Video-sharing websites — YouTube not the least — have been around for barely 10 years. If we put this in a David Bowie context — when he ended the Reality Tour abruptly in 2004, YouTube did not yet exist, although some of its lesser-known predecessors did. The ability we have now, to access reams of user-generated, or professionally produced, material by entering in a few key terms in a search field just wasn’t there.
Since we have this ability now — to share massive amounts of obscure and not-so-obscure material — it’s easy to find just about any piece of video or music you might want to experience. Whether this represents any kind of real posterity is up for debate, because of the impermanent nature of technology and, of course, legality.
This is all beside the point. But it would have been impossible for me, in, say, 1999, to find full-length, user-generated videos of Bowie’s 1997 Earthling tour. Or a chat show appearance on Australian television. Or old rehearsal footage someone found in a box in his garage.
Since this ability is now here, however, there is a ton of footage of Bowie’s last tour available. And man, does he look tired. And a little bored. And the sheer number of performances seems to be massive — not just concert dates (which had been planned for 10 months, and ended up being 9 months or so) but the talk shows and interviews. Anyone, whether they’re a healthy 57 years old or not, would collapse with such a schedule.
(Perhaps it’s unfair to go on the basis my own memories of the Reality Tour show, which include my perception that he was in failing health, or on the basis of these YouTube clips, since, after all, a few selected minutes/hours over the course of a year might not accurately reflect what was going on).
This is a long way of getting around to my point — and in the words of (Ellen Degeneres, I think) — “My point, and I do have one…” I don’t want Bowie to tour again if it makes him feel like this. Maybe it was the blocked artery; maybe it was the schedule; maybe it was the same old songs, again and again.
He apparently told everyone close to him while making this new record that a tour was out of the question. That kind of makes me happy. Although, one show — one scaled-down show, preferably in an area close to me so I can go — would be ideal. To paraphrase a YouTube commenter — all he’d have to do is play recordings of the songs, sit on the amps and smile. That’s all it would take for the devotees among us.
(This clip is from September 2003, with Bowie looking in good spirits, in good voice, and perhaps happy to be engaged in new material).