David Bowie Rockets Onward

A mercurial superstar tours in triumph

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Hey, great news: David Bowie's back, and blooming.

Good question: Which one?

There are so many to choose from. It has been a long professional life by rock-'n'-roll standards, and a diverse one by any other. In a hurricane-force career that has swept over a decade, lost force sometimes but never blown out to sea, David Bowie has tried on almost as many private roles and public personas as he has written songs. In the '60s there was the strutting London mod. Then the sensitive singer-songwriter. Then in 1972 Bowie became the hero of his own concept album, Ziggy Stardust, playing the part in concert and, increasingly, letting it play out in life.

He led the Glitter Rock movement, turned himself into music's most exquisite artifact, then turned away. Subsumed in his own myth, Bowie became a zombie, sending back musical dispatches from the dead zone. He was a casualty, but he endured. He was a recluse, but he kept making records ("pale blinds drawn all day, nothing to read, nothing to say"), strange albums full of pity and doubt. He was a soul, not lost but stranded, who willed himself into a survivor.

That incarnation, the current one, resplendently straight and sincere, is riding the high crest of a huge success and a resurgent career, bringing a lot of history to new songs with lines like "I'm lying in the rain/ But I never wave bye-bye." So hello, David Bowie. All of you.

At 36, the oldest fresh force in rock, this new Bowie seems to share few qualities with old Ziggy, the polymorphous camp extravaganza, the most gilded lily of rock's gaudiest age. What binds these identities together is a gift that is cerebral and carnal, frequently danceable and always entertaining. His former crony Lou Reed has sung about it. Deep down inside, Bowie has a rock-'n'-roll heart.

Bowie's first album in three years, Let's Dance, a record of shrewd and unsentimental dynamism, could be his biggest. It has sold more than 1 million copies, fielded one hit single and two excellent Bowie videos that are holding down heavy air space on MTV. The album and its gold-record title track are also buttressing Bowie's current tour, a blitzkrieg that has sold out stadiums all over Europe; in Gothenburg, Sweden, Edinburgh and Paris, he beat last year's Rolling Stones' attendance records. For a charity concert in London, scalpers got $150 a seat.

Bowie arrives in North America this week. First stop, Canada. Then, in mid-July, on to the States. Tickets for the two Los Angeles concerts sold out in 90 minutes. In New York, you have a better chance of hailing a cab driver who looks like Ziggy Stardust than getting two seats at Madison Square Garden for the original's own gigs on July 25, 26, 27.

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