In astronomy we allow for the shift of light years to bring images of stars and planets to us long after they have faded and completely disappeared from our little universe. We witness these events of the past as if they were occurring in the present day but really we are catching the aftermath of their glow – having drifted beyond the half-way point of their explosive birth. So it has been with future-history of David Bowie, the original pop starman whose birthday it is today (the same day, though not the year, as the original king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley 8/1/1935) begging the question – where is his legacy now?
[cover image – Edward Bell?]
Forever outpacing time, Bowie always seemed to work ahead of himself, creating and embracing personae and album characters with passionate intensity before jettisoning them just as his audience had come to know and love them. From Bowie’s golden decade of 1970 to 1980 we shifted from second-time-around hit “Space Oddity” to the rock and roll saviour of Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dogs hell-on-earth musical mash-up of William S. Burroughs and George Orwell’s 1984; through to plastic soul of the Young Americans gouster in the death of the American dream; Station To Station’s mind-meld of Krautrock, cocaine hysteria and the occult (Thin White Duke) and on to the misnomered ‘Berlin Trilogy’ a loose triptych of international records that veered from arch experimentalism to neo-blues funk by way of a breakdown and slow recovery, using the flux of constant travel as a mode therapy, ending in 1980’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) which neatly introduced the new decade as the age of fear, social chaos and neoliberal unreason in Margaret Thatcher’s conservative government.
By the time the his last record had been released Bowie was already working on his next idea, entering London’s Olympia studio on New Year’s Day 1974 to begin work on Diamond Dogs (the day before had been celebrating with RCA Records, with five albums in the Top 50 of the UK charts for 19 consecutive weeks). Audiences were baited and eagerly waiting for the next big release while Bowie had secretly moved-on and so the audiences followed. As Brett Morgan’s Moonage Daydream showed us, it was something of a blur, but established a legacy that has lasted well beyond Bowie’s lifetime.
2022 was in some respects an overload of Bowie, for hungry fans eager for ‘new’ unearthed content the brilliant adventure continues with unearthed, re-jigged box sets and reissues, a kind of constant archaeology revisiting the past to somehow alter or enrich the present. I am of the generation that inherited the 90s CD reissues of Bowie’s back catalog timed to coincide with his Sound And Vision ‘final’ greatest hits tour. These CDs were already embellished with b-sides and missing tracks, Scary Monsters for example neatly had the excellent Crystal Japan instrumental tacked-on, recorded specifically for a Japanese advert for Fuji San-Roc (not quite sake but also not a spirit?!)
Divine Symmetry for example is as much a reimagining of the original Hunky Dory album, another aspect of the original realized in a parallel universe, I like to imagine that Bowie would have approved of the alternate reality. More books are forthcoming, it seems the world and its Bowie fans can’t get enough and we are not yet at peak-Bowie fatigue, dazzled in the glare of fresh perspectives and new revelations.
My new book Silhouettes And Shadows: The Secret History Of David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) comes out this year, I’m of course nervous, anxious even of its reception – have I said the wrong thing, could I have done more research (yes, you can always read more!) and where does it even fit into the great constellation of seminal Bowie books, from in-depth biographies , oral histories and searingly insightful trawls across the discography, let alone Bowie’s music itself? Can a deep dive book really do justice to the experience of listening to the original album? For me, it’s a no – but I hope that it at least brings various aspects of Scary Monsters creation to light and sets the album in the greater context of Bowie’s year of 1980 in around 80,000 words.
I loved writing about The Elephant Man stage performance and regretted reexamining the fallout of Mark Chapman’s murder of John Lennon in Bowie’s beloved New york, but I was also able to connect with several of Bowie’s collaborators and gain fresh insights to the atmosphere in which the record was made including thoughts from DAM trio stalwart Carlos Alomar, guitar synth pioneer Chuck Hammer, director of the Ashes To Ashes and Fashion videos David Mallet and studio engineer Chris Porter.
I’m keen to keep listening to my old Bowie records and to explore ‘new’ archive material released from the archives, from classic stage shows like Nassau Coliseum in ‘76 to the bootleg LPs of Bowie’s brilliant Saturday Night Live performance where he performs a killer triptych of The Man Who Sold The World, TVC15 and Boys Keep Swinging. Although the Bowie discography has been sold on to Warner Chappell Music, here’s hoping there are many more ways and days to (re)discover Bowie’s music, for this generation and beyond.
Happy Birthday to David Bowie, who would have been 76 today.
Silhouettes And Shadows: The Secret History of David Bowie’s
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) 
1980 — David Bowie stands at the crossroads of the decade where avant-garde pop, new wave and post-punk meet to confront the ghosts of his past and fear of the future.
With the Blitz Kids and the New Romantics emerging in his wake Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) bids farewell to Bowie’s golden years of the 1970s. Entering a world of paranoia, alienation, and state terror racing towards the end of history, Bowie faces up to brute realities of the emergent Eighties society and doomed romance of fading youth
This is David Bowie as pierrot clown of everyday romance, suffering and song — when the mask finally slips to reveal David Jones, the man within.
Featuring exclusive interviews with close collaborators discussing the making of the album and hit singles “Fashion” and “Ashes To Ashes” Silhouettes And Shadows explores the songs, the times and the sounds of Bowie’s new decade.