David Bowie, or Derek, (“I suppose it’s another quotation from Derek Bowie, is it?”) has released a new song. It made the news today – oh boy! You can see it at his website.

Is it any good? Well, that’s up to you. I like it. It occurred to me that I could blether on at length offering my opinion on the tune, Bowie’s importance and cultural context, perhaps making some pithy remarks on the music media commentariat in the UK, but it occurred further that there’s no point. This is David freakin’ Bowie we’re talking about! “If you have to ask…” …as the Red Hot Chili Peppers once suggested.

I’ve liked Dame David for a long time. I had a couple of teachers at school who used to obsess about Bob Dylan and David Bowie, getting me into them and a bunch of other ‘cultural touchstone’ bands through careful pointers. One of them created a memorable tape compilation for when I was leaving sixth form, called ‘I remember when all this were fields’. I sometimes say that when looking at the YouTubes, “I remember when all this were compilation tapes”.

These were the two Bowie songs on that compilation:

You betcha! And a version of this, which makes me wish we’d had the YouTubes back then:

Given his near half century of professional superness, I think it doesn’t really matter if David Bowie’s new song could maybe be more awesome. He’s still moving, doing it. On the rare occasions people have tried to argue with me regarding Bob Dylan’s continuing relevance, while I’m on the DB/BDs, I’ve said that anyone who managed to come out with Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, in the space of 18 months, is allowed to do what they like as far as I’m concerned. The same goes for Bowie.

Hunky Dory, 1971. …Ziggy Stardust, 1972. Aladdin Sane, 1973. Shush.”

History will show that Coldplay performed at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony, but everyone was more bothered that Bowie did not. That is all. You betcha!

The demise of Robin Gibb was noted with some sadness in The Mortal Bath. A few of the Bee Gees’ choicest records have been played, and I have marvelled as ever at the harmonised vocals, the often overlooked lyrical depths, the grooviness. The Gibbs sustained a remarkable career, as songwriters and performers. I hope -genuinely – that Barry keeps going.

The Bee Gees are of particular interest for their contribution to the development of a pop trope. It was one I had been aware of but that had drifted from my attention, until I re-listened to the amazing New York Mining Disaster 1941.

This was, you will note, years before their disco period, where they set the world a-boogie with impossible nut-cracking harmonies and sublime Saturday Night Feverish grooves. It is easy to acknowledge the foregrounding of sex in their music at that time. Yet, in this earlier era of the Swinging Sixties, they were one of the first bands to offer an examination of the everyman character “Mr Jones,” who (with various members of his family) recurs throughout pop history as a representative of human explorations of mind and sexuality.

“Have you seen my wife, Mr Jones?” The Mr Jones in question here is a paradox. He is Jones the Spirit Guide, a pretext for the speaker keen to assert the reality of his surface life in the face of possible death, a chink of light through a fallen-in cluster of boulders, as the speaker laments his family. And he is Jones the Threat, paternalistic, overbearing, whose response is secretly feared, whose very voice is capable of initiating a seismic, calamitous end to the ruminations of the narrator and of course the rest of the trapped group.

It seems evident to suggest that the interment theme, and the danger implied in the threatening Jones, reflect insular, self-analytic preoccupations. “My wife” would in this case of course represent a version of the Jungian anima, a female aspect of the male narrator who, as emblematised in the mining accident imagery, is cut off from personal psychological understanding by a perceived inability to reconcile the differing parts of his own psyche. “Mr Jones,” then, represents the conscious, the ego of the nameless narrator, addressing the self in a solipsistic moment of emotional entrapment.

However, it could be further argued that the narrator is addressing not “Mr Jones” a fellow miner but another, nameless individual. In this reading, the lyric becomes a desperate plea about one person, “my wife, Mr Jones”, revealing a previously unexplored taboo-breaking stratum in the history of the Bee Gees. Given their androgynous voices and later synonymity with the ambiguous sexualities of the disco era, this should come as no real surprise.

A “woman’s man” indeed.

NYMD 1941 addressed a particular frustration for these “miners” that we turn to in Part Two of “Keeping (It) Up With The Joneses”. It is a frustration derived from the fact that as early as 1965 Bob Dylan had already established “Mr Jones” was in fact powerless to help. In “Ballad of a Thin Man”, Jones the Milking Cow represents a confusion of feelings of performance anxiety, and, obviously, a primal mammalian dependency – and fear – of the Udder.

Meanwhile, thanks again to the Bee Gees, and the late Robin, for their work. This poignant clip from a gig in 1971 shows Barry being introduced by Robin, who is comically reluctant to leave the stage.

It’s only words, and words are all I’ve got.

(Apols to RZ, like, 50 yrs ago)

Like, 06.40 or something – he’s guessing – and lazy Henry is waking up in the bathroom the morning of the Grand Male Grooming Treat Birthday Present Spectacular (Guaranteed Hot Towels, Face Massage, Flame On! &c), bought with love and deep meaningfulness by Alain ‘Sipping’ Bull and Mike O’Trophy, his two favourite correspondents and long-term advocates of the entire removal of the large beard growing like tubers since about November 2011.

‘Y’know,’ Henry says aloud in the bathroom mirror, contemplating his features, ‘I read in the Kindle Sunday non-papers that facial hair is what all the A-list boys are sporting, so my first reaction was predictably contrary…’ He percusses out an over-elaborate laugh for every syllable of the last two words, wide-mouthed mugging, then his shoulders and features relax. ‘Plus it’ll be a weight off my face. So that’s one of them taken care of!’ His knowing asides into the electric toothbrush twitch his mouth again briefly, and he grabs a pad and pen for the rest of the revelation, seeing as he’s just off the john, letting it all fall out… ‘As above, so below… little high, little low, and today lazy Henry don’t need anyone’s help to know which if any way the wind blows, no sir, no,’ he thinks, wafting a hand, striking a match and trying not set his pad alight. ‘I’m blaming it on the Chinese food or the boogie or the Queen and her Government or anyone but me… Trumper for Men! Hmmm, bring it,’ he says as he reads off the bottle of scent, pondering his imminent future, soon to be fresh faced and full of wonder, heading out the bathroom door, intent.

‘December was fine,’ he thinks, chewing his pen and sat in his best seat by the window, ‘winter beard has been keeping us warm, but then January swept in the new, and February has come and nearly went…’ and in a sudden deceleration, his anxiety parachuting out behind, he thinks ‘Here we are, now, again.’ Teeth set and brow knits. Sat looking at his netbook, Henry gets all performance anxiety, beside himself, running his fingers through his beard, twirling. Feeling the whole instantaneous digital age imminent singularity blues thing, he instead falls to reading Tarantula, half-vaporised contrails, spidery handwritten notes from the jet age, and its 10,500 resonances help reassure him a bit. Like, a bit.

‘So,’ he says, nodding, breathing shallow, ‘so, j’essaye un essay on the single transferable thought… okay, Ray K, ok,’ Henry acknowledges over his shoulder, cracks his knuckles, ‘okay, digital love, but… no, no, no, no, no no NO! Mama mia.’ He seizes up. ‘Too little to say, too much time, too much time to be without love, not enough reason to give it all up.’ And then all of a sudden the group finger seems t’be pointing in his face and he’s batting it away shrieking, right clicking but there’s no more new tabs opening, no way out, and ‘I’m a man, not a mouse!’ he squeaks feebly, but they carry on a pointy pointy anyway, til Henry falls to his knees for shrieving, trapped, 100 years behind a thicket of accusatory digits… ‘Free me!’ he wheezes, but time bends, his back creaks, his bough breaks and any day now he’s suddenly imprisoned, trombone shot of him clutching the bars at the window while Laughing Miss Prision and the Agley Gang ride off, having tricked him into taking their place in the cells.

Right Now! With a whoomph of breath Henry shakes his head and he’s awake, not in gaol but still on his knees, praying in front of a glowing screen and curling a finger round his chin feeling all pre-shave and ready for the shearing. Getting to his feet, lips pursed slightly, he thinks “Well, what about this writing, then?” and lets the little thought storm break over his parched brain, lines jag out and discharge into the parchment, fingers, nibs and typewriter hammers sparking, forging something, finally, about something or other.

Later, dapper, showered and shaved and sitting over a more relaxed fifth double espresso, he reads somewhere else about time crystals and the idea seems to make sense in his head – yes, he strokes a ghost beard, yes, his eyes narrow, yes, crystalline rhizomes in the 4th dimension form in seconds/millennia, of course, – but strikes him as being very difficult to make clear when all he has are the insubstantial hieroglyphs bequeathed him by his Uncle Geoffrey. ‘Even words, especially words, especially these words, aren’t helping,’ he explains on a postcard sent in duplicate to Mike O’Trophy and Alain Bull, timed to arrive also by simultaneous teleportation link.

While the little ring tone boops hoopily, the green tea-drinking native American says deadpan ‘You know, I actually never met Mike O’Trophy, but he sounds like a real fun guy.’ Henry rolls his eyes and says ‘Jesus,’ without heat, and Mike nods his head, sliding into shot, one-third split screen, with that Robert De Niro lower lip. ‘Yeah, Him too,’ he says, and him and Bull virtually high five as Henry’s putting his coat on, now just a little embarrassed by it all, reaching for the Further On switch and saying ‘Please can we go now please?’

This episode has been brought to you by Curzon Cologne.