91103M3_BOWIE_B_GR_05One day this August we were visiting Morbegno, a pretty town in the Valtellina. We stopped for a light lunch in a bar selling re-heated pizza. The radio was playing. ‘Ah!’ I said, catching the distinctive opening chords of Jean Genie, ‘David Bowie!’ The next track was also Bowie – Ashes to Ashes. And the next – Let’s Dance. And so on. And the interlinking commentary made it clear that this was a major retrospective. ‘I hope nothing has happened to him,’  I said. Now, I hastily add that David Bowie is very much alive. The latest proof is that just five days ago Jonathan Ross paid £20,000 for one of Bowie’s iconclastic self-portraits, done for his 1995 album Outside, and Bowie sent Ross a ‘cheeky’ congratulatory message (not to mention recent photographs like the one to the left). So why my Morbegno morbidity? Well, the simple truth is that, as a performing artist, Bowie has all but disappeared and there has even been some ghastly speculation on the net that he might be suffering some sort of illness. The more prosaic truth is that since he suffered a heart attack in June 2004 the profile of Bowie, who is now 62, has been steadily diminishing. There was a brief comeback of cameo performances (notably with Arcade Fire) but those rapidly petered out. Bowie is, in effect, in a much deserved retirement. As if to confirm this, Le Monde ran a recent retrospective article and in the 26 October edition of the New Statesman Graeme Thomson wrote a paean to this ‘singularly talented singer and musician’: ‘Nobody writes songs like Bowie, strange affairs with unconventional chord patterns and bizarre, unpredictable melodies, held together by that imperious voice, leaping across keys or slipping into a meticulously contrived sarf Lahndan twang.’ And that’s the shame of it. We want more and find it hard to believe that there might not be any… In the meantime, there are plenty of immitators and spoofs, the latest from Flight of the Conchords. To see that and more recent photographs of Bowie visit this blog.