Almost 40 years ago, David Bowie performed two sold-out concerts in Southern California, at the Long Beach Arena and the Hollywood Palladium.
The artist — who will release his breathtaking new album, “The Next Day,” next week — was at that time ascending as one of the most magnetic and adventurous rock stars of the era. He was touring in advance of his “Aladdin Sane” after a triumphant run as Ziggy Stardust, and walked onstage to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
The day before those concerts, Bowie sat down with Robert Hilburn, then the Los Angeles Times’ pop music critic, at a Beverly Hills hotel. What the artist, now 66, told Hilburn is instructive in looking at “The Next Day,” his 26th studio album. Currently streaming on iTunes, the record is a marvelously successful return, and features some of Bowie’s most grounded and inspired work in decades.
“As a writer, I try to capture my environment,” Bowie explained. “I try to point out things that are happening to us, changes that are taking place. I want to say ... ‘Look at that, what does it mean?’ I love to deal in juxtaposition, combine different eras, ideas, people and see what we can learn from looking at it all in a different way.”
Over the intervening years Bowie followed that instinct, immersing himself in the intersecting worlds of music, fashion, art and politics. He addressed the desolate reality of postwar Berlin in the mid-1970s, the thriving post-disco world of New York City in the early ‘80s, big-beat dance rock in the early ‘90s and electronica-tinged textural experiments in the early ‘00s.
When he was young he dictated the conversation, but as is often the case, as Bowie grew into middle age his work became more reactive of trends — an aging man working to remain relevant to youth culture by marrying its most obvious sonic traits and his trademark croon-heavy vocal style.