Ashes to ashes: time to lay David Bowie nostalgia to rest

The capital is beset by art exhibitions idolising Ziggy's creator. But when I was recently bereaved I realised that Bowie's songs have nothing universal to say

Another week, another David Bowie exhibition. BOWIEVIRUS by photographer David Sims has just opened at the ICA in London, meaning that the man behind Ziggy is currently dominating the capital's art scene, what with the Bowie blockbuster at the V&A. All this and a new album too. That's enough now, please. Ashes to ashes, let it rest.

I have tried to enter into the spirit of the Bowie revival that is overwhelming museums, galleries and the wider world, but I just can't. I loved Bowie when I was 15. He was having a comeback then, too, with Scary Monsters showing the New Romantic kids how it should be done. But I cannot revive the flame.

Recently I was bereaved, and in the black days between a death and a funeral I listened to a lot of music. It was the best thing. The music that moved and nourished me was eclectic, and good taste could go to hell. It included Bach and Bruce Springsteen, ranged from keening Irish pipes to Nirvana, from To Live is to Fly by Townes Van Zandt to Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis.

The music I needed was music with soul. But one thing did not work at all. Given that Bowie's V&A show and return to the studio were all over the news, and I had spent so many teenage hours listening to him, I played some Bowie. But across the golden years, not a single song spoke to my inner being.

Bowie, when I needed him, sounded as brittle as broken glass. Heroes, maybe? But then, what is it even about?

The ICA is never likely to stage a Bruce Springsteen exhibition – way too uncool – but there is more poetry and truth in Springsteen's Racing in the Street than in everything Bowie has ever recorded.

Great music, pop or classical, is universal – but Bowie is all about Bowie. His art is a dressing-up game, fun but a bit silly.

Lou Reed's Heroin is a punch in the face, a terrifying message in a bottle; listen to that next to Bowie at his best and you will see what I mean.

I feel plenty of nostalgia when I listen to Bowie – but it cloys quickly, this old masquerade.


Jonathan Jones

The GuardianTramp

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