David Bowie’s work has been much on my mind of late. Nudged by the recent release of The Next Day (both the cover and the gems within) I’ve been revisiting his music that I once loved to bits but haven’t heard for some time. Let me explain – I hadn’t deliberately consigned Heroes and Low et al to the box under the stairs through boredom or any negative feelings. Instead, the contents of said box reflect changing priorities and interests that naturally grew out of different phases of my life. I wondered if Heroes would still mean anything to me, not as an excuse to wallow in nostalgia, but as a way of more fully engaging with new art/music and probing my own cultural memory.
BC (Before Children) Bowie’s music was a big part of my cultural life, but the older, completely different me questioned the wisdom of rekindling old musical flames, sometimes the past is better left undisturbed. Should I leave well alone? In the end I couldn’t resist. It’s silly but I felt a bit nervous prising Heroes out of its case – this music had once meant such a lot to me and I didn’t want golden musical memories turning to dross, but there are moments in The Next Day that ping snippets from history (Bowie himself, Roxy Music, King Crimson, Talking Heads) into my mind, so it had to be done.
This weekend my house has been reverberating to Heroes (sorry neighbours!) and I am happy to report that it’s as bright, lively and relevant as it ever was. Perhaps the greatest revelation is the title song. Heroes has become a hideous TV cliché dragged out at the most sentimental moments of personal or sporting ‘achievement’, but it’s actually incredibly energetic, fresh, confrontational. That is what it felt like on the first listen in 1977. Its recent ‘life’, being filched out of any kind of context into cheapness is part of the reason I haven’t listened to it for so long; I needed to find a way to reclaim it for myself. The rest of this glorious album takes the listener into a dark place indeed (as always with Bowie, death and annihilation are never far away) but it’s an exhilarating journey, sounding as good as it ever did, better in some ways – I’m reminded of the intrinsic ‘70s cultural references, how Bowie and Heroes relates to music produced subsequently. It’s a fully rounded experience now. As with all great art, this album has grown with its time, sometimes taking (or being dragged down) seedy alleys, but the shining heart of it is still there, glowing brightly, waiting for its day.
Bowie has played his current hand so cunningly – the ‘surprise’ that he was still working was a marketing masterstroke and The Next Day is magnificent; I expect it to grow with me as have other albums that fit my life. He’s still got a lot to say, the music is fresh and exciting, the voice undiminished by the years. The young Bowie’s passion and energy have matured, as it does with all great artists who survive long enough to make use of all that experience. As the cover suggests, it’s a new phase that builds on rather than plagiarises its heritage. That pleases me immensely, but also reminds me how fortunate I am to be able to engage with work like this; and it’s a massive reminder to make the most of it while we can.
What do you think about revisiting music from your youth – is it worth it? Or avoid at all costs? Do you love a nostalgia-fest? You’ve changed – has the music kept up?
The Space has made some short Bowie films available: http://thespace.org/items/s0001njg