Tag Archives: Where Are We Now?

➤ A chapter of Bowie’s musical legacy best forgotten

David Bowie, Lazarus, msjuicals, Michael C Hall, Enda Walsh,

Click to enlarge: cinemascopic stage for Lazarus in New York with Michael C. Hall (left), Cristin Milioti and Michael Esper. (Photo Jan Versweyveld)

WHOEVER GULLED DAVID BOWIE into endorsing the inconsequential and tedious off-Broadway production of Lazarus which opened in London this week can never be forgiven. It is a disgrace on two levels: there’s not an ounce of theatre to this live “play” in which Bowie’s songs are the sole source of inspiration. And the theatre’s sightlines are atrocious.

The only merit in the entire performance comes from the live musicians. The actors have forgotten any training they had, merely meandering around the stage, sitting or lying on it, semaphoring superficially; the script, “a new story” written by Enda Walsh with Bowie, hasn’t the first idea about how to deliver their characters; and the plot moves no further than it was left in the book by Walter Tevis and the cult film on which Lazarus bases its existence, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), directed brilliantly by Nicolas Roeg and starring Bowie. In this musical claiming to be a “sequel”, after two mind-numbing hours nothing has been advanced for the immortal Earth-bound alien Thomas Newton who lives on gin and television.

Lazarus, Michael C Hall

Michael C Hall as Newton on the London stage

It creaks like a period piece of sci-fi by ignoring the major technologies that have transformed fiction no less than real-life during the past 40 years: the personal computer, the genome, the internet, artificial intelligence. This year’s TV drama The Night Manager, as an updating of John Le Carre’s 1993 novel, was infinitely more electrifying about the nowness of progress.

Nostalgia does find its place in the best new number Bowie wrote for Lazarus, Where Are We Now?, a deeply affecting tour of the melancholy old postwar Berlin which anybody who visited before the fall of the wall will never forget. Alas, here a culture gap yawns between the imaginative compass of music and the human efforts live onstage which all musical theatre must reconcile. Lazarus is a rock-world concept, bereft of dramatic chemistry, that relies on projected light to evoke the visual kaleidoscope of music videos, from which The Message is whatever key image the PR machine decides to promote. Theatre, it ain’t.

Worse, the biggest insult of all are the ticket prices in the 900-seat temporary installation calling itself the King’s Cross Theatre and being charged by Robert Fox and Jones/Tintoretto Entertainment. Quite apart from the external soundtrack from traffic and aircraft and railway activity, whoever designed this space and its sightlines has never sat in a theatre before.

From our so-called “TOP PRICE” * £65 tickets, situated about two-thirds of the way back, we never had a view of more than the top half of the wide cinemascopic stage. The angle of the raked auditorium was entirely to blame for placing at least six heads directly in front of each paying customer, and everybody else within range spent the duration bobbing their heads and weaving sideways to catch a glimpse of the stage and its often inanimate actors. The bigger disgrace is that other customers had been charged at “Premium” price levels from £160 downwards.

Frankly, I am convinced Bowie is turning in his grave at this presentation of his music.

* Surely a trades mis-description when there are THREE “Premium” price tiers above the so-called “Top Price”!

➢ Tickets still available for Lazarus which runs
until 22 Jan in London


➢ Michael Billington, the Guardian: “an exploration of the existential angst that pervades Bowie’s music: this is the story of a man never wholly at ease in himself or his surroundings. I found myself more impressed by the visual sophistication than emotionally engaged by the story.”

➢ Susannah Clapp, The Observer: “an extended pop video. Woozy and rapt. Long on style but short on wit.”

➢ David Jays, Sunday Times Culture: “an otherwordly muddle… Bowie devised a portentous scenario; Walsh keeps it dead on the page.”

➢ Roundup of reviews in The Stage: “Pretty much the entire world’s press turned out to review its London opening. And everyone disagrees.”

➢ Singer Andy Polaris experiences his own unsettling realisation during Lazarus the musical

David Bowie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Nicolas Roeg, films,

Bowie as Newton in the film TMWFTE, 1976: androgynous rock star as an alien visiting Earth from the planet Anthea

➢ David Bowie’s last three songs: decoding the final transmission – Dorian Lynskey at The Guardian

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: A sensational portrait of Bowie as the man who shaped our responses

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
“I’m not a rock star” Bowie often said



➤ 14,000 words on Bowie’s album – responding to Bowie’s own 42 words telling what it’s all about

❚ AND YOU WON’T STOP READING THEM! A novelist asked David Bowie to explain his comeback album. In his own way, Bowie uttered his first public words on the subject: 42 of them.

Rick Moody,reviews,David Bowie, The Next Day,pop music,Britishness

Rick Moody photographed by Seamus Kearney … and a salute from Bowie at 66

“Never has an album been quite as resistant to interpretation as The Next Day,” writes Rick Moody, the 51-year-old American author, tipped by New Yorker magazine as one of its “20 writers for the 21st century”. So he asked Bowie for some clues! We offer a few teasers here to entice you in, but no spoilers. The original piece is so rewarding, you won’t regret setting aside half an hour of your time to devour it… Moody talks of cocktail napkins, albatrosses, a sequence of ghosts and the pressure to be à la mode … of chanson, of papal indulgences, of hatred of rhyme, the ancient temple in Rome, quintessential Britishness, rethinking certainties and the world at war…


➢ Rick Moody dissects Bowie’s new album with the help of its creator in 14,000 words published yesterday. Read the full essay at the pop-cultural web platform, The Rumpus

BY RICK MOODY: I am writing these lines because The Next Day, the album by David Bowie, is the unlikeliest masterpiece of the recent popular song, the best album by an otherwise retired classic rock artist in many, many years. It kicks the shit out of that recent spate of albums by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, it is better than anything the Stones did since Tattoo You … [etc etc etc]

It’s a remarkable and completely unpredictable masterpiece by a guy in his later sixties, an album that doesn’t sound like anything else happening in 2013, except that it sounds, in some ways, like a lot of the very best work David Bowie has done … [etc etc etc]

In the environment of Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber and One Direction, David Bowie sounds like a titan, like a behemoth of song, but it’s not only because of his context, it’s because he made a great album, which has more passion in each composition than most people manage in entire albums … [etc etc etc]

I wanted to understand the lexicon of The Next Day, and so I simply asked if he would provide this list of words about his album… and yet astonishingly the list appeared, and it appeared without further comment, which is really excellent, and exactly in the spirit of this album, and the list is far better than I could ever have hoped.

David Bowie, The Next Day, Where Are We Now?,video

Having asked Where Are We Now? in his first comeback single this year, Bowie’s second posed other enticing questions in a sexually ambiguous video for The Stars (Are Out Tonight) (ISO Records)












































It’s a great list, and it has the word chthonic on it, and this is one of my very favorite words, and you have to admit, additionally, chthonic is a great word, and all art that is chthonic is excellent art, and art that has nothing chthonic about it, like, let’s say, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, that is art that’s hard to withstand
➢ Rick Moody continues at The Rumpus


❏ Rick Moody: They have no idea how easy it would be to stop. Still, this neglects the loss you would feel about retirement… Ian Hunter, the British singer-songwriter and Bowie’s acquaintance for whom he once wrote All the Young Dudes, had a song on this subject, on his comeback album called Rant (2001), the song being Dead Man Walking (What am I supposed to do now?/ Crawl down the hole of monotony?/ The silence is deafening/ The phone never rings)


➤ The Bowiesconti proxy has spoken: only second-hand interviews from here to eternity

interview, David Bowie,Tony Visconti, Where Are We Now?, Next Day

The Bowiesconti proxy: silent pop star plays puppet in the hands of his ventriloquist producer Visconti

❚ SHOCK HORROR REVELATION in today’s Times. David Bowie has been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous though seems to have abstained from drink 23 years ago. This is the bonus ball among many truths we’ve been getting closer to since the star’s 66th birthday comeback bombshell on Tuesday. Another is that he will “never do another interview again” and this itself comes from the mouth of his lifelong 68-year-old friend and producer Tony Visconti who is giving this interview to The Times. Visconti has become Bowie’s Voice on Earth, we’re told. And by the end of the two-page read, we’re so far into Smash Hits territory – Bowie’s fave TV shows are The Office and The Shield – that you’re gritting your teeth at the prospect of another 30 years of interview-by-proxy.

➢ Meanwhile here are five revelations we gleaned from today’s Times interview with the Bowiesconti proxy:

1 – A second Bowie single may be issued before the album The Next Day is released on March 11. And a second album is almost inevitable. “What he wants to do is make records. He does not want to tour,” says his Voice on Earth.

2 – An exclusive list of the 14 album tracks shows all-original material embracing adult themes of “tyrants, spies and soldiers” to reflect Bowie’s recent reading matter, as well as “love in the internet age”. Titles include Dirty Boys (about glam-rockers), Valentine’s Day (about a mass murderer), Set the World on Fire (about an unnamed female nightclub singer) while the track The Next Day is itself a gruesome number in which a man is hung, drawn and quartered in stereo (remember the final scene in Braveheart?) so you might have to look away now and have a lie-down.

Braveheart, movie, Mel Gibson

HDQ in Braveheart 1995: Mel Gibson takes it like a man

3 – During Bowie’s cocaine-fuelled Berlin years recalled on the new single, Where Are We Now?, his Voice says: “We’d have both been dead if we’d carried on.” Visconti stopped taking coke in 1984. Both men went to AA and we’re invited to deduce that Bowie has passed his 23rd anniversary without a drink, placing his temperance decision at 1989, year of the Tin Machine album, itself an expression of musical regeneration.

4 – Since his heart op in 2004 rumours have circulated that Bowie also has cancer. “They’re categorically not true,” says the Voice. “He is incredibly fit because he takes care of himself. He looks rosy cheeked.”

5 – Big letdown for the gayers: while living in Berlin David and Iggy had separate bedrooms in their seven-room Hauptstrasse apartment. Did their relationship go beyond friendship? “No, absolutely not.” Aw, c’mon. What about the Ziggy years? “I never witnessed him with a boyfriend,” Bowiesconti declares. “He said Ziggy stardust was a persona.”

After slapping us with this big wet fish, perhaps Tony Visconti can rehearse a few laughs for his next major interview as the proxy David Bowie, otherwise Jonathan “The Joker” Ross will hog the limelight as usual.


➢ New from the Sunday Telegraph interview with the Voice on Earth:
Despite all reports to the contrary, Visconti reveals that Bowie may actually perform these songs live. “He doesn’t want to tour any more. He’s had enough of it. But he hasn’t ruled out that he might do a show.”

Will there be another record? “We recorded 29 titles. We have at least four finished songs that could start the next album,” says Visconti. “If all goes well, we will be back in the studio by the end of the year. He’s back. Bowie has found out what he wants to do: he wants to make records. Nothing else.”

➢ Jan 13: David Bowie secures first Official Top 10 Chart single in two decades – Arriving at Number 6, Where Are We Now? becomes his highest charting hit since Absolute Beginners reached Number 2 in 1986.
➢ Shock and awe verdicts on Bowie’s born-again masterpiece
➢ Riddle of the train Bowie could not have taken in
Where Are We Now?


➤ Riddle of the train Bowie could not have taken in Where Are We Now?

Divided Berlin: the wall shown in black places the U-Bahn station (blue) at Potsdamer Platz inside the Soviet sector, along with the S-Bahn station (green)

Divided Berlin: the wall shown in black places the U-Bahn station (blue) at Potsdamer Platz inside the Soviet sector, along with the S-Bahn station (green)

❚ THE NEW MUSIC VIDEO for Where Are We Now? raises challenges during David Bowie’s nostalgic Berlin city tour that his fans expect to decipher. Lesser mysteries were quickly cracked this week:
1 – The woman’s face on the cuddly toy is the video director’s wife Jacqueline Humphries.
2 – The T-shirt slogan “m/s Song of Norway” refers to both a retired and renamed cruise ship (Royal Caribbean has used Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life in its commercials), and an operetta that was made into a film starring Bowie’s onetime girlfriend Hermione Farthingale who inspired a song.
3 – The closing shots of the Siegessäule (Victory Column) resonate also as the title of Berlin’s gay community magazine.
4 – The lyric’s curious non-idiomatic phrase “walking the dead” coincidentally references the title of an American drama about a transgendered person.

But the real Poirot Puzzler raised by the opening line of the song is this: *How* did Bowie “get the train from Potsdamer Platz” (incidentally, or deliberately, misspelt on screen) to reach his Berlin haunts in the 70s? Today any of us can easily take the U2 towards Nürnberger Strasse, the lyric’s next destination, where once, he sings, he would sit in the cool Dschungel nightclub frequented by assorted popstars (his favourite seat was on a balcony overlooking the bar). We can also take the S1 line south from PP to the trendy Schöneberg district where Bowie used to share rooms with Iggy Pop.

But not when Bowie lived in Berlin, during the years now identified with his Berlin Trilogy of albums, 1976-79. Why not? Because of the 12-ft high Wall, fortified with minefields, anti-tank defences and ruthlessly guarded, the symbol of communism which had divided the city since 1961. As we see from the map (above) both the stations for the S-Bahn surface train line and the U-Bahn underground line lay on the East side of the wall within the Soviet sector.

In the late 70s the site of Potsdamer Platz was a wide-open wasteland on the East of the Wall, a No Man’s Land chillingly known as the Kill Zone, where guards could gun down the continuing stream of desperate East Berliners courageous enough to make a dash for the West.

Potsdamer Platz in 1961: the postwar wasteland is divided by the Wall and was to become known as the Kill Zone

Potsdamer Platz in 1961: the postwar wasteland is divided by the first low-rise Wall and was to become known as the Kill Zone

Bowie’s workplace, the Hansa Studios where he recorded Low and Heroes, actually overlooked the Wall from the American sector, in Köthener Strasse a few yards south of Potsdamer Platz. Catching sight of two lovers near the Wall inspired the theme for the number, Heroes, in 1977, one of his most creative song-writing periods.

But Bowie could not have taken his train from either of those stations because they had been closed and barricaded when the Wall was built. Western trains continued to cross East Berlin along lines which emerged in the West but they passed through without stopping at many such stations which became known as Geisterbahnhöfe (ghost stations). Concrete collars at tunnel entrances scraped the sides of the trains to deter escapees from clinging to them. Half a lifetime later, on March 3, 1992, the S1 stop in Potsdamer Platz was the last ghost station to reopen after the reunification of Germany.

➢ Elsewhere at Shapersofthe80s:
Shock and awe verdicts on
Bowie’s born-again masterpiece

Perhaps Bowie departed from some other station? What about the 19th-century regional railway terminus called Potsdamer Bahnhof, you say? It fed ritziness into the heart of the metropolis and Potsdamer Platz became one of Berlin’s busiest traffic intersections where famously Europe’s first traffic lights were installed in 1924. The whole area was, however, laid waste during World War Two and the last trains you could have taken from this station ran in 1945.

Ah, yes but what about the innovative M-Bahn, the Magnetic Levitation line which powered south from the Philharmonie, skirting the Wall by Potsdamer Platz as it headed down to the river? Sorry, this didn’t open until 1989.

So how on earth did David Bowie take his train from Potsdamer Platz?

Is our hero indulging some romantic fantasy on behalf of an East Berliner during the 70s, making a wistful trip to the freewheeling delights of Schöneberg and the KaDeWe department store that became an attainable dream only after the fall of the Wall – as he sings, by crossing the Bösebrücke on November 9, 1989?

And why the first word of the song? Why *had* he to get this train at all? He was well-known for cycling everywhere in Berlin, such was the personal freedom he enjoyed there. And why from Potsdamer Platz?

Potsdamer Platz in 1910: looking south towards the Potsdamer Bahnhof

Potsdamer Platz in 1910: looking south towards the Potsdamer Bahnhof


❏ Bowie producer Tony Visconti says of Where Are We Now?: “To me, it’s not about the three-years he spent in Berlin in the 70s. It feels like just one day he had an epiphany walking in the street.” So there we have it. A walk in the street. Puts our post above out with the trash. Still, it painted a picture of an era that is probably unimaginable for anybody who hadn’t visited the divided city between 1961 and 1989.

When Bonn became the capital of West Germany in 1949, the war-ravaged city of Berlin grew ever more desolate, despite the handful of nightclubs where hedonism was very much defined as the antidote to the privations of daily life. The Western sectors felt like a minor provincial city with a population of 2 million, mostly consisting of the elderly, because everybody else had left to make new lives elsewhere. Just turning 30, Bowie and Iggy were among the city’s youngest inhabitants and their work as musicians was one of the few productive industries in an enfeebled economy.

Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Berlin

Nightclubbing 1977: Bowie and Iggy enjoy the Berlin nightlife

The Soviet sector, which we Westerners were privileged to visit, unlike its citizens wishing to make the opposite journey, felt tragic: rundown beyond the point of dilapidation, with high-rise Tower blocks in the brutalist Soviet style built to ease the pressure on a crowded population and signal the “modernity” of the East. As with visits to the Soviet Union, tourists were usually conscious of being followed or at least monitored by East German security personnel, and woe betide any local who behaved in an inappropriately friendly manner toward visitors! With the Stasi (state security service) relying on family members to inform on each other, the East became a society of subterfuge, with a black economy built less on cash than barter and influence at all levels of daily life.

➢ Take The Guardian’s complete tour of Bowie’s Berlin

➢ Jan 13 update: The Observer recounts his “unrepeatable time of Sturm und Drang in the shadow of the Wall”


2013 ➤ Shock and awe verdicts on Bowie’s born-again masterpiece

❚ SURPRISE WAS THE SECRET WEAPON. Even the star’s longtime London publicists were told only on Friday. For months there must have been “sudden death” clauses in his 35 collaborators’ contracts to deter them from breathing a word about the 14 songs on his first album in a decade, or about yesterday’s haunting new single, realised in a resourcefully resonant music video that navigates those fertile but often fraught landmarks from Berlin in the 70s as if in Google Street View… every one a turning point… ghosts from the tragic city’s Cold-War hinterland as well as the singer’s own.

Driven by piano and synth, the song is a bittersweet elegy. Its poignant title asks Where Are We Now? and is rendered with suitable despair, while the accompanying images reinforce the singer’s seemingly mournful contemplations on “walking the dead”. Yet all comes clearer with repeated viewing when the self-deprecating humour brightens your moist eyes. The old fella’s tremulous voice, eroded half an octave lower than we remember, is courageously confessing with dignity and relief what all buddhists seek in the journey through life – enlightenment. There may be melancholy in his acceptance of mortality but it is unsentimental. “As long as there’s sun / As long as there’s rain” and crucially “As long as there’s fire”, then “You know, you know”.

 Where Are We Now? , David Bowie, comeback,Next Day, video,Tony Oursler ,Tony Visconti

Bowie and soulmate as one cuddly toy: their faces are projected onto the puppet-like dummy, Berlin’s Reichstag in the city tour is projected behind them during Tony Oursler’s video for Where Are We Now? (© Iso/Columbia)

The news broke at 5am in the UK (midnight in New York) on his 66th birthday, and the world’s media suddenly received the good news like a shot in the arm. No, Bowie had not retired, laid low after heart surgery in 2004, but was back with a bang. By breakfast-time BBC Radio’s flagship current affairs show Today rushed a critic into the studio to enthuse about the new ballad as legacy from Bowie’s so-called Berlin Trilogy of albums, 1976-79, produced by Tony Visconti, as is the new album. The veteran anchor John Humphrys empathised with a “weariness” he detected in the voice.

By 3pm the single was topping the British iTunes chart and by midnight the next day’s national press were trumpeting their finest prose stylists in spreads devoted to the last of the godlike popstars who define their era. This is the sizzle The Thin White Duke still generates. If Mr Humphrys thinks Bowie was sounding his age, in The Times Caitlin Moran thinks the song shows every year of Bowie’s age beautifully…


➢ Caitlin Moran in The Times says Bowie arrived out of retirement overnight, like unexpected snow
It is a worn voice, a gentle voice, a voice with small burn-holes, slight foxing. Of all the things, it most reminded me of David Attenborough narrating some extraordinary murmuration of starlings, or a thaw. A voice that has a superior grasp of how large the universe is; a voice that has come to appreciate the value in simply being alive.


➢ Poet Alan Jenkins blogs at The Times Literary Supp and shares his elation at the arrival of a masterpiece
Almost from the first and unfailingly ever since, Bowie has been a byword for musical boldness and invention. His instinctive power as a lyricist has perhaps been somewhat overlooked – his characteristic note a combination of the shy and portentous, of confessional detail and unembarrassed declamation, of raw truthfulness and authentically barmy allegorizing. Where…? takes us haltingly into personal history and personal mortality, distilling from its simple, beautiful progressions an atmosphere of bewildered sorrow that is not entirely dispelled by the tender-stoical declarations of the final moments.

 Where Are We Now? , David Bowie, comeback,Next Day, video,Tony Oursler ,Tony Visconti

Quavering voice and unflattering close-up: pension-age Bowie ruminates on the passing of time in his stark yet tender lyrics (© Iso/Columbia)


➢ Neil McCormick in the Telegraph declares the perfect comeback
Lush, stately, beautifully strange, weaving resonant piano chords, decaying synths and echoing drums around a simple chord progression and a weary, tenderly understated, quietly defiant vocal, the ageing Starman reminisces about days in Berlin… It is to the slightly wonky, retro-futuristic ambience of late Seventies rock electronica that Where Are We Now? returns … It was a musical style influenced by one-time collaborator Brian Eno and once heralded for its icy futurism, but now it sounds familiar enough to be instantly accessible yet oddly contemporary. Retro synths are all the rage once again, early electronica deemed to have a quality of human warmth often absent in hi-tech digital pop.


➢ Alexis Petridis in The Guardian on an object lesson in record promotion
The main reason it’s created such a fuss is simply because no one knew. It’s incredible that, in an era of gossip websites and messageboard rumours, one of the biggest stars in the world, presumed retired, can spend two years making a new album without the merest whisper of it reaching the public. But somehow he did it… Whatever The Next Day sounds like [the album due on March 11], he’s turned it into the biggest release of 2013 by the simple expedient of doing absolutely nothing other than make an album. Furthermore, he’s managed to maintain the myth and mystique that was always central to his stardom and his art in a world where rock and pop music has almost no myth or mystique left.


➢ At the Quietus Chris Roberts asks: After a decade of artlessness Bowie is back. So why are so many clowns complaining?
The delicately-sung single, Where Are We Now?, is not “instant”, or flash. It is not a sad by-numbers attempt to recapture old glories. It is very much Bowie, but it is a quivering ghost of a Bowie song, the imprint of his fabulous past gently laid over a forlorn, elegiac yet life-affirming drape of meditations and reveries about missing the old Europe and, possibly, youth. It is becoming of the man, and of the star. And it is becoming obvious that, after all this time, he wouldn’t have let it out of the house if he didn’t believe it would add to his body of work and polish his mythology. It is spectral, frail, yearning without chest-beating, candid in its few, clipped phrases and sighs concerning the heart’s filthy lessons. The crooning peacock is now a whispering sage.


➢ Helen Pidd, The Guardian’s former Berlin correspondent, helps identify key Berlin landmarks in Bowie’s video
In the 20s Potsdamer Platz was the place to be, full of sexy lesbians in smoking jackets and the sort of boys Christopher Isherwood fancied. Then we bombed it. After the war, the East Germans built the Berlin Wall around it, placing it in a no man’s land. If you’ve seen Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire, you’ll remember the old man sitting on a sofa in what purported to be the deserted Potsdamer Platz…

 Where Are We Now? , David Bowie, comeback,Next Day, video,Tony Oursler ,Tony Visconti

Bowie as art student: ironic coda to the video when he looks in at the auto repair shop beneath the Berlin apartment where he once lived (© Iso/Columbia)

The archetypal Berlin art studio-cum-squat: This is a modern cliche of the German capital. Bowie, in his enigmatic slogan T-shirt, looks like any other foreign immigrant who has come to Berlin to “do my art” (read: go to Berghain and get an asymmetric haircut). Like many of the city’s young pretenders, he is carrying a notebook and no doubt tells people at squat parties he is a writer.


❏ And in lighter vein… More than one fan has noticed that parts of the new melody bear a resemblance to Pathetic Little Fat Man, Bowie’s improvised tribute to Ricky Gervais in his BBC sitcom Extras in 2006 (above)

Where Are We Now? , David Bowie, comeback,Next Day

Banjo-man! Exclusive birthday photograph (Jimmy King )

➢ Future plans and memorabilia at the newly rejuvenated official Bowie website