Exactly four years ago today, David Bowie performed a mini-set at the annual BlackBall charity concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. Opening with his famous cover of “Wild Is The Wind” with Spiders From Mars keyboardist Mike Garson, Bowie then performed the Lodger classic “Fantastic Voyage” and closed with “Changes” by performing it as a duet with Alicia Keys. Since then, Bowie hasn’t sung so much as a note in public.
When Bowie wrote “Changes” in 1971 it was a bold proclamation that he was changing the musical landscape. “Look you you rock ‘n rollers,” he warned. “Pretty soon you’re gonna get older.” When he sang it alongside Keys four years ago, Bowie was nearly 60 years old. Just two years earlier he had suffered a massive heart attack that prematurely ended his 2004 tour, and last summer Bowie told The New York Times he has no plans to return to the road. “I’m not thinking of touring,” he said. “I’m comfortable.”
Able-bodied rock stars rarely retire. First generation legends like Bo Diddley and James Brown rocked practically until they dropped, while Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis continue to tour regularly. There are several theories as to why Bowie pulled the plug on his career while still in his 50s: the heart attack, the indifferent reaction his recent work received and his young daughter with wife Iman are all possibilities. Or maybe he’s just sick of being a rock star.
Of course, the truth is probably a combination of all those things. Many rock stars have announced their retirements (The Who, Cher, KISS, Tina Turner) have returned to the stage just a few years later. Bowie himself did it at the last show of his 1973 Ziggy Stardust tour. The fact he’s said virtually nothing this time around indicates he may well be done forever? — though in a few weeks the annual “Bowie’s headlining Coachella!!” rumors should once again surface.