When 2 become 1: “Dancing in the Streets”

Chris O’Leary itemizes the awfulness of Bowie-Jagger’s”Dancing in the Streets”:

1) Jagger’s dancing, especially in the opening verse, reminds one of Truman Capote’s snark about Jagger’s stage act: “as sexy as a pissing frog.”

2) The choreography makes a bit more sense if you imagine that each of them are pretending to duet with Tina Turner.

3) A small charm is Bowie’s role as foil here—he’s often acting like a gawky fan who won an MTV contest to co-star in a video with Jagger. The dopey hand twirling movements, the half-assed judo kicks.

4) That said, when Bowie sways his hips and clasps himself as he lip-syncs “streets of Brazil!” is the absolute nadir of his performing life.

5) Jagger had been a fashion casualty for years, so his sherbet-green puffy shirt and purple caddy pants are just par for the course. But you’d expect better from Bowie than the camouflage pajamas and over-sized raincoat.

6) St. Vincent, on Twitter: “Bowie and Jagger “Dancing in the Street” video duet is the biggest anti-cocaine ad you ask for. #ihavethatjacket“. Sadly, I don’t think you can blame coke for this one.

7) After all the hard work Bowie did in 1983-1984 establishing his heterosexual bonafides, he releases a single whose sleeve could’ve doubled for a gay porn film advertisement and whose video ends with a freeze-frame of his and Jagger’s synchronized ass-waggle.

All on-point about a song as easy a target as a caribou in a living room; however, I’m interested in context too:

It was the height of the Boomer Counter-Reformation. The late Eighties would see the over-publicized returns of everyone from Steve Winwood to the Monkees to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, to a revamped George Harrison to a MOR version of Pink Floyd to Robbie Robertson pretending that he was Peter Gabriel (a version of Gabriel who couldn’t sing) to an all-star Yes and a Zeppelin-sampling Robert Plant, culminating in the return of the “revitalized” Stones in 1989, the touring company now reincorporated into a gleaming multinational.

Tom Ewing and his followers’ comments on his Popular entry for “Do They Know It’s Christmas” address Live Aid as the last and biggest hurrah for New Pop stars. Jagger of course survived: commercially there was Steel Wheels, Voodoo Lounge, and the several Ringling Brothers world tours; artistically there was Dirty Work, the best album recorded by a longtoothed aristocrat in the eighties. The real mystery is why Bowie didn’t, which in retrospect is no mystery at all. Twelve years schooled as a stag gigolo – a blue-tinged eagle eye scouting the margins for unloved and underloved ideas – he deteriorated into a trend whore. Hugh Padgham, camouflage pants, mullets, Pepsi, Tina Turner, film soundtracks, that sort of thing. It is inconceivable that the Bowie of 1976 would have lent his approval, let alone his name, to a video montage of starving Ethiopian children, scored to the Cars’ “Drive.”

This underscores the fragility of Bowie’s talent. When it comes to the quotidian business of a typical singer-songwriter he’s you or me with a guitar and education, or worse; he simply has no talent for hack work. Tonight and Never Let Me Down are the products of Bowie being jus’ folks (I retract the previous statement: you or I could sing better). Even “Absolute Beginners,” which according to  O’Leary and the consensus is Bowie’s best single of the eighties, suffers from an execrable vocal performance (“It’s AB-SO-LOOTELY TOO-HEW-HEW-HEW!!!!”).

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