Why Bowie Was Gone For A Decade Or, Alternatively, My Lost Career As A Seamstress

Today was the big day. My new New Year’s, Bowie’s birthday. God bless, David.

Someone — perhaps it was (who?) — posted this photo, from Bowie’s 50th birthday celebration in 1997.

Bowie birthday

I remember that coat from the V&A exhibit, and of course the delightful clips from the Madison Square concert. The tailoring, the stitching, the weight. It’s not merely the design (Bowie’s, reportedly) but the craftsmanship that makes it, well, extraordinary — something only Bowie could wear; it could only fall off his shoulders and cradle his neck. Uniquely, purposely, his. Him.

(My lost career as a seamstress; there’s a difference, I feel, between those who sketch the design and those who hold the fabric. Four years ago, newly unemployed, I took a basic sewing class and emerged with a pair of pyjama pants. So enthralled with the process, I made a second pair for a family member, who claims it still fits, while my original set of sleepwear cozies fell apart on me. Still, I loved the tactile process of holding cloth, ironing, cutting, measuring, sewing — straight, if the machine cooperated — and finishing with a piece of wearable art. Or something that resembled the picture on the pattern envelope.

My sewing fantasy is a little like my rock star fantasy. Creating elaborate pieces — not designing, necessarily, but holding the cloth. Singing great songs — not writing, necessarily, but vocalizing great tunes.)

I went searching for video of this concert that gave a clear view of this coat. I couldn’t find it but, as is the nature of YouTube, found myself led astray by a 2002 (or so) interview on Australian TV, Rove Live, prior to the Reality tour. 2003, maybe. In it, he’s relaxed, funny, has lost most of his British accent, and when asked if parenthood has affected his writing, says this:

“[at 3:08] As a writer, it’s qualified everything I do. … I’m a little more sober about what it is I’m writing down and the attitude I’m presenting in. Because I try and imagine reading it back through her eyes or listening to it through her ears and exactly how she would reflect on it. … She’s going to look back at her father and say, ‘if you thought the world was this — kind of — shitty, why did you bring me into it?'”

Which is interesting, because The Next Day is so very, very dark. So very, very bleak. So very, very, well, the world on The Next Day seems pretty shitty. Why did he go away for 10 years? Maybe everything seemed shitty and he decided to wait until he could say, well, she’s old enough now… she can handle it?

(Choosing as he did, instead, to do voiceovers on Spongebob Squarepants.)

Here’s the thing. Bowie is bleak, always has been to some extent. But he is not a negative artist. Even in his lowest points as a person and as a performer, he never seemed angry or exclusionary. Maybe the world was dark, but he was always kind underneath it all. Maybe that’s the appeal. His appeal, as an artist. He always seemed to point out the bad, but hold on to the good.

(That, of course, with Outside as the exception, which is drenched in negative energy as I’ve written about before. And also, with the overwhelming qualification that — as much as so many of us say you made the world easier for us, through your music — most of the time we had no idea what he was singing about.)