It crossed my mind to talk about Neil McCormick today, after reading his amazing review of The Next Day in The Telegraph. Even though I really believe there should be no judgment of Bowie fans of any stripe, and even casual fans should be invited into the fold, it is wonderful to read a review by a journalist who knows the catalogue. You read that piece and know he’s not only informed, he’s a fan. A, shall we say, “comprehensive” fan, whose interest goes past those blips in Bowie’s career when he achieved mass commercial success. (And we can say they were blips for the simple reason that Bowie has been so unceasingly prolific for several decades, so he’s challenging the averages by producing more). The other reviews, even though they are without exception effusive, still do silly things like reference Bowie in the 70s, as if he hasn’t done anything since then. Move on, people. Move on.
And here’s a bit of synchronicity: I decided to post Life on Mars? today, and looked up the Wikipedia page to try to think of something to say about it. And, lo and behold, there’s a lengthy quote from Neil McCormick, who apparently chose Life on Mars? as number one on his list of the 100 greatest songs of all time. Kis-mic, as they say…
I saw a post about an anti-bullying campaign earlier today, and this is what made me think of Life of Mars?. I always assumed this song was about a child with a miserable life. Watching Bowie’s description in this VH1 Storytellers piece — which takes place after the performance — of how the song came about, you’re not so sure. And if you read the Wikipedia page, you’re even less sure.
After more than a couple of viewings of the new video, The Stars (Are Out Tonight), I am struck by how much this Bowie, in 1999, resembles him now. Even more so I think than the clips from 2002 and later. It’s the hair, I think. The natural look. Or a bit of similar cosmetic maintenance to temper the hidden shades of gray.
[The opening lyrics of this song, which appear in the studio version and in the title of this post, are cut out of this version of the song sung at Storytellers. Truncated for time, perhaps, because the dig at poor Barbara Streisand (no bullying!) made better television.]