The Olympics ended yesterday with a very, very big show that lovingly displayed the things that make Britain Britain. There were fashion models, theater, and psychedelic floats. There was much music, even a performance of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Eric Idle. This song, which appeared at the very end of The Life of Brian, my favorite Monty Python film, was aired complete, though the single profanity uttered in the song was heavily (and loudly) bleeped for American viewing.
Given all the Britannia on display, I was curious if David Bowie might make an appearance at the event. After all, his song “Heroes” was played in a very prominent spot at the very beginning of the Olympics while the British athletes made their very first appearance/entrance into the stadium.
While the closing ceremonies were going on, and the show focused on the British fashion industry, they of course played Mr. Bowie’s song “Fashion” and, I suspect, that might well be where the show’s makers might well have loved to have him appear and sing…
But he didn’t.
Mr. Bowie wasn’t the only musician whose songs were played during the Olympics and didn’t show. Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” for example, was sung live, but neither Roger Waters or David Gilmour showed up to perform the song. I believe Nick Mason, the band’s drummer, was the only Pink Floyd member present.
Yet Mr. Bowie’s absence felt to me like something more. There have been articles written here and there hinting if not outright saying that Mr. Bowie has effectively, though quietly, retired, and not seeing him at the Olympics seemed to further that notion. After all, this is a man who tended to release a new album almost every year and was constantly touring or making appearances in movies or TV shows. His last album, 2003’s Reality, is rapidly approaching a decade since release. While he toured in support of the album, he was diagnosed with an acute arterial blockage and had emergency angioplasty in 2004. From that point on, his appearances have been sparse. His last stage appearance was in 2006, his last recorded song was a collaboration with Scarlett Johansson in 2008.
So when his songs were presented in such prominent places during the opening and closing of the Olympics, I couldn’t help but think the event organizers were hoping to lure him out to do a live performance. And given how long it had been since he did such a thing, one might have thought that Mr. Bowie would enjoy the opportunity to do just that.
The fact that he didn’t, as I said before, suggests to me that perhaps the whispers were right. No, I’m not privy to Mr. Bowie’s personal life. For all I know, he might be furiously working on a new album or acting in some film or doing something that deprives him of the time to head over to the Olympics and perform.
On the other hand, and given the fact that we’ve seen so little of Mr. Bowie since 2008, I can’t help but wonder if, indeed, those whispers of his retirement are indeed accurate.
If they are, I take that news as bittersweet. After several decades of hard work, the release of many classic albums, and what must have been a very frightening health emergency, it would not surprise me if Mr. Bowie has decided he’s done enough. I will continue to hope for new songs/albums from Mr. Bowie, but if Reality represents his last major work, I will cherish it along with his other albums, which never seem to grow old.