The Narrative Behind Bowie’s The Next Day

For some reason I knew since seeing the video for The Stars (Are Out Tonight) that the album’s third promo would be for The Next Day and it would feature Bowie singing the song behind a microphone. It seems like the final destruction of the ‘Bowie is dying’ myth which they’ve been having so much fun with – albeit with an exit which will only invite further speculation.

Where Are We Now? – Bowie the mythic figure, dying in the shadows, more ethereal than corporeal.

TS(AOT) – The big reveal. Bowie is alive and well yet haunted, tormented even, by his past. stalked by his legend.

This – the normalisation. Bowie performs. He hams it up. The curtain is pulled back. The deity figure is snuffed out at the end.

‘Religion is corrupt’ is a rather tired trope these days but it does its job in fuelling the Bowie speculation market. The Decameron ‘title’ on the door at the beginning is a nice touch. From wiki:

Decameron combines two Greek words, Greek:δέκαdéka (“ten”) and Greekἡμέραhēméra (“day”), to form a term that means “ten-day [event]”

That obviously feeds into both the album title and Bowie’s 10-year absence – and the bell tolls ten times. Certainly there is some behind-the-scenes activity in the Bowie camp which suggests something more than just another single release is afoot in the near future.

The video is worthy for this alone:


However it squanders the best moment of the song and one of my favourite Bowie moments ever – the opening line of the second verse, “Ignoring the pain of their particular diseases”. It is ridiculously satisfying to sing along to. You really should try it.

16th July – And now we have the video for Valentine’s Day:

After the deity vanished at the end of The Next Day we have a Bowie who is very much the man who fell to earth. He’s dressed simply – ‘normally’, even – and it’s the first straightforward performance video of the era. Its subtleties rely not on Bowie’s legend but on clever touches which reference the song – the guitars which resemble guns, the flashes of the titular Valentine aggressively storming around while wielding a weapon and a brief flash of a bullet:

It comes in the week Bowie apparently promised ‘more music soon’ in an e-mail to some BowieNet users. He’s had his fun being meta-Bowie – now it’s back to business.

31st October:

A new – and presumably final – video from the re-release of The Next Day and more loaded symbolism. References to Bowie’s past abound, from the bathroom rituals of of Thursday’s Child:

to what are, presumably, red shoes put on in order to dance the blues:

The references to Ashes to Ashes/Scary Monsters and the Thin White Duke are obvious – what’s notable is that they are puppets and projections. As the era of The Next Day began with Bowie as a spectral presence, projected onto comically small figures, it comes full circle with the curtain being pulled back on some of his iconic creations. The background may change but Bowie the artist brings them to life as puppet master and voice and here, he alerts us that the Bowie of this era was another facade. The ‘real’ Bowie watches from the side and LOST in the shadows, obscured by his famous past and obsessively washing his hands, both attempting to ‘stay clean’ (the Thin White Duke being perhaps his most drug-associated creation) and cleanse his persona. This shot:

depicts the Thin White Duke cradling a blank-faced Pierrot and recalls the cover of Hours:

With that album cover Bowie was signalling the death of his ‘difficult’ early 90s modernism and a return to his past; here it almost seems like the victims of his eternal suicides are comforting one another. His past is littered with corpses. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?! 

Yet they never truly die – the face just moves on to a new host. Bowie washes obsessively yet, like Lady Macbeth, he cannot remove the blood. The tap remains on at the end and Bowie has vanished: even with attempted erasure he can never be free of himself. Yet the water still flows – another corpse falls to the ground and he’s not done yet.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Nostalgia and Futurology | howupsetting

  2. Pingback: Goodbye and thank you, David. | howupsetting

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