The new David Bowie song, “Where Are We Now?” (embedded via YouTube below) has been generating a frenzy of attention, given it’s his first record in ten years and many thought he’d never put out another one. (He’s 66 years-old, which somehow sounds so old for David Bowie, while, by contrast, I think 71 sounds just right for Bob Dylan.) I like some of Bowie’s stuff over the years, but am not a rabid devotee, so the mere appearance of the new song didn’t knock me off my chair. But I happen to think it is quite good and quite lovely: an impressionistic, bittersweet reflection on aging, evoking sadness at things lost, and a poignant longing to hold on. And maybe some other things. Bowie is nothing if not good at leaving space for the listener to paint his or her own picture, and that’s so even in this case where the things he’s singing about are quite personal and specific to him.
The video is also suitably weird and indefinite. I noted that the lyrics appear on screen, quite tastefully done, and kind of necessary too; otherwise, many people (including me) wouldn’t know what he was singing about with these names and places in Berlin. At one point it sounds like he’s “sitting in the jungle,” but no, it’s actually sitting in the Dschungel, which apparently was a nightclub he fancied back in the ’70s. Although, I’m not sure reading the lyrics helps with the line that goes, “the moment you know you know you know,” which is really third-rate Donald Rumsfeld if you ask me.
The words on screen did get me thinking, though; perhaps if all music videos had the lyrics scroll on the screen, kids would have a fairer warning as to what kind of stuff was being carpet-bombed into their brains by the average pop song.
Consider the current Justin Bieber hit (a duet with Nicki Minaj) called “Beauty and a Beat,” whose lyrics go like this:
Yeah.. Young Money.. Nicki Minaj … Justin..
Show you off … Tonight I wanna show you off (aye,aye,aye)
What you got … A billion could’ve never bought (aye,aye,aye)
We gonna party like it’s 3012 tonight … I wanna show you all the finer things in life
So just forget about the world, we’re young tonight … I’m coming for ya, I’m coming for ya
It’s one thing hearing these words “sung,” but maybe having them in bold relief on the screen would be a little more off-putting. At least, I’d hope so, for the more sensitive types. Time to drum up support for a law requiring the lyrics to appear on all of these videos. It wouldn’t violate Justin Bieber’s freedom of expression; it would merely facilitate his fuller expression. (You have to know how to frame these things.)
Well, I feel compelled to insert a palate-cleanser now. Nothing like some old possum for cleaning your palate. George Jones, “Choices,” below via YouTube. It happens to be another song about looking back on one’s life.
Oh, and as for David Bowie’s new song, it gets three out of five lead pipes from me.