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“Modern Love” at Rockefeller Center 2003

I came across this clip a few days ago when looking for the scene from the movie Frances Ha in which “Modern Love” is played while the main character is running through the street. The movie uses Bowie’s studio recording of the song (or, at least part of it). What I’m posting today is a live performance Bowie did 20 years ago apparently as part of an appearance on The Today Show. He was probably promoting Reality, but I’m guessing had to make a deal that in order to get on the show he’d have to play one of his greatest hits. I’m just guessing here.

Bowie in 2003 is in the phase I like to call, “Jonesie.” He’s the friendly, accessible and conspicuously happy Bowie. Think about the contrast of him singing this song during the Serious Moonlight tour 20 years earlier than this— more mainstream that previous incarnations, yet, but cool, not necessarily accessible. Here, Bowie certainly seems happy, but I wonder how much of this is as performative as Ziggy or the Thin White Duke. Not long after this performance, Bowie had his health issue that sidelined him for a decade. I suspect he could have reemerged before he did, but when he did he was once again remote. Past cool, the Bowie of 2013 was inscrutable and remote. He gave few if any interviews. He appeared in some enigmatic videos but he had achieved perhaps his most distant state. But that wouldn’t be for another decade— here, Bowie is performing to a fairly intimate audience, and seemingly having a good time doing it.

I find something oddly sad about this clip. Bowie did commercial television in the 1970s— not long ago I posted a clip from the Dinah Shore Show. Still the Today Show seems somehow beneath him. The audience seems unnecessarily small— the annual Christmas Tree lighting that takes place at the same location gets a bigger turnout. His nearly ecstatic smile seems real enough, but is it real? Not sure. Oh well, not every performance can be Live Aid.

And of curse, I really would have liked to have been there!

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