I know some people lost interest or even slagged David Bowie post ‘Let’s Dance’ and moved on to the next thing. Actually, David was returned to his fans after being ‘the biggest thing in the musical world’ (it’s weird to think that, but David was never bigger than ‘Let’s Dance’, selling ten million copies and three million more than his previous bestselling album, ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars’).
Bowie had some misses after a decade of dominance, but there is a lot of wheat in the chaff. To that point, David’s final two albums have become as dear to me as any (and I really love all his albums very different reasons).
They are true meditations on life, fame, and mortality. He gifted a final statement on a life that is legendary. Not all artists get to do that.
I am not saying David Bowie didn’t still have music left in him, like Tom Petty or Prince, but Bowie was able to share one last bit of insight before he left us. I feel like ‘The Next Day’ and ‘Blackstar’ are perfect codas to the symphony that was David Bowie’s life. (Neil Peart springs to mind here. He gave us a goodbye, unintentional though it may be. Listen to ‘The Garden’ of the final RUSH album, ‘Clockwork Angels’. Oof*.)
Famously the video and the title song, ‘Blackstar’, seem to conclude the cycle for Major Tom. People always said that Major Tom was an avatar for David. I don’t know if that is true, but even in the story of an astronaut adrift in space, we were granted one last goodbye (okay, the whole spaceman adrift in the world thing is totally David. We all know Major Tom was a junky).
It is the song ‘Lazarus’ that I find moving. It feels like David working through his diagnosis and the reality of his final days. I feel it because, while I am not dying, I too am suspended in a space where I am not well and never will be. These words are powerful on so many levels;
Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now
Everybody may not know me, but like when I was a teenager and David let me know that being a freak wasn’t a bad thing, he left a goodbye saying it was still okay. And this verse, pure emotional Bowie;
Oh I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me
David gave his fans everything until it was time to go, dying just days after Blackstar was released. It was a parting gift. A way of telling us, after all these years, that he was okay. ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ put it succinctly;
Seeing more and feeling less
Saying no but meaning yes
This is all I ever meant
That’s the message that I sent
Like all things in his life, David mastered the art of goodbye. What a piece of art it is.
Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you
I’m trying to
I’m dying to
Dollar Days — David Bowie
* These verses from Neil in particular;
The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect
So hard to earn, so easily burned
In the fullness of time
A garden to nurture and protect
The future disappears into memory
With only a moment between
Forever dwells in that moment
Hope is what remains to be seen
The Garden — lyrics: Neil Peart music; Geddy Lee & Alex Lifeson