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David Bowie's New Berlin Elegy: Where Are We Now?



Early this morning David Bowie celebrated his 66th Birthday with the release of his first single in a decade. This single Where Are We Now?, taken from Bowie's forthcoming album The Next Day, is accompanied by an artful video directed by the contemporary artist Tony Oursler. Set in a black and white Berlin of memory and dream, Oursler's video combines with Bowie's voice and lyrics to question the themes of human bondage, release, freedom,  doubt, ageing, and death. 


 The video opens with a shot of a crystal skull on a table. Reminiscent of Gerhard Richter's evocative paintings of human skulls, this visual entrance to Bowie's musical memento mori reminds us that in Berlin we wrestle with the dead as we walk through a haunted and enchanted city. After the fall of the wall, Berlin has come to embody the future while at the same time carrying the scars of the past. 

 


Bowie sings:


Had to get the train
From Potsdamer Platz
You never knew
That I could do that
Just walking the dead

 

Gerhard Richter
 
Skull (Schadel) (1983)

 

Where Are We Now? is as much a painting in soft greys as it is a song.A quiet rhythm of drums and synth warp and weft with minor key 

piano chords and Bowie's plaintive, elegiac voice. 


 

 

Bowie lived in West Berlin between 1976 and 1979 in the Schöneberg district in a house with Iggy Pop while Brian Eno and Tony Visconti were helping record Bowie's Berlin trilogy of albums Low, Heroes, and Lodger in the now legendary Hansa Studios.

In an interview on a French radio program, Bowie said, “Berlin has the strange ability to make you write only the important things. Anything else you don’t mention.” 

 

In Where Are We Now?Bowie guides us through his former haunts:

Sitting in the Dschungel

On Nürnberger Straße

A man lost in time

Near KaDeWe

Just walking the dead

 

The Dschungel was a Schöneberg club frequented by Bowie, Iggy Pop, Frank Zappa, and  Nina Hagen. KaDaWe is a historical Berlin department store that originally opened in 1907. In a divided city, from its reopening in 1950 until 1989, KaDaWe was a beacon for the East and drew massive crowds after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  

 



 

 

In an informative piece on the creation of the cover for the upcoming album The Next Day, designer Johnathan Barnbrook writes that "the song Where Are We Now? is a comparison between Berlin when the wall fell and Berlin today. Most people know of Bowie’s heritage in Berlin and we want people to think about the time when the original album was produced and now."


Twenty thousand people
Cross Bösebrücke
Fingers are crossed
Just in case
Walking the dead


 The Bösebrücke was the bridge on which the first border crossing was opened to Eastern Berliners in November 1989 as the Berlin Wall began to fall. In Berlin, David Bowie challenged societal bondages in his art and his life. Later, the city itself broke free from the bondage of the wall. Now, years later, Bowie looks back and wonders if all the chains have been broken.

 

Gregg Chadwick
Berlin Noir
30"x22" monotype on paper 2011

There are hints of personal loss in Where Are We Now? as well. Does the mysterious woman who appears with David throughout the video refer to Bowie's incredibly brave and influential first wife Angela? Or is she a reference to the classical muses? Or perhaps an angel briefly freed from the the towering Siegessäule which flickers in the video behind Bowie and his partner. The political and the personal merge in Where Are We Now?. We are left with existential questions and are reminded that bodies age, marriages end, friendships dissolve and memories fade. But Bowie's quietly defiant voice does not give in to any dying of the light:



As long as there’s sun
As long as there’s sun
As long as there’s rain
As long as there’s rain
As long as there’s fire
As long as there’s fire
As long as there’s me
As long as there’s you









 Where Are We Now?

 by David Bowie

 produced by Tony Visconti 

Had to get the train
From Potsdamer Platz
You never knew
That I could do that
Just walking the dead

Sitting in the Dschungel

On Nürnberger Straße

A man lost in time

Near KaDeWe

Just walking the dead

Where are we now?

Where are we now?

The moment you know

You know you know

Twenty thousand people

Cross Bösebrücke

Fingers are crossed

Just in case

Walking the dead

Where are we now?

Where are we now?

The moment you know

You know you know

As long as there’s sun
As long as there’s sun
As long as there’s rain
As long as there’s rain
As long as there’s fire
As long as there’s fire
As long as there’s me
As long as there’s you







In March, David Bowie will release The Next Day, an album of his first new music in a decade and a reunion with longtime producer Tony Visconti. Where Are We Now? was released today on Bowie's 66th birthday. A note from his label Columbia explained this was "a timely moment for such a treasure to appear as if out of nowhere." 


Available from iTunes



More at:

Die Zeit: Nächste Abfahrt Potsdamer Platz

David Bowie: The Next Day. That album cover design

 

It is a new font that we are working on called Doctrine – this is the first major use of it. Doctrine will be released in the coming weeks at VirusFonts.

 

Labels: 66th birthdayberlindavid bowiegregg chadwickhappy birthdaymusicnew videonoirspeed of lifeThe Next DayTony OurslerTony ViscontivideoWhere Are We Now?

Posted by Gregg Chadwick on 1/9/13 | tags: 66th birthday Berlin David Bowie Gregg Chadwick happy birthday music new video noir speed of life The Next Day Tony Oursler Tony Visconti video Where Are We Now? video-art pop graffiti/street-art figurative modern







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