Well, I drunk a lot of wine and I’m feeling fine
Gonna race some cat to bed
Is this concrete all around, or is it in my head?
Bowie’s performance at the Phoenix Festival in 1996 was what really ramped up my obsession with him and his performance of this song was instrumental to that. I was fortunate enough to have taped the performance off Radio 1 and I wore out the cassette rewinding and replaying ‘All The Young Dudes’ over and over. I physically ached when I listened to it – as naff as it seems now, that riff spoke to me like few other pieces of pop music ever had. It’s not difficult to understand why the lyrics resonated with an awkward adolescent who spent an unhealthy amount of time alone in his room writing bad poetry and listening to music.
Do teenagers get into Bowie now? The fact that he hasn’t released anything new in 9 years means he’s been off the radar but it also means he can be idealised and canonised without having to die first. I happen to think that his 90s period was second only to his 70s work (given the peerlessness of that 70s work, that’s perhaps feint praise but it’s not intended to be) but it was certainly not an easy period to be a fan when it came to critical or popular appeal. ‘1.Outside’ and ‘Earthling’ were both painted as desperate attempts at relevance and it can’t be overstated how important Nirvana’s cover of ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ was in terms of going some way to protect his reputation amongst a ‘new’ generation. I always remember the glee I felt when, one day in school, the cool Nirvana/RATM/Smashing Pumpkins kid in my class asked if he could borrow my Bowie records. Well, glee with an undercurrent of ‘fuck off, he’s mine you little shit’.
I think both ‘1.Outside’ and ‘Earthling’ are viewed more kindly now, critically at least. Bowie, as with Dylan, as with Stevie Wonder, as with Elton John, as with Prince, had to self-consciously revisit (one of) his most famous and successful periods with ‘Heathen’ and ‘Reality’ (though I think this does both albums an injustice and was certainly overcooked by critics) in order to be fully accepted as an elder statesman. As an audience we seem to prefer it when these artists stay out of the fray and help us to preserve them in amber.