisoner Audio Drama Review.