“Jump They Say’ was the lead of single from “Black Tie White Noise” in 1993. It is about Bowie’s feelings about his half-brother Terry who lived with schizophrenia and committed suicide in 1985.
We know this song is about his brother, because Bowie chose to tell us. If you read the lyrics or watch the video — which in this clip Bowie claims he handed over to an American filmmaker because of his difficulty with the subject matter — you would have no way of knowing. The words, in sometimes typical Bowie fashion, are cryptic, and really could be about anything at all.
It interests me when an artist decides personal subject matter should be for public consumption. Of the literally hundreds of songs Bowie has written, he could have written 10 about his brother. He could have written 100 about his brother — before he died, while he was still institutionalized. He could have written about the — from my recollection — three or four other members of his immediate family who were also diagnosed with, and lived with, schizophrenia. For some reason, in terms of songwriting — he’s discussed his family history of schizophrenia in interviews — he decides to talk about this with reference only to this particular song, in 1993.
When Where Are We Now? was released a few weeks ago, with no forewarning, and with no accompanying media interviews — or even paparazzi shots of Bowie showing his face — some commentators called it genius. In 2013, we live in the world of reality TV, where public figures are expected to be in constant dialogue with fans. (That last phrasing I know I’m picking up from somewhere — It’s from an article I read — I know it’s not my own).
It is, today, a world in which we are constantly bombarded with the illusion of intimacy with celebrities. We see into their bedrooms — although they always seem to be getting out of bed in full makeup — and feel we have a right to know the full details of their daily routines. Bowie is, right now, the anti-reality star. Even the cover of The Next Day features a blank square over the old cover of Heroes; the profile image of the official David Bowie Facebook page similarly features a headshot with a grey square obscuring the features. Somehow, I don’t think that when March rolls around and the new album comes out, we’re in for a big reveal. It may be simply about erasing the past, which you can’t ever really do (hence the Heroes image, and as it’s been said by others) or it’s about the last great transformation: into anonymity.
This clip is from MTV’s Bowie Weekend in 1993. (It amazes me what people have in their personal video archives sometimes). This is Bowie 20 years ago, looking handsome, stylish, putting it on for the camera. Something that recent evidence would suggest he’s no longer interested in doing.
(Far be it for me to quibble with Bowie on kinship terms — but I believe Bowie and his brother had the same biological mother, which would make them “half” brothers, and not “step” brothers, the word he uses in this clip.)