(Still Not) The Last Xmas

bowie-xmas

Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Live Aid, 1985).
Bowie’s 2013 Christmas “Elvis” Message.
Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy.
Peter and the Wolf.
The Snowman.
Feed the World.

Ace predictions in my past year-end posts:

This project’s final year could be 2014—we’ll see how it goes. Xmas post, 2013.

But barring another Bowie album in 2015, this is the last Christmas post of the blog’s “primary” life. Xmas post, 2014.

2016 should bring…the rollout of a new music blog in the spring (ish). Xmas post, 2015 (for the life of me, I don’t remember what this idea was—it obviously didn’t happen).

It’s an established annual tradition that this blog will run a Christmas post and say, “well, this could be the last Xmas post, as we’re almost done.” And then Bowie would put out some new thing. But this time, I am very nearly sure, is the end. I can’t imagine I won’t get through the last nine songs before Dec. 2017.  Xmas post, 2016.

I’m assuming there’ll be a Tin Machine and/or a “Black Tie-to-whenever” box set in the new year. Xmas post, 2018.

At this point, you should really be betting against me, hard. So here, I’ll try to work some reverse magic: I expect next year that absolutely nothing of remote interest will be released by the Bowie estate. See you in December 2020!

I’d like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas, happy New Year, happy New Decade (or happy New Year Before the Decade Officially Ends on 31 December 2020, for the pedants). All my best, whether you’re a longtime reader or someone who pops in once in a while. The blog will continue, as it has been for some time now, with the occasional new entry on older “lost” songs that are reissued (one will probably be up next month); there’s also my new writing on 64 Quartets and the Patreon.

To everyone who bought Ashes to Ashes this year, thank you; for those who did so and also came to the readings, thank you again. I’m grateful to Bob Stanley, Rob Sheffield, Owen Hatherley and Billy Hough for hosting the readings, and to Rough Trade (NYC and London), McNally Jackson in NYC, and the Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester, UK. Thanks to Tariq Goddard and Repeater Books. Two friends who were essential to the writing of Ashes to Ashes have books of their own being released next year: keep an eye out for Rahawa Haile‘s In Open Country and Mairead Case‘s Tiny.

dblast092815

A Bonus: Chapter End (Last). The Best of Bowie: the 2010s

My top 10 favorite songs of David Bowie’s last decade.

1. ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore (LP version). The Next Day had shown that Bowie was back; “‘Tis a Pity,” in its wild solo demo or its Blackstar take, showed that he wanted to go somewhere else. One of the loopiest songs that he ever wrote: you can find a world within it, then another one lurking within that. The studio version has a slight edge thanks to Donny McCaslin’s career-topper of a performance and Bowie sounding as if he was back in the Marquee in London, cheering from a crowd of Mods.

2. Blackstar. A counterpart to “Station to Station,” at the other end of the line. A great fake-out of a song, ominous and lovely and strange, shot through with jokes: “I’m the Great I Am” invokes both the Book of Exodus and Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry VIII, I Am.” It’s a joy that Bowie, at age 68, could sit down and say, “well, I suppose I need an epic,” then whisk one together like an omelet.

3. Love Is Lost. The highlight of The Next Day: love as being under house arrest. The harmonies!

4. Dollar Days. Raging against the dying of the light, then sitting down to watch the sunset.

5. Where Are We Now? It was, in retrospect, the perfect way, the only way, for him to return. His last season begins with a notice that it’s going to end, sooner than you think. How Bowie sings “you never knew that, that I could do that,” in a way that suggests he’d never thought he could, either.

6. I Can’t Give Everything Away. As with all the Blackstar tracks, it’s as funny as it’s haunting—there’s a wonderful petulance in the title phrase, along with a deep sadness. The last, inevitably-disappointing box set that the estate releases should have this as its title, with a photograph of the sealed Bowie vault on the cover. It’s Bowie’s “Into the Mystic“—a fading away, a dissolution into sound.

7. Sue (Maria Schneider version). Bowie’s most essential collaboration since the Reeves Gabrels era is one in which he began with fewer chips on the table—the eternal dilettante meets a brilliant composer and arranger with a lifetime steeped in jazz, a genre Bowie would only dabble in. It wound up as a partnership of equals: Bowie’s distinctive presence is central to the track but he’s not allowed to dominate it.

8. The Next Day. Loud, full of piss and vinegar, clipped, blown out—the sound of his early 2000s “rock” style being set afire. An unreconciled life.

9. No Plan. Nothing has changed, everything has changed.

10. Like a Rocket Man. I came to love this throwaway track while writing the last chapter of the book. Utterly shameless steals from all over the place, a possible last dig at Elton John, rewriting the “coke magus Bowie” years as a cartoon serial. It has one of his last great lines buried in it: “Now I wish today that yesterday was just tomorrow.” RIP, DB.

Here’s to the new years.

33 Responses to (Still Not) The Last Xmas

  1. Robert says:

    Thank you, Chris and a Merry Christmas to you too.
    Ace Top 10 and just reading the title of I Can’t Give has me filling up just like the first time I heard it.
    Thanks for the evening in Manchester all those months ago.
    All the best
    Scarymonster

  2. Stowe says:

    “Raging against the dying of the light, then sitting down to watch the sunset.” welp, that hit me. A list I can’t argue with.

    Merry Christmas!

  3. wmsagittarius says:

    Excellent, thank you. In my mind, ‘where are we now’ is kin to procol harum’s ‘homburg’. And something of Leonard Cohen – an intimate epic, a modest apartment capsulising all of humanity (or something). What happens at the micro scale is reflected at the macro, ‘leaving only ash filled ash trays’. Blackstar, the song, changed my life. It still gives me goose pimples. I can’t quite digest the fact that B would create something so novel and fascvinating so late. You’re right to peg it as a companion to Station to Station. Like Scott Walker’s late work, it’s a new benchmark for songwriters to aspire to, the popular music of a new century. So beguiling and mysterious, I won’t elaborate much more here, there’s a book to be written around this song alone. There’s something connecting the illusory transcendence of stardom with the elusive elevation of spirituality, and in the area between these poles stands man. The ‘bullshit faith/fame’ dualism from Hunky D. And at the centre of it all, ‘your eyes’. I wonder if the ‘I Am’ is a reference to the theospohical movement, as well as the individualistic trend since ww2. Anyway, enough of my excitable pickling. Have a very merry Christmas, and many thanks and much love on ya for a truly, truly wonderful blog, and an incredible acheivement, which you must be rightly proud of. x

    • President Joan says:

      Interesting post! 🙂 Regarding Blackstar and StationToStation I strongly agree on their kinship. Actually, I put them together with Width of a Circle for a super short (yet half an hour long) play list on Spotify: ”Black/White Circle”. Quite nice listening loop actually! 🙂

  4. Deanna says:

    About the new blog in 2016–did you say at one point you were planning on mailing a blog about the Talking Heads or did I dream that?

    Anyway, happy holidays! 🙂

  5. djonnymac says:

    Beautiful. Thank you once again Chris.

  6. suzyq1973 says:

    Is this top 10 list an indicator for another upcoming poll? Jk, i do remember slight regrets on your side. Great memories though about figuring out the ‚perfect‘ order of songs. Thank you for this blog and the books! Enjoy the holidays!

  7. Lynda says:

    Between your post, beautifully written as always, and the insightful comments I’ve got nothing to add except a heartfelt thank you…for the blog, the posts, the books. Got a little tear in my eye though. Happy Solstice and blessings for the year ahead to you and yours.

  8. Tim Nielson says:

    I very happily happened to discover Pushing Ahead of the Dame very near its outset. My high school years, 1981 to 1985, were largely spent on buses to 4 seasons of sporting events from northern Montana to all corners of the state, and a few in Canada. (Our closest conference games were 5 hours away in Missoula.) Early on I dropped listening to The Tubes back catalog on my Walkman for Bowie. I caught up to his 60s and 70s hither and yon, buying cassettes wherever I found them. (Often Canada had the best selection, where usually the cassettes themselves were black and, thus, sort of exotic.) All of that time spent with Bowie, the trivial buildup of Bowie knowledge combined with an important period of growing up, paid off spectacularly with your blog. Reading Pushing Ahead of the Dame helped me enjoy my struggle with getting and then being old. It also was THE highlight in my online reading in its years, as the world’s news had few pleasures. So, thanks.

    • Anonymous says:

      As for your list of songs, above, all good, all good reasoning. I would add You Feel So Lonely You Could Die. In the generosity he showed in his last few years–he risked a lot by saying goodbye to us–this song was a total gift, a “Bowie song” written by Bowie himself.

  9. crayontocrayon says:

    my 10s list:
    tis a pity (specifically the demo)
    blackstar
    how does the grass grow
    dollar days
    born in a ufo
    the next day
    the informer
    girl loves me
    dancing out in space
    if you can see me

    lots of TND+TND extra, there was one really great album hiding in there somewhere. demo of tis a pity is my track of the decade, i pray we get some more lofi demos one day.

    that project was talking heads i think you told me. I was terrified you were going to take on Dylan song by song or something ridiculous like that.

    • col1234 says:

      yeah, Deanna recalled that too. That’s still in the air, very much–it got subsumed into this NYC/ 20th Century America thing for now but at some point will hopefully surface

  10. President Joan says:

    Aahhh! I really enjoy these Christmas Cards. 🙂 Keep em coming, Chris! (As I gather you will … 🙂 Thanks for compilating previous ”last” christmasses … 😉

    To me, This greeting is a vital part of Christmas now! I Always check out the Elvis message. Corny and cool. (How I love him and miss the man…) And the Bing thing is so sweet. (weird intro though, hah!)

    Oh! The 10’s list! I have to recover from that! Will riposte! 🙂 I know you repeatedly Said The 2015 pool totally exhausted you, Chris, so let this be casual… :). (Having said that, That poll Is one of the best moments of this blog and meant very much to me. Thanx again!)

    Have yourself a Merry Christmas, everyone!

  11. TisAPity says:

    … Seems like almost yesterday that i was reading and re-reading the newly published “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” essay on the blog.

    My list:
    1. Tis a Pity (Demo)
    2. Blackstar
    3. Sue (With Maria Schneider)
    4. Girl Loves Me
    5. Lazarus
    6. Heat
    7. Dollar Days
    8. If You Can See Me
    9. Killing a Little Time
    10. No Plan

    Merry Christmas, thanks for the good reads, and my god is “Tis a Pity” such an enormous yet “underrated” Bowie song, like so many others…

  12. Anonymous says:

    Have a wonderful holiday season and safe travels.
    See you soon.
    Harry

  13. President Joan says:

    Hello again,

    Regarding the 10s: I take the opportunity to revisit my theory that we saw glimpses of a JAZZ Bowie that I was extremely interested in seeing the development of. I am a bit surprised that (to my knowledge) this potential has not been discussed very much? I was further surprised that the album versions of Sue and ‘Tis a Pity she was a Whore were steps away from what I feel were fantastic songs in their original jazzier versions. But maybe I’m imagining things. I would very much love to hear your thoughts on this Chris. (Pretty please, sugar on top!:)

    So my top 10 of the 10s would naturally include
    2.´Tis a Pity she was a Whore (original version) and
    3. Sue (original version)

    Also
    1. Blackstar (epic omelette) and
    4. Lazarus (from heaven)

    These two because, of course, they are great songs. But also because the videos we had the chance to view before his death became so amazingly strong after he passed. To my mind.

    The jury is still out on the rest …

  14. s.t. says:

    Merry Christmas all!

    As for favorite late Bowie, mine come from the unreleased holiday tracks he had recorded before he passed:

    1. Frozen Warnings arranged by Nico Muhly
    2. Poppies in December
    3. Three Magi, Trismegistus
    4. Yule Logs from Hop Frog
    5. FOLLOWTHESTAR
    6. Hinterklaas
    7. Little Toy Soldier
    8. Peace On Earth (Skrillex Native E.T. mix)
    9. Where the Fuck Did Christmas Go? feat Kendrick Lamar

    …on second thought, I’ll just go with your picks, Chris!

  15. Iain Tweedy says:

    Thanks, Chris! A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you as well! Love both the Bowie tomes, and really dig your 64 Quartets blog as well – really great stuff!

  16. Bruised Passivity says:

    Warmest wishes for a great holiday season Chris and everyone and very happy new year. I honestly hadn’t considered what my top 10 post 2010 Bowie tracks are until I read this posting. I think I’ll nstill need a few more days to figure it out but I can safely say that Blackstar, I Can’t Give Everything Away, Where Are We Now and Dirty Boys would easily make the cut.

    I hope you keep finding excuses to do an Xmas post on PAOTD for many years to come Chris since it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas without it.

  17. Stolen Guitar says:

    Happy New Year, Chris…and I’m still upset about having to forego the pleasure of your company in Manchester this year…Please come back, perhaps?!

    No Lazarus, though? Its accompanying video just destroyed me when I first saw it; a day or two after his passing away, I think.

    But, hey? Who am I to argue with you over this?

    Thanks for everything, Chris. It really has been a fantastic journey.

    • col1234 says:

      Lazarus is a tough one—it’s a major late Bowie song, but at the moment i don’t enjoy listening to it much. may change.

  18. fhgaldino says:

    Thanks again, Chris! It has been amazing to follow this blog since I started in 2013.

    My top 10 of the decade:

    #1 – I Can’t Give Everything Away
    #2 – Tis’ a Pity She Was a Whore
    #3 – Heat
    #4 – Blackstar
    #5 – Love Is Lost
    #6 – Lazarus
    #7 – Dollar Days
    #8 – No Plan
    #9 – Where Are We Now?
    #10 – Dirty Boys

  19. Georgina Brown says:

    Same exact list except I would replace “Dollar Days” with “Heat”.And “Like a Rocket Man” with “Dirty Boys”

    • BenJ says:

      I love both “Dollar Days” and “Heat”. I’d probably add the latter and “The Stars are Out Tonight”, replacing “Where Are We Now” and “The Next Day.”

  20. BenJ says:

    Happy New Year, Chris, and thanks for the (continuing) good times.

    I’ve thought about “Blackstar” as a counterpart to “Station to Station” before. Certainly there are similarities. They take different approaches, though. “Station” keeps it’s focus on Bowie/The Thin White Duke right from the start. “Blackstar” starts off in travelogue mode. Bowie in character doesn’t show up until the song’s last act, and he’s whisked away by the outro. Late-late Bowie liked playing hide and seek.

  21. spanghew says:

    “So here, I’ll try to work some reverse magic: I expect next year that absolutely nothing of remote interest will be released by the Bowie estate.” It worked! https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/jan/09/two-new-david-bowie-records-to-be-released-in-2020

  22. MC says:

    Very late to this particular party, I know. Still a dedicated reader, though the time for commenting isn’t what it used to be. Chris, still very much enjoying all of your work, here and elsewhere. (And Happy Birthday, btw!)

    I had to chime in eventually on this entry, as I cannot resist any opportunity to make a list. So here are my Top Ten DB songs for the 2010s, or the teens, as I like to call ’em.

    Blackstar
    Lazarus
    Valentine’s Day
    The Next Day
    ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore (Blackstar version)
    Love Is Lost (any version)
    Dollar Days
    Girl Loves Me
    Like A Rocket Man
    Heat

    I remember some discussion on Twitter about the high probability of The Next Day being snubbed on decade-end polls. Sure enough, the Rolling Stone writeup on Blackstar said something to the effect of the album being Bowie’s return after years “on the down-low” – evidence enough of TND’s disappearance down the memory-hole. That’s a shame – both of DB’s final records deserve their place in the pantheon.

    In any event, looking forward to the coming tide of 70’s reissues and beyond. (Haven’t sampled Nuts yet – it’s getting really difficult to keep track!) All the best!

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