It was the quietest of comebacks. on Jan. 8 at the stroke of midnight, with no warning and without having performed or spoken in public for many years, David Bowie released a song through iTunes. The song, “Where Are We Now?” is a mournful, tender ballad that name-checks many of the places in Berlin where Bowie hung out in the 1970s, when he was arguably at his most creative. Now 66, Bowie—who mostly disappeared from public view around 2006, two years after a heart attack and amid rumors that he was terminally ill—ends the song with a simple expression of gratitude for being alive and not being alone: “As long as there’s me,” he sings, “as long as there’s you.”

Besides also releasing a video for “Where Are We Now?” that hit the same notes of reminiscence and humility, Bowie said nothing. There was no press conference to announce a…

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