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Noel Gallagher sings “Valentine’s Day” and the latest mass shooting

The depressing headline of the day is yet another mass shooting, this time at a Walmart in Virginia. As of this writing (the morning of Wednesday the 23rd), there was no clear motive, but a Walmart employee shot five other people to death and he also died. These events are happening so fast that this latest incident will likely be absorbed and integrated into the public consciousness such that outside the community where it took place, it probably won’t especially be remembered. We have become numb to these hideous incidents.

There is a place for art in dealing with difficult social phenomena. Bowie’s 2013 song, “Valentine’s Day,” which appeared on The Next Day and was also used in the play, Lazarus, is about a mass shooting, or more specifically a mass-shooter (probably a school shooter). Here, Noel Gallagher, late of Oasis, performs the song apparently as part of one of the Bowie Celebration concerts organized by Mike Garson (who is playing the piano here).

I included Bowie’s video on this blog when I first commented on the song. It was one of Bowie’s last videos and is stark in its own way. Long after Bowie stopped putting his face on his album covers, he sings directly into the camera in the “Valentine’s Day” video. In many respects, he looks like a normal middle-aged man. There’s nothing exotic, but also nothing especially fashionable or cool about his appearance. That’s not the case in the other videos Bowie did for The Next Day— I’m thinking those for the eponymous song, “Where Are We Now,” as well as that for, “The Stars Are Out Tonight.” In those videos, Bowie plays with his physical appearance and avoids close-ups. To the extent we do see his face, he looks less old, less worn than he does in “Valentine’s Day.”

I think that’s all part of the art. Bowie’s intent was to be direct here. I think he learned the lesson of his Tin Machine days of not being too preachy. He doesn’t need to be with this subject matter. There isn’t an argument to be made. This song is also less over the top than the much early, “Running Gun Blues.” Again, all Bowie really wants to do is draw attention to what he’s singing about here, stripped down and left on the table.

The mass shooting of the day might be forgotten, but perhaps a goal of the artist was to create something to think about that’s hard to forget, which is this song.

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