I’m generally not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but one occurred to me recently as the younger members of my family were blasting out a patchy David Bowie playlist: Stand Up Against Revisionism. It’s harder than ever these days not to succumb to printing the myth – reality can be so so-so – but critics have a duty to keep a clear head while others are losing theirs. Even around the dinner table on New Year’s Day.
Bowie would have been 76 this week; he was born on 8 January 1947, and died two days after his 69th birthday in 2016. He’s not getting any less popular in posthumous old age. In fact, business is booming. At the end of last year, the latest hefty Bowie box set arrived, titled Divine Symmetry and covering the Hunky Dory era. It came hard on the heels of Brett Morgan’s dazzling yet humourlessly reverential Moonage Daydream documentary. Since Bowie’s publishing catalogue was sold to Warner Chappell by his estate last January for $250 million, his songs have started popping up in adverts; how odd and slightly depressing to hear the funky desolation of ‘Sound and Vision’ selling bags of nails for B&Q.
There will no doubt be more of the same this year. It’s an extremely efficient process of curation which has left Bowie – an artist of origami complexity – smoothed out like expensive gift wrap. For younger generations, including my own children, Bowie has simply become synonymous with genius, an artist who had a preternatural gift for mapping out the future; which is to say, their present. A man who exuded sexual intrigue, effortless cool and impeccable artistic taste.
Anybody who lived through Bowie’s later 1980s and early 1990s – or indeed possesses more than a passing awareness of his 1960s – will find this blanket deification a little hard to countenance.