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David Bowie's "The Next Day" and Artistic Integrity

David Bowie - The Next Day
Buy David Bowie's The Next Day now on iTunes.

I love Bowie's new album. So does The Atlantic (read their review The Predictably Unpredictable Resurrection of David Bowie) and pretty much everyone who knows his music.

I've been a huge Bowie fan since the mid-70s, since I was a wee lad, and used to try to write poems like his songs. Besides my fanboy perspective (though I don't think everything he's done is brilliant), I think his life is a good lesson in consummate creativity. He made some blunders in the process -- drug addiction, horrible relationships, and so forth. But he is always self-challenged artistically. Although he always sounds like "David Bowie," he never falls into schtick. He could do schtick well, as keenly as he changes personas. But he doesn't. He does more than reinvents his persona. He finds his new sound. He finds his next day.

In the beginning, this was a different thing. On one hand, he had nothing to lose by risking. He wasn't yet Bowie the Legend. He was a cocksure upstart. Now, he has everything to lose, but at the same time, nothing once again: no matter how awful an album is, he will still be Bowie the Legend.

He has always had an interesting mix of a strong work ethic despite his famously bohemian lifestyle of his youth, financial and artistic success, a smart sense of when to switch gears, and the guts to go full bore. Throw is a few stirs of right-place-right-time and we have a commercially successful, artistically intriguing musician.

But he could, at age 66, rest on his laurels. Like Bob Dylan (age 71, still touring heavily, recently kicked out one of his best albums ever), he isn't resting at all. Bowie's previous album, Reality, in 2003, in my opinion, was mediocre. I thought, like lots of folks, though he's had a good run and earned his retirement. "Take it Dave, before they laugh at you." Then he has a heart attack. He's rich, married to a super model, will have royalties from earlier work coming until Jesus comes back. He has nothing to prove and, from a humanist perspective (he rejects the truth and call of Jesus Christ), has and will have a pretty good life on Earth. Why do more?

Why do more? Why do more -- that is the artist's dilemma, isn't it? There is no poetically waxed, "Because I have to" nonsense  He wanted to. He didn't have to. "Have to," I think, is a mythical, romanticized view of the artistic process. But he clearly wanted to. So he did. Which, because he didn't have to, means he was completely free to do what he pleased.

And it is a great album.
Buy David Bowie's The Next Day now on iTunes. 

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