Never Get Old single coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: January-May 2003
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Released: 15 September 2003

Available on:
Reality
A Reality Tour

Personnel

David Bowie: vocals, guitar, keyboards
Earl Slick: guitar
Mark Plati: guitar, bass guitar
Sterling Campbell: drums
Gail Ann Dorsey, Catherine Russell: vocals

Written about mortality and ageing, ‘Never Get Old’ is the third song on David Bowie’s 2003 album Reality.

Bowie turned 56 during the making of Reality, and – despite the song’s “I’m never ever gonna get old” refrain – the subject of growing older was evidently on his mind. The previous year, while promoting Heathen, he told the New York Times about his preoccupation with mortality:

I tried to make a checklist of what exactly the album is about and abandonment was in there, isolation. And I thought, well, nothing’s changed much. At 55, I don’t really think it’s going to change very much. As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left?

When it’s taken that nakedly, these are my subjects. And it’s like, well, how many times can you do this? And I tell myself, actually, over and over again. The problem would be if I was too self-confident and actually came up with resolutions for these questions. But I think they’re such huge unanswerable questions that it’s just me posing them, again and again.

David Bowie
New York Times, 9 June 2002

Bowie died in January 2016 at 69 – an age considered old by some, but he hoped to live far longer. His daughter Lexi was born in August 2000, and he spoke of wanting to know her well into adulthood.

I just want to be there for Alexandria. She’s so exciting and so lovely so I want to be around when she grows up. I think, ‘When am I gonna let go of her? When she’s 20?’ Nah I wanna see her get married.

When she’s 30? Nah I wanna see what she’s like as a mother.

I don’t want to let her go. If I didn’t have my little three-year-old running around, I wouldn’t be writing songs quite this way. Seeing in her eyes all the hope and joy and optimism of the future, I have to reflect that in what I’m doing.

David Bowie
Scottish Sunday Mail, 23rd November 2003

Boasting plenty of classic pop hooks, ‘Never Get Old’ evokes various moments from Bowie’s back catalogue – from the ‘Space Oddity’ countdown to the Hunky Dory-esque line “The sky splits open to a dull red skull”.

The phrase “never get old” had appeared in the previous songs ‘Fantastic Voyage’ and ‘Buddha Of Suburbia’. Bowie had sung about ageing and the passing of years in other songs as varied as ‘Changes’, ‘Time’, ‘The Hearts Filthy Lesson’, and ‘The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell’.

I feel bitterly angry that I won’t be doing all this for the rest of eternity.

Rage, that’s what you get more than anything else. You get a bit angry, because it’s good down here. On one of my new songs, ‘Never Get Old’ – the song’s ironic – there is the image of a petulant rock singer sitting in a half-darkened room saying, ‘I’m not gonna get old.’

I thought it was a funny image and I had to write it before someone else my age did.

David Bowie
The Sun, 12 September 2003

Having long since conquered his drug and alcohol problems, Bowie was in broadly good health in the new millennium. He temporarily gave up smoking cigarettes before the birth of his daughter, and finally kicked his heavy habit in 2002. Yet the lengthy A Reality Tour was curtailed prematurely after Bowie suffered a heart attack in June 2004, leading to his withdrawal from public life.

I just feel as contented as one can feel in these particular times. I think that’s the best way of saying it. My marital life, domestic life, personal life, whatever you want to call it is just wonderful, and my work has been going so well. So I’m a really lucky guy, you know, in that way. When I was in my twenties, I’d never thought for one second that my life would be this good in fact. This age didn’t exist for me when I was twenty. ‘Fifty-six? Are you kidding me? I’m never going to make it there.’ You know, all these romantic, nihilistic dreams that teenagers have. You think, ‘Oh, I won’t survive above thirty.’ [Laughs.] And of course the horror when you do. [Loud laughter.]
David Bowie, August 2003
Steinway.com

On guitar and bass guitar was Mark Plati, who used a pitch-shifter effects unit on the song.

That was, I guess, spitting in the face of ageing or being perceived as ageing or what have you. Now that I’m older than he [Bowie] was at the time, I get it. When I started doing that, they put it up and something hit me immediately. I thought, ‘I wanna do this really simple bass part, like from Sly Stone’s ‘Everyday People’.’ A really simple, straight-up thing like that. That was bingo from the first go. That’s what came out. Then I did this strange pitch-shifted guitar part in there, just messing around with some little effects box that he had. It was as big as an iPhone, it was tiny. He was like, ‘See what it does,’ and I mess with it and it does this funky little pitch-shifting thing. It all sounds a little Brian May-esque. It was really off the cuff, playing with knobs and gadgets and going, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ In this case it worked.
Mark Plati
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Rebel Never Gets Old

In late 2003, Go Home Productions’ Mark Vidler was tasked with creating a mashup of ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘Never Get Old’, which became known as ‘Rebel Never Gets Old’.

Rebel Never Gets Old single

Vidler produced three variations: a 3:25 radio mix; a 7:22 Seventh Heaven Mix; and an edit of the latter lasting 4:17. These were initially made available as a digital download in May 2004, and subsequently as a CD single, 12″ vinyl picture disc, and on a bonus disc included in a limited edition of Reality. The EPs contained the three mashups as well as the album track ‘Days’.

Vittel advert

‘Never Get Old’ first appeared in a French television commercial for Vittel water in June 2003. Bowie appeared in the advert, which was filmed at director Julian Schnabel’s New York home.

The Vittel commercial featured various characters from Bowie’s past played by David Brighton: the figure on the cover of The Man Who Sold The World, Ziggy Stardust, the eyepatch-wearing ‘Rebel Rebel’ performer, a CGI-rendered Diamond Dog, the Thin White Duke, and the ‘Ashes To Ashes’ Pierrot. The final words – “Chaque jour une vie nouvelle” – translate as “Every day a new life”, a phrase that chimes with the song’s lyrics.

Bodies deteriorate but the spirit doesn’t, really. So you get frustrated because you know you can create still but you’re facing potential illnesses and bodies wearing out. The thing about David is he could talk about and describe life, not necessarily what would be ideal about life but what it is. He had no problem confronting loneliness and pain and death, and he found ways to write about it.
Mike Garson
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Bowie later revealed that he had agreed to take part in the commercial on the condition that it featured a new recording, to win exposure for his music. An edit of the Vittel footage was later used to advertise the Reality album.

The release

‘Never Get Old’ was the third song on the Reality album, which was released on 15 September 2003.

It was originally intended to be issued as a European single to coincide with A Reality Tour’s UK dates in November 2003, but a physical release was shelved in favour of a digital download.

On 25 February 2004 it was released in Japan as the album’s second single, the follow-up to ‘New Killer Star’.

It was a bit of a ballsy statement for a guy like David to make. He always felt young and energetic and really engaged, so it’s tongue in cheek, too.
Gerry Leonard
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

The cover photograph for the ‘New Killer Star’ single, by Frank W Ockenfels III, showed Bowie playing his 1956 Supro Dual Tone guitar. The ‘Never Get Old’ single used the top half of the original photograph, presenting the full image when the two were aligned together.

A ‘Tour’ edition of Reality was also issued to coincide with A Reality Tour’s visits to various countries. This contained the bonus cover of ‘Waterloo Sunset’, as well as DVD performance of the entire album, recorded at the Riverside Studios in London on 8 September 2003. In Canada the DVD was truncated to just five songs: ‘New Killer Star’, ‘Never Get Old’, ‘Days’, ‘Reality’, and ‘Bring Me The Disco King’.

Live performances

David Bowie performed ‘Never Get Old’ on 44 occasions during A Reality Tour in 2003 and 2004.

It was first played on 19 August 2003 at the Chance in Poughkeepsie, New York, and last performed on 5 June 2004 at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey.

A recording from Dublin’s Point Theatre in November 2003 was released on the A Reality Tour album and DVD.

Previous song: ‘Pablo Picasso’
Next song: ‘The Loneliest Guy’