David Bowie: where is he now ?


There aren’t many genuinely surprising ‘events’ left in modern culture. But music lovers and David Bowie fans in particular woke up this morning to find Christmas had come late but better than ever. This generation’s Return Of The Thin White Duke…Old Blue Eye was back.
Not only had Bowie broken his ten-year silence and released a single – by stealth of night, on, to celebrate his 66th birthday – the song ‘Where Are We Now ?’ was the pre-cursor to an entire album (titled ‘The Next Day’) in March.
More importantly, and perhaps most shockingly of all, ‘Where Are We Now ?’ is stunning – arguably the best David Bowie track since 1980 and ‘Ashes To Ashes.’
Lyrically looking back at his life in Berlin – a time that famously inspired ‘Low’, ‘“Heroes”’ and ‘Lodger’ – ‘Where Are We Now ?’ is produced by long-term Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti and has a fragile poignancy Bowie tried but struggled to capture on his last three albums – 2003’s ‘Reality’, ‘Heathen’ (2002) or ‘Hours…’ (1999) all of which had their moments and are, actually, under-rated.

‘Earthling’ (1997), ‘Outside’ (1995), and ‘Tonight’ (1984) were largely awful while ‘Never Let Me Down’ (1987) and ‘Black Tie White Noise’ (1993) were clumpy, clumsy, affairs. The two Tin Machine records were to most an aberration and almost unanimously mocked despite three pretty terrific songs in ‘I Can’t Read’, ‘Amazing’, and ‘Baby Can Dance.’

From there, we end up all the back at 1980’s ‘Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)’ and ‘Ashes To Ashes’ to finally find a Bowie that was indubitably in his prime.
Anyone wondering why Bowie hasn’t released anything for so long just needs to hear ‘Where Are We Now ?’ It takes ten years to find a melody as lovely as the one here.
The chorus though is the point where Bowie’s return almost ceases to be such a positive, where the sighs and swoons turn into sobs.
Bowie has been ill as we know, virtually in hiding in New York, and ‘Where Are We Now ?’ is almost unbearably mournful, the type of frail celebration of a life it could become a favourite at funerals, like the post-modernists’ ‘Angels.’
It starts deceptively with a ponderous pace and sumptuous strings luring you in to a song that has echoes of ‘Perfect Day’ or Bowie’s own ‘Don’t Let Me Down & Down’ and ‘Everyone Says Hi.’
Bowie commences a series of nostalgic recollections – not only about walking and clubbing in Berlin but…using public transport.
“Had to get the train from Potzdamer Platz,” he sings. “You never knew that, that I could do that” – a line that could be a reference to his fans, his fame, a lover or the incapacitating grip of his drug addiction.

These are then cut short by the chorus.
“Where are we now, where we now ?/The moment you know, you know you know ?”

In the video, shot seemingly in his flat or studio, his face is variously stretched, strained, bizarrely mounted on a stuffed toy, and attached to a woman in black polo neck – like trapped, twisted, figures from a Samuel Beckett play.
If ever there was a song about a man’s own mortality, a man writing his memorial, about the best times of his life, ‘Where Are We Now ?’ is it.
It’s about a man clinging on to the very basics of (his) life: the last elements. In the soft finale of the song he sings:
“As long as there’s sun (as long as there’s sun)/
As long as there’s rain (as long as there’s rain)/
As long as there’s fire (as long as there’s fire)/
As long as there’s me/
As long as there’s you.”

‘Where Are We Now ?’ reminds us why Bowie was the greatest pop star of the last century (of all-time therefore) and is a typically beautiful, elusive but poignant, addition to his already colossal canon.

For someone synonymous with being enigmatic and alien etc, it provides us with a fascinating, truly touching, insight into his feelings – some of his final feelings – particularly how attached he still feels about his past in Berlin.

It’s a fantastic pop song which at this point in his life, in this life/these times, is a great event and a blessing to wake up to.

Sadly, it also gives us a glimpse into the future: this is how we’ll feel when he’s gone.