The Stars (Are Out Tonight)

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The Stars (Are Out Tonight).
The Stars (Are Out Tonight) (video).

At first, it sounds like a comeback single from some lost 1987. Mike Campbell-esque lead guitar; a Traveling Wilburys acoustic shuffle. The huh-huh-HUH-HUH vocal tag goes further back—an Elvis loop or maybe a hook filched from the grotesque UK #1 “Cinderella Rockafella.”

But in 2013 “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” stiffed: peaking at 102 on the UK singles chart, 21 in Billboard‘s US Adult Alternative Songs and in the low 80s in the Irish and Dutch charts. Some of it was simply timing—“Stars” came out seven weeks after “Where Are We Now?,” which had soaked up the “Bowie’s back” hype. Floria Sigismondi’s video for “Stars” (see below) earned a few “think” pieces but evidently didn’t move sales that much.

Had “Stars” come first (Tony Visconti thought it a contender for debut single), would it have made a stronger mark? Most likely, but there’s something off about the track, despite it sounding like one would expect Bowie to sound in 2013. Familiar enough in voice; a lyric with “stars” in the title; the guitars genteelly distorted: enough to stand out in the mix but not causing trouble.

It’s oddly fashioned, for one thing, being hung up on refrains and verses that blur into each other, sung over endless shifts between F# minor and D major chords (hinting at an A major key that never establishes itself). So when a “bridge” section finally appears at 1:30, triggered by a fresh chord change at last (an E major on “their jealousy’s spilling down”), it hits far more like a refrain. Some other diverting moves follow: a “Spanish”-style guitar break after the third verse; the bridge repeated and used to carry the song out.

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What I noticed is that he had a lot of vocal changes but the chords stayed the same for a long time,” Gerry Leonard recalled in 2013. “I thought, if we’re going to be playing this for a long time, it might be good to have development in it…have two or three different parts I could overlay over the same chords…hopefully find a way to be part of the dynamic of the song, kind of sculpt it a little bit.” So for his lead guitar lines, Leonard played with and against the underlying F-sharp minor chords, often sounding high E notes (and so extending the chord to an F#m7),or sounding an open string for tonal contrasts. David Torn added some radio squiggles for lead figures, winking in at the ends of verses.

The track’s compressed mix converts Steve Elson’s baritone saxophone and contrabass clarinet into a secondary bassline, if one played through a blown amp. Lines by a quartet of New York string players (Antoine Silverman, Maxim Moston, Hiroko Taguchi and cellist Anja Wood) sound like Mellotron figures, while backing vocals by Gail Ann Dorsey and Janice Pendarvis are blurred garnishes (by contrast, a struck bell in the guitar break shines out in the mix). The four-note descending hook in the bridges is likely Tony Visconti’s recorder but it could as well be played on a Korg Trinity. Everyone is acting in a costume they didn’t choose.

Bowie’s phrasing mainly keeps to a narrow range of notes, biting on syllables for his consonant rhymes (“stars are never far away,” “Brigitte and Jack” “stars must stick,” “behind their tinted,” “toss and turn at night”). He sounds theatrically aggrieved, like a prosecutor opening a case; on occasion he stumbles (deliberately) through a line—take the odd timing on “we will never be rid of these stars” at 3:08 or the loping way he first sings the full title line.

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One word Bowie used to describe The Next Day to the novelist Rick Moody was “pantheon” (other applicable words: “vampyric” and “succubus, “mystification” and “domination”). As it happened, in the following summer, another pantheon arrived. (Likely heralded in Pantheon Weekly, the tabloid that Bowie picks up in the song’s video).

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + the Divine has a simple premise: every 90 years or so, a pantheon of a dozen gods appear on the earth. They captivate, have heaps of sex, are worshiped and die, all within the space of two years. These recurrences are meant to jump-start human creativity (it’s implied that Byron, Keats and the Shelleys were in a Regency-era pantheon).

The gods assume the form of whatever will garner the most worshipers in a particular era. So poets in 1820 and pop stars in 2013: Baal (an amalgam mostly of Kanye West and Jay-Z), Inanna (Prince), Amaterasu (Florence Welch with some Kate Bush), Minerva (some Grimes, some Gerard Way), Sakhmet (Rihanna), Woden (Daft Punk outfit, Rivers Cuomo personality) and so on. The morning star of the series is Lucifer, the Thin White Duke reborn in the body of a 20-year-old suburban woman (with a hint of “Sweet Dreams“-era Annie Lennox).

There’s a sense in Wic + Div that something’s going wrong in this recurrence. (Vague spoilers ahead.) Some gods are killed (apparently) ahead of their time, some fall into a sort of civil war and one of them wonders if this could be the last recurrence, that the human race may have no use for gods anymore. It’s the premise of modern celebrity made gorgeous metaphor: these once-anonymous people are no longer themselves, but become avatars of fame, to be loved, feared, shot at, jailed and hunted down. It’s Amy Winehouse, who starved and drank herself into the cartoon image of her music, and whose last concert before her death of alcohol poisoning found her stumbling on stage, the crowd screaming “sing!” at her. Though theatrically dead, Winehouse is still working, having joined the beautiful corpse company of Marilyn, Cobain, Morrison and Hendrix, her face on T-shirts and dorm room posters, worshiped on countless memorial Tumblrs.

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There are echoes in Bowie’s lyric, in which “stars” are figures of mystery and pity, sleepless desperate gods. (He sings a line of tabloid shorthand—Brigitte and Brad are easily enough identified, but Jack and Kate* are generic starnames, fit for 1920 or 2056.) Parasitic deities who need worshipers a bit too much, “they watch us from behind their shades” (a triple play on their sunglasses, the blinds of their mansions and their ghosts).

Once it had seemed easier. Bowie liked Andy Warhol’s concept of a “superstar” as being someone who’d convinced enough other people that they were a star. It was how he and his manager sold the American press in 1972 that an oddball who’d barely hit in his home country was somehow a rock celebrity equal to Jagger or Lennon. The premise eventually wore Bowie down but at least it was open to anyone with the gumption to go for it.

But in “Stars,” there’s a sense that stardom has become yet another type of 21st Century spec work, being on the clock whenever an employer needs you. It’s a job in which even the dead stars still have to put in their hours. Consumed by their workloads, the stars are left “sexless and unaroused” like porn actors off camera; they infest our dreams but envy our sleep.

It’s a stardom suited for a world in which the concept of “youth” seems to be eroding. A piece Tom Ewing wrote this week, inspired by the latest UK budget announcements, broke it down: more and more, the young are condemned to barely-veiled conscription. Take on massive debt to get an education, or live off your parents and be accused of being a parasite, or work without labor protections and even for free, to get all-important “exposure.” “The breaking of youth independence and autonomy, the formalisation of young adulthood for the working and lower-middle classes as a time of indenture or debt feels like turning social trends into social engineering, a return to a long-ago conception of Youth that damn well better know its place.”

This feeling is found in Wic + Div as well—the sense that the gods are being exhausted in this recurrence, that their hustle is becoming desperate, that their employer isn’t happy with their productivity. And that their bright, chaotic lives have become inconsequential in the world. They still have their worshipers and altars made to them, but they’re mostly projecting outward, getting little back from the crowd.

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Sigismondi’s video for “Stars” played another variation. Apparently inspired by Sophie Miller’s video for the Eurythmics’ “Beethoven,” it dresses Bowie and Tilda Swinton as an older, well-off suburban couple who are stalked, and eventually consumed, by their vampyric counterparts: a beautiful young celebrity couple.

There are mirrors within mirrors, like the use of Swinton, Bowie’s unearthlier counterpart for decades, and the Norwegian model Iselin Steiro, who’d dressed up as some classic Bowie characters for a spread in Paris Vogue in 2010. There’s the reference to Bowie’s work in The Hunger (the vampire couple play off Bowie and Catherine Deneuve’s nightclub-foraging vampires) and of course, on his characterization in the press as a stylistic vampire. It’s also Bowie having fun with the horrific idea that David Bowie Is Old, playing a cranky pensioner enraged by his next door neighbor singing “Jean Genie” at all hours.

You’d expect the video to mock the idea of settled domesticity, that Bowie’s line “we have a nice life” is meant as a joke. But it turns out to be quite true. The star couple simply wants to escape their circuit of limousines and paparazzi spreads and are happy to be found sitting on a sofa, watching other stars work on TV.

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Recorded: (backing tracks) 3 May-ca. 15 May 2011, The Magic Shop, NYC; (vocals, overdubs) spring-fall 2012, Magic Shop, Human Worldwide, NYC. Released as a digital single on 26 February 2013 (UK #102).

Top: Gillen and McKelvie, The Wicked + the Divine (all panels from the first five issues, collected in The Faust Act); Bowie with Iselin Steiro, 2013; Bowie, Andreja Pejić, Saskia de Brauw and Swinton.

*wait, was Bowie a Lost fan? (An earlier draft of the lyric shows that Ms. Johansson was originally in the pantheon, as was “Bob”.)

57 Responses to The Stars (Are Out Tonight)

  1. Patrick says:

    It was rather disappointing after the impact of WAWN, it did work marginally better as an album track though I wouldn’t have missed it. Certainly would have made a disappointing comeback single though the video would have allowed us a fascinating prolonged look at the old/new Bowie who continues to mature with otherworldly character in a “Leonard Nimoy” kind of way. By the way, Chris, I wonder what criteria determines the order of posts now, as Dancing Out in Space came after this pre album single release?

    • col1234 says:

      mainly grouping them in terms of when the rhythm tracks were cut (with the exception of WAWN, which was cut in the 2nd batch of tracks but needed to be 1st entry)

      • cansorian says:

        I was also wondering how you came up with the order for the song postings, so thanks for the explanation. The whiplash drop in song quality from WAWN to DOIS really confused me. At first I thought maybe you were going for a best song/worst song thing, then I thought maybe you were looking for a lesser song that would require a shorter write up after the brilliant magnum opus of WAWN, but, of course, it’s the simple explanation of recording dates. I should have realized that from reading all the other posts.

        As for the song, it’s fine. Just a bit of a let down after WAWN, I was hoping for something with a little bit more artistry and depth, but a jaunty rocker with mild social commentary is fine.

        When I first saw the video I found it unsettling and I couldn’t figure out why. After a few more viewings I finally figured it out; Bowie done up to look like old domestic Dave looked just like my Scottish grandmother. Very disturbing.

  2. humanizingthevacuum says:

    The album’s best track: mania as done by an aging man. Bowie’s sounding out of breath works for the track. I’m taken with the doubletracked harmonies on the “toss and TURN at night” line – an echo of a Hunky Dory moment, gone forever.

  3. botley says:

    I really like this track, its fascinating video and the creepy atmosphere both project. The lyric sheet Bowie posted on Facebook with the scratched-out contenders suggests he went through other (series of?) draft names before hitting on this little ditty ’bout Jack and Kate and Brad.

  4. billter says:

    This song left me cold at first but grew on me. The video helped. There’s a distinct David Lynch quality to it, a neat and pleasing surface peeled back to reveal the sick and twisted reality beneath. Apply this idea to the music, and the a-little-too-clean production becomes an asset rather than a liability.

  5. steven says:

    I think this song is quite good, i like the little descending thing, but this post is much, much, much better than it deserves. Cheers.

  6. Darren says:

    I think the poor chart performance, in the UK at least was down to a lack of physical formats. By the time TSAOT was released everyone had the album and unlike WAWN which benefitted from all those instant grat sales.

    Who buys a digital download identical to the track on the album? The only way for an artist like Bowie to sell singles is physical formats.

  7. roobin101 says:

    I’m slowly getting through listening to the album again, the proper one that ends with Heat😉 This is still the case against for me. The post mentions the Travelling Willburys, that’s almost exactly what I thought (sh*t this is a Tom Petty song). It’s really a one note wonder until it gets to the bridge-that’s-a-chorus, where it does start to shift.

  8. Gavinoski says:

    Am I the only one who when they first heard this immediately thought it sounded very similar to Looking for Water?

    Great post btw!

    • ric says:

      There were some comments on LfW to that effect I think; certainly adds weight to the ‘triptych’ feeling of Heathen/Reality/TND. Meanwhile, that descend bit reminds me a lot of the instrumental breaks from Iggy’s (live) China Girl. (sorry, don’t have a link, only an old cassette bootleg)

    • Robert W. Getz says:

      Curious, as the one that always comes up for me when I hear it is “She’ll Drive The Big Car.”

  9. Mike says:

    Catchy tune, but it seems a bit forced — a bit too eager to please. And I wish he didn’t use the name “Brad”, which is too specific and distracting.

    Cool video, though….

  10. John D. says:

    I don’t think chart positions are really relevant anymore – who over the age of 16 buys singles? I liked this song a lot – it sounds great at volume. It did sound kind of like you would expect “Bowie 2013” to sound, but a “Bowie 2013” who is engaged and energetic. I particularly liked the distorted guitar strums (“radio squiggles”?) after the first “chorus”, the strong lyric (great explanation here, as usual!) and the video. Getting Tilda Swindon involved was quite simply – a cool thing to do.

  11. ExactingOne says:

    It’s Sophie Muller, not Miller, who directed videos for Eurythmics. And it’s always just “Eurythmics” not The Eurythmics.

    • s.t. says:

      Very exacting!

    • col1234 says:

      I’ve got 20 posts left and have had it up to here with pedants.

      edit. I will expand on this. If you find an error, just say “hey man, this is wrong” and then say something ELSE about the song or the video or SOMETHING. I write this for free. I don’t have proofreaders.

      • aslowrip says:

        🙂

      • s.t. says:

        I like geeking out on silly details, but surely one’s time can be somehow better spent than griping about typos?
        Chris, please know that your efforts are immensely appreciated by most readers. You’re the definite article!

        …And I won’t correct that either.

      • spigot says:

        Man I think they’re just trying to be helpful, or at the very least that they’re not intending to hurt you. Who cares if you make a few mistakes? You’re acting silly.

        As for the song itself, it’s a bit limp and overfull in places – nothing aside from the lead guitar really pops. Lyrically the song is fantastic – I love how the instrumentation fades out for “sexless & unaroused” – but here and otherwise the chorus is underwhelming. If the song had anchored itself more on the dramatics of the lead guitar and the strings and the imagery in the verses, it’d be great – I think the acoustic guitar undercuts it all a bit (2:22 – 2:36 for instance).

      • Rebel Yell says:

        Ok, let’s have some fun with Tilda. Hope you enjoy the show. Namaste.

      • ric says:

        Seems a good time to say how much we appreciate/are in awe of your writing on here. If I had the skills; ability, tenacity, wit, general eloquence and willingness to give up vast swathes of time, this is the blog (and books) I’d hope to write, but it still wouldn’t come close. I’m sure most people reading appreciate that it’s way harder to write something than it is to pick holes, (I’ve swapped all these sentences twice each, at least) and the odd bit of pedantry is (hopefully) done in good faith. Adding something else isn’t always easy – you cover so much, so well, and we know Momus is following up to fill in everything else.🙂

      • col1234 says:

        day after: I apologize for being intemperate and blowing up—I was not having a good day and that fairly innocuous comment just sent me over the edge. Sorry, Exacting One.

        that said, I do greatly appreciate comments in which people talk about their responses to the song, or disagree with my interpretations, or talk about Bowie’s hair, etc. than commenting just for the sake of correcting a (in this case) comically minor error.

  12. s.t. says:

    As it is, this song feels a bit uncertain of itself. While I generally like Bowie’s strained yelps on The Next Day, I think this would be a stronger song if he had done a croakier, speakier Lou Reed kind of delivery. It would have completely killed its already meager potential as a single, but it would have been a solid, confident later Bowie rock track.

  13. ofer says:

    The entry is generous. As a TND fan i can say without doubt this is the worst in the bunch, even worse then DOIS. The lyrics, especially, are an embarrassment. Even if you include the bonus material, it only gets better from here and on for me – which actually made me wonder, at the time, weather this single release was really another calculated step at the time – intentionally building down the hype in order to raise it up again when the complete product is finally out. Kind of a strech, but still – it crossed my mind.

  14. Ramzi says:

    I like this song quite a lot. As great as WAWN was, there was a little concern that the entire album would be like that, which this song laid to rest.

    The message that celebrity is so awful and image-centric nowadays is a little old man-ish (he’s almost definitely right tbf), but I think the video does suggest that this is the house that Bowie built.

    Something to note is that this is Bowie’s first ‘large-scale’ video since the Earthling singles. After the simple videos for Hours he gave up on videos, claiming that there was no point as an artist of his age didn’t get any rotation. However in the age of digital music, when a click to watch a video is the same effort as a click to listen to a song, music videos are now relevant to artists such as Bowie once again. Good news, as the video’s very entertaining.

  15. crayontocrayon says:

    This one will probably be remembered more as a great Bowie video rather than a great song itself. The ‘stars are never sleeping, dead ones and the living’ bring ‘Celluloid Heroes’ by the kinks to mind.

    Even if it wasn’t a hit it was a good follow up to WAWN just for the mad video reaffirming that Bowie wasn’t actually just going to be doing a sad old man routine.

    Great post, although I now have Cinderella Rockafella stuck in my head.

  16. David says:

    I felt ambivalent when I first heard the song, and I’m not entirely sure that other than some nice turns by Gerry and some fairly decent lunatic lyrical twists, that I have warmed to it enough to skip past it.
    I hear something vaguely Dylanesque in the delivery, almost ranty, and I imagine one could attribute it to a Bowie voice that has some traces of the Ziggy era caterwaul, but sounds more like a weak retread of Zeroes.
    The video on the other hand was a masterstroke, almost a career retrospective in a cardigan, and after the forlorn epilogue feel of WAWN, a relief to hear him actually speak whilst playing it for laughs.

    I’m reminded of that Byron quote: “I awoke one morning and found myself famous.” and I love that you parallel the song with Wicked and the Dead-Bowie’s mocking of the celebrity pantheon certainly would be a fitting soundtrack to it should Hollywierd option it.

    As an aside, I think you were perfectly justified to call out the pedant.

  17. verdelay says:

    For the record, it’s spelled ‘pendent’, not ‘pedant’. Good use for an albatross, though.

  18. Me Tagomi says:

    I think it’s a good song lifted up a notch or two by some odd, clever lyrics and curious subject matter.

    I’m actually not sure I fully understand what he’s getting at, but I like the way he expresses it.

  19. Deanna says:

    The very first time I heard the song was when I saw the video, so perhaps I can’t look at it objectively, but I really do love this song. It’s upbeat and reminds me of a sunny day.

    Though the material seems a little worn and tired (what singer doesn’t release a song about this sort of thing at some point?) I think it’s rather interesting to finally hear Bowie do it from this angle. He has so many blatant “Celebrity is so great, I want to be one” songs from decades ago, so it’s nice to hear an equally unsubtle song from the other side of the fence.

    But I do agree with the others here: the song does scream “Bowie is an old man”.

  20. MC says:

    Rob Sheffeld calling Stars one of DB’s greatest songs was a bit much, but I’m also a fan. Could definitely be a track on Reality, but its propulsion, its restrained but totally engaged vocal, and it’s brilliant lyric set it apart. (And the Bowie-Swinton pairing is a match made in Ziggy heaven.)

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned the Gnosticism of the lyric. It seems to me it recasts celebrities as another iteration of the supermen and angels who populated earlier DB songs. In any case, Bowie here for me finds transcendent meaning in the crap celebrity culture of today. It puts me in mind of a comment Jacques Rivette made about Robert Aldrich’s great Kiss Me Deadly. I’m forced to paraphrase but it was something to the effect of how the filmmaker takes the most repulsive of materials and weaves the most delicate of arabesques.

  21. John D. says:

    I am surprised by the relative pasting this song is taking on here! It’s the most vigorous thing the big guy did in years, in terms of music + lyric + video. I wonder if the fact that we haven’t seen him perform it live is affecting our assessment? I am sure it would sound considerably better and more exciting when performed live than a lot of the “rock” stuff off Heathen and Reality. I am pretty sure if we had heard Arcade Fire spitting out lines about stars being “sexless and unaroused” there would have been awards all round.

  22. Momus says:

    1. This song has grown on me. My first impression was that it was a bit hook-free, but there are hooks: the tenor sax honking, the jaunty hummed backing vocal, the guitar hook with its blue note making a minor chord even darker… Some of the best lines (“they are the stars that dine for us”) are a bit thrown away, but the rant delivery works as a kind of ejaculation of disgust. I like the ambivalence: both “we will never get rid of these stars” AND “I hope they live forever”.

    2. I was getting a bit ahead of myself at the time, and decided to do an imaginary pre-cover as soon as the title was announced. What did the title suggest? Well, the first thing of note in the title was the nice paradox in “out”. The stars are out, they’re visible, but they’re also out, extinguished. So I thought that Bowie was probably going to lambast the useless reign of Simon Cowell and Rebecca Black. My version starts: “Idolatry isn’t what it used to be / Not since they miniaturised God, you see / Kid’s got talent like my bed’s got styrofoam / I know it’s true, I saw it on my telephone”.

    3. Actually, I think Bowie’s take on stardom is a lot more interesting — and a lot less splenetic and old-mannish — than that. His stars are pagan cultic idols “soaking up our primitive world”, splashed over Pantheon Weekly, malignant satyrs preying on everyday folk. There’s a curious role reversal going on: the stars don’t make the first move, all they can do is wait for cues from the normals. In the video it’s Bowie and Swinton who have the normal life, shopping at the supermarket, carving the turkey, watching TV. The pagan “neighbours from hell” move in and destroy it with their vampiric appropriations.

    4. Sigismondi has Bowie quote silent Nosferatu moves, and refers (as Chris notes) to The Hunger. Vampires stay young by sucking the blood of others, but Bowie is an old vampire who’s stopped sucking. That doesn’t mean he isn’t still an object of fascination to the young apprentice vampires, though: they peer through the tinned salmon and lurk under the bed.

    5. “Some people, huh, they just get lost,” sighs the grocery clerk, nodding at the star mag. “Well, it’s more exciting than anything we’ve got around here,” says Bowie, only to be contradicted by Swinton. “Alien lives next door!” screams the mag, with a picture of gray freak Thomas Jerome Newton.

    6. And: “Woman goes to Oscars without makeup”. How ironic! It was once an outrage, a headline-grabber, for a man (a glam rocker, for instance) to wear makeup. Now it’s an outrage when a star — or just a woman — doesn’t. The stars and the normals have changed places. Everybody is a glam rocker now, everybody is their own celebrity. The truly original thing to do must surely be to give up, wear a cardigan, have a “nice life”, be normal in an old-fashioned 1950s way. Oh, and hump. Because the normals do hump, unlike the “sexless and unaroused” stars.

    7. I don’t read celebrity gossip. Okay, I did stumble on a piece yesterday about the feud between Robbie Williams and Jimmy Page. They’re next-door-neighbours in Holland Park, living in two of those big eccentric houses successful 19th century painters built themselves. Jimmy’s been in the Tower House (its cellars filled with his volumes of Crowley) since 1972, when he outbid a certain David Bowie for the property. He’s dating a 25-year-old with the same first name as his 44 year-old daughter. Jimmy Page is 71. A satyr, for sure. He lost his lawsuit against Williams, whose alterations to Michael Winner’s old house will not, as Page claims, damage the Tower House. Like I say, I don’t read this stuff. They can all go hang.

    8. Stars telling us that stardom sucks is one of the biggest cliches, of course. How many Madonna songs tell us how tough it is? How many Elton John interviews? It’s so satisfying, because we can gaze with envy at the magnificent mansions stars have, and yet also know that they’re not being happy in them, and that they have neighbour problems just like we do. We’ve financed their lifestyles — they’re dancing on our prurient dimes — but we don’t want them to be any happier for their good fortune, and by Jingo they aren’t. Those drugs are messing them up again. They want us to feel sorry for them. Yes, their hedonism came with a karma pricetag, just as we said it would.

    9. That’s why “the stars who dine for us” is a good line. If they were Christian rather than pagan saviours, the stars would be dying for us. Dying so that we could live. Up there on the cross. But they’re vampires. The cross is anathema. They’re just stuffing themselves on our blood. The stars are the twinkling pinnacle of the systemic inequality that we take utterly for granted. It won’t change, but it’s not stable either. They’re out, and they’re out. They’re a clique, they’re insecure and jealous, they’re eavesdropping, they want tips.

    10. Here they are, then, upon the stairs. We passed upon the stair. The neighbour from hell. I thought you died alone a long, long time ago? No, I sold the world.

    • spanghew says:

      I like Bowie’s version – but I really do like Momus’s take on this title better!

      • Patrick says:

        I remember agreeing with someone on the TND release post commenting that some of the track title listings for the album before it came out, looked at first glance a bit well… disappointingly banal or romantic eg The Stars are Out Tonight, Valentine’s Day, How does the Grass Grow, belying their subject matter.
        These weren’t Panic in Detroit or Scary Monsters etc

      • Patrick says:

        Unfortunately Dancing Out in Space was as banal and forgettable as the title suggested!

  23. Vinnie says:

    Thank you for the detail of the strings players. Have I been lazy and not looked up whether or not it is indeed a mellotron or live instruments? Of course. But there’s a reason to read the blog, and I was already waist-deep when TND came out.

    Worth mentioning: I would love an extended, 80s-like 12″ mix of this. Absurd notion? I don’t think so. Imagine an extended bridge, extended strings – would be so lovely.

    Another reason to miss physical formats – unnecessary remixes for most, but for the few, pure gold!

  24. Vinnie says:

    Rewatched the video, excuse my copping of Momus’ numbered list form:

    1. We’re in an era where the art form of the music video is near dead. (Much like painting; there are gems here and there, but by and large, music videos are rarely good these days.) The 1990s were the peak, and (the death) of MTV with the simultaneous (death) of major-labels, killed massive budgets for promotional short films.

    We’ll never see a music video with the budget of Michael Jackson’s “Scream” produced again. And not that we have to. (Alternate example: nine inch nails’ “Closer”, which Bowie himself borrowed from aesthetically for “The Hearts Filthy Lesson”)

    2. Yet, with “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” Bowie and his creative team gave it a go. They spent a fair amount of money and did a lovely job. This really is a great music video. The number of subtle visual references to past Bowie is a treat. (Bowie wearing the green jacket from The Man Who Fell To Earth was my favorite).

    3. The passion Bowie has in the video, when he begins singing to the wall/his doppelgänger is r e a l. Imagine Bowie perform “Stars” on Jools Holland.

    4. The video has minor, annoying, YouTube-era music video setbacks: the “stock iMovie” typography is pathetic. (In the major label heyday, someone would have used the same as the album art or the single.) The quality of lenses and the DV is cheap. The use of any titles in a MV is both “current,” and amateurish.

    5. Imagine seeing the video/song premiered on 120 Minutes, (or, in an awkward “Major Label Push,” on Carson Daly’s TRL).

    6. The video made me love this song. Decent on TND, but when I saw the video, I thought, “wow, this goes much deeper.”

    7. What was the old line from Bowie’s 50th birthday? “What if Bowie had just been a school teacher?” (I’m too lazy to look). Crass, offensive newspaper middle finger, to (a famous) someone on their birthday. I’m sure David Jones took it a bit hard.

    David Bowie could have lived a simple, “good life” much like in the video. “We live a good life.” And then, Bowie, perhaps tired of it – trying to “innovate”, or feel current, being an actor on stage; tired of an unappreciative audience (/getting hit in the eye with a sucker). “Let me go away and live a simple life, a good life.” Going to super markets and staying at home for 10 years. (And then, we’ll miss him and beg for him to come back).

    8. I’m glad Bowie looked great in the video. I hope to look as nice when I’m old.

  25. gcreptile says:

    The song has subtle charms, too subtle for the charts. It reminds me of Brian Eno’s first solo albums that way – they also were commercial failures.

  26. Roman says:

    Angie Bowie claimed that the video upset her deeply – as she took it as unquestionable fact that the characters in it represented her and David when they were young and her and David if they’d stayed together – or something like that. Keeping in mind that Angie also thinks Zowie’s Moon is about her, I still can’t help but agree that Bowie must’ve been aware that at least one of the characters in his video looks like the Angie of old.

  27. David Clinton says:

    Great article. a real pleasure to read you. About the song, I always thought that it should have been sung in a different key, much less strenuous.

  28. Maj says:

    Isn’t “Jack an Kate” a reference to Di Caprio’s character in Titanic, and Kate…Kate Winslet?
    But yeah, also pretty generic celeb names. (Prince William’s wife being the most famous Kate ATM).

    The song is not BAD, is it, but after WAWN it was a bit anti-climactic. The bridge indeed is great though, and I do enjoy Bowie’s weird diction in this (even if I might appreciate if the vocals could be less strained).

    But the video is far and away the better part of the package. And not only because of Tilda’s involvement. Okay, yeah, mostly because of Tilda’s involvement. I worship her.
    Aside from the symbolism, it looks good, in general, and it was nice to see Bowie more or less act alive, and even get a few lines at the beginning (I wish he acted more…I’m sure many film makers would die to have him).

  29. Bowie aside, the only Gillen/McKelvie I had read before was the first arc of their run on Young Avengers, which I found pleasant, but not engaging enough to keep up with the series. However, your synopsis of Wic + Div sounds intriguing enough thatnow I want to give that series a chance. And speaking of Bowie and comics, don’t you find odd how little he has been used in the medium? You’d think his personae would lend themselves to it quite comfortably!

    • s.t. says:

      Another Lucifer character who had a good bit of Bowie to him was Neil Gaiman’s for Sandman. But yes, you’re right.

      • Patrick says:

        “In Grant Morrison’s run on Batman and Robin, he admitted that Bowie inspired his particular take on both The Joker’s Morrison is quoted as saying that his inspiration for the Joker was “that sort of Euro kind of creepiness, that kind of heroine addict, David Bowie in Berlin seventies vibe and really stick to that sort of shifting persona to the Joker. He’s got that kind of cabaret feel – slightly sleazy and decadent. And I think all these influences make him a lot creepier.” Beyond this, one of the chapters during Morrison’s run was called “The Thin White Duke of Death,” a reference to one of Bowie’s personas.
        Frank Miller also admitted to have been inspired by Bowie when writing his take on The Joker in The Dark Knight returns, an event which prompted Sandman and fellow David Bowie inspired writer Neil Gaiman to say that Miller’s comic would only be doable as a film with David Bowie playing the role.”

        http://whatculture.com/music/8-fictional-characters-inspired-by-david-bowie.php/5

    • col1234 says:

      I haven’t read Young Avengers either. Tbh, not my thing. But the series that seems like the real precursor to Wic + Div is “Phonogram,” esp. the 2nd book “The Singles Club,” which is wonderful. 3rd series starts in a month or so & looks great.

  30. ragingglory says:

    Great song, great video. Can’t wait to see what the writer makes of Heat, that is one strange piece of music that.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Considering its proximity to “Dirty Boys”, I figured this was an ode to Iggy Pop, and a response to “The Passenger” – “the stars are out tonight” and all that.

  32. Brian says:

    One of the more enjoyable tracks on TND for me. I have to admit at one point I was oddly infatuated by a cover by the London Symphony Orchestra of this song. Before you think about how majestic the song must sound that way- it was basically video game music with some orchestral touches, quite bizarre to have been produced by the LSO (who have done some gorgeous covers of Bowie songs- ‘Life on Mars’ in particular). Funnily enough I came to appreciate the song a lot more once the lyrics were stripped away and began to think about a David Bowie RPG would play like.

    I have never read a Gillen comic (that dialogue looks really corny to me), but if we’re gonna mention comics and David Bowie the most criminally under appreciated Bowie expy is found in Mike Carey’s Lucifer. I’ll summarize my love for the series like this- Much like how I was enamored by Bowie when I first began listening to his discography, the same feelings overtook me when I read that comic. The fact that a bland-looking cop show is all that people (might) know of it now really miffs me. I highly recommend reading it.

  33. Waki says:

    Just wanted to share this, in case you missed it –and maybe it’s relevant. Nina Simone calling for David Bowie before singing “Stars” (Montreux live, 1976)

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