I’m calling this the ‘Listen To Me, Don’t Listen To Me’ promotional campaign. Has every ear on the planet suddenly become crooked for an imminent visionary-sound? The process of the new Bowie album’s arrival has been positively revelatory and indeed worthy of a Harvard Business Review case-study. I saw the best minds of my generation submit to a gag order…shhh.
Face the music, my fellow Angels of History: We slouch through an era of cultural exhaustion. Traditional barriers to entry (ya know, singular talent, hard-won record contracts, production budgets, stuff like that…) are in full-scale retreat. There’s a basement recording artist born every minute. Mediocrity now rushes in on the backs of myriad tuneless fools (more on backwardation presently). The levers are just too well-advertised and too readily pulled, all to diminishing effect. In fact, so many folks are jamming thin air and vapid tweetery into the ether that, when the publicity machine is not being overtly fed it senses, almost through osmosis, the presence of Authentic Withheld Content (AWC). This prompts pop culture mavens to lurch into Pathologic Ravenous Overdrive (PRO). I am guilty of rampant PROfessing myself (this blog being Exhibit A). Gods (and lesser idols) derive their energy from mystery and withheld content. Welcome then, to the construction phase of the Bowie re-deification project.
The standard journeyman fare, available on all channels, has desperate celebrities and ambitious housewives eating bugs and writhing in glass spider encasements, all for the Higher Purpose of Being Seen and Heard. But being seen and heard for what exactly? Well, for eating bugs, what else? Such is the infernal circularity of the ever-circling oroborus. Oh how we seem to want you, Big Brother, so much so that you didn’t even have to kick the door down. Orwell was wrong. Huxley was closer. We welcomed you in via the one-eyed soma-box, that yammering telly in the corner. The Internet is icing on a longstanding televised cake where no file has been baked in to facilitate escape. Rather, we welcome our captors. Who would have guessed that, in the coming dystopia, no one would want to be voted off the island? (To all you aspiring celebs out there, don’t listen to me.)
Thus, with mere days to go before the release of The Next Day, the anticipatory buzz is reaching truly manic levels. Critics’ tweets are being studied, analyzed and sifted for clues. Indeed the tweets themselves are developing a cult following. Some sound-deprived fans have taken to ranking them on a five-star scale (five being ‘a classic’). Other teets are being dispatched to the cut-out bin straightaway. The surpassing brilliance of the PR whisper campaign threatens to surpass the little ole album itself. (Update: early reviews suggest the album may in fact warrant the hype, thank God.) Speaking of God, or at least his esrtwhile earthly A&R man, even Pope Benedict XVI is alleged to have cited The Next Day as inspiration behind his decision to pursue a productive life post-papacy. The verdict’s in. Somebody up there really likes certain somebodies down here –so much so that second acts are getting booked. Look for Mr. Ratzinger’s new album in Fall 2013.
Nor are those irreligious swine, the rocks journos, far behind. In an unprecedented departure from protocol, the March 2013 issue of Q magazine promises to be a phone book and not a magazine at all. Meanwhile people the world over are dragging out their lizard-skin umbrellas in anticipation of torrential chameleonic references. Scary Monsters? Suddenly this must be the best album since Sliced Bread Live. Should no album appear at the end of this rainbow, the run-up deserves a Grammy nod.
Never mind the bollocks. Art must go on. I take indefensible liberties with Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus (above) for ‘aesthetic reasons’. Pearls before swine! A recent Facebook competition to create alternate album covers for the upcoming LP had me thinking both of Klee and Walter Benjamin’s attendant vision of the Angel of History. It’s simply too apt for the time machine-machinations of Where Are We Now? By the way, Tony Oursler’s video continues to grow on me as a work of pure genius (See: ‘Where Are We Now? – A Still Life in Moving Frame). I’m not averse to the song by any means. However the visual presentation is at least an equal partner, reminiscent of the collaborative Bowie – David Mallet coup of Ashes to Ashes.
Benjamin’s aphorism IX in On the Concept of History (1940) begins with a Scholem poem which establishes the retrospective vantage as an appropriate (and tragically contrary) angelic ‘greeting’. That’s right. The heavens are mooning us. Perhaps swift kicks in the ass to our guardian angels are long overdue? I might not kick you out of bed for eating crackers. Crumpled wings? A whole ‘nother faux pas altogether.
My wing is ready to fly
I would rather turn back
For had I stayed
I would have had little luck.
– Gerhard Scholem, “Angelic
Benjamin then begins:
“A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”
As he gazes over his own mounting pile of debris, back turned from the future, Bowie personifies Benjamin’s stricken angel. What is progress but unrealized debris-in-waiting? How can we awaken the dead and perfect the past when the future arrives at every instant with a fresh catalog of agonies? Okay, so Benjamin was maybe not a guy you’d want to have over for a cook-out. (He left the planet after all via the ultimate form of self-harm.) No less, the past is crying out for our reconstructive ministrations, whether Walt enjoyed ketchup on his wounds or not. Meanwhile Paradise has developed a crack habit for wreckage. Some Saturnine figure is relishing the carnage, no pickles please. Salvation is a cruel pipe-dream. I’ll stop now before I end up slitting all our wrists.
Please sally forth, ass-backwards, and have a nice day!