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Paul Morley Deconstructs The New David Bowie Video

"The chameleon Bowie is dead. All that is left is a man wearing a suit, without any make-up on his face."

Last week, David Bowie put out the video for "Valentine's Day". Below, Paul Morley locks horns over it.

It was a day like any other. Wanting to be enfolded in the spirit of the North, I had taken a privately chartered tram out into the Pennines with my three whippets, Ee, Bah and Gum. In my satchel, a much drunk from flagon of bitter, suffused with the memory of a thousand documentaries about Joy Division. On my mind, a new video, “Valentine’s Day”, from an old hero and fellow traveller of the road less trod, David Bowie. Bowie, culture. Bowie, pop, Bowie moving, transcending, inhabiting, evading. On Cross Fell, cursing the world’s inability to create a portable record player, I took out my iPad and bemoaned, as ever, its derisory lack of sonic quality. But as this post-modern tablet of entertainment flashed into life my entirely justified, if somewhat prosaic concerns, were set aside for there was Bowie, at the end of a pillar-lined, industrial avenue, arm raised, ready to shatter – once again – all our preconceptions. I dropped my Eccles cake in shock. My whippets – who I have taught to have a more discerning ear than any of the half-baked music hacks out there and who, between them, have written more books than that rave-era upstart Simon Reynolds– barked in approval.


Here he is, a headless guitar in hand, in a wry nod to the Headless Hessian of folklore. Like a cultural Moses, Bowie is bringing back ecstatic truths from pop’s Mount Sinai. His delightfully ironic use of this guitar, this MOR drivetime tool, is a masterstroke on a par with the invention of Ziggy Stardust or the re-casting of Major Tom as a junkie. Others may interpret this differently (wrongly) but Bowie is mocking a world in which power ballad practitioners Journey are now accepted in the so-called “alternative” press, in which pastiches of 80s dinosaur rock have become as commonplace as “Keep Calm and Carry On” tea mugs. Anything they can do, I can do better, David is telling us, tongue firmly in cheek. Yet again, the chameleon has changed form only to reveal his true form once again – that of truth. He is truth. I am Babe Ruth. I hit his perfectly formed cultural baseballs out of the field of negativity and into the parking lot of public adulation.

The nonchalant sexual frisson created by those two undone buttons is almost more than this critic can take and I confess that, though the brave north wind whipped across the Pennines, I was possessed by a fever and had to remove my pea coat. This deviant flirtation, this absurd ambiguity, this has always been Bowie’s calling card. Those rumours – you know the ones of which I speak, the ones which talk of a terminally ill Bowie – are here devastated by his vitality, his come hither looks. And anyway, could a dead man have written a song?


This, inescapably, is Bowie’s comment on his own multiplicity. The blurred Daves seen here are just some of the many Daves we have come to know over the years: Ziggy-Dave, Major Tom-Dave, Soul man-Dave, Disco Dave, Not-taking-drugs-but-fucking-Tina-Turner-a-lot-Dave, Drum n bass Dave. They’re all here in this snatched mosaic and it enrages me to think that inferior scribes will fail to see the truth and poetry in this moment. In the song, there is a snatched reference to two youths – Benny and Judy – and we can’t help but recall their near-namesakes Terry and Julie, who crossed the river to find peace in Ray Davies’ masterpiece Waterloo Sunset. Memory is never far away but in this video it is Britain’s cultural memory that Bowie is playing with, as well as his own memory. We are all Benny and Judy, he says. We are all, inescapably, Terry and Julie. I am Paul.

In the end, Bowie always triumphs. And where Bowie triumphs, so too does Morley. Bowie has travelled through time, space and memory. I have travelled out into the hills from Stockport. The journeys are one and the same. It pains me to see that some former champions of Bowie will forsake him. But then that is what David always wanted. Ever since I sat in the Victoria and Albert museum live-blogging the Bowie exhibition there, I have known that Bowie’s endgame is a world in which his music can only reach the masses through my pen. In the end, it is always me and always Bowie. We were the ones who knew, the ones who got it. We were the ones who flew away, this Valentine’s Day.


As told to Oscar Rickett

Follow Oscar on Twitter: @OscarRickettNow

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