Thursday, January 12, 2017

Deep in his decadent period: David Bowie's Golden Years

Part two of my look at the music charts of 1976.

If Queen were entering their imperial phase with Bohemian Rhapsody as 1976 began, then their future collaborator David Bowie, a little lower in the Top Ten with Golden Years, was deep in his decadent period.

As Simon Reynolds' recent excellent glam rock history Shock And Awe relates, 1975-76 was something of a personal (if not creative) nadir for Bowie. Isolated in Los Angeles, greedily synthesising New Age esoteric philosophy, occultism and more in an attempt to make sense of the world, and by his own admission taking a large amount of drugs, he experienced a kind of functional crisis.

The kind of crisis where on the one hand you can still manage to knock out Station To Station, Golden Years' parent album, on the other also claim many years later to have no memory of making it. 

Golden Years itself is a fun but fragile piece of mid-70's pop soul, dragged to some mid-Atlantic latitude by Bowie's theatrical vocal and the sense of estrangement between music and text. While the tune is all sweetness and honey, listen to the lyric, to David desperately trying to persuade his love that things are great, that they will never get better, as long as they keep living (or keep performing) this life of dream cars and adoring audiences.

Watch him lip-syncing his way through the song on Soul Train too, and you'll see a man who either lacks the courage of his song's convictions or is intentionally casting doubt upon their sincerity. It's hard to tell with a man in a functional crisis.

You don't need to think about this to appreciate Golden Years' goodness / oddness, of course. But part of Bowie's enduring appeal, I think, is that his songs often echo a vulnerability in ourselves, our attempts to put a brave face on and face the world. Heroes is like that, as is Space Oddity, Sound and Vision, Quicksand, Rock N Roll Suicide and more

And so is this funny little funky song.

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