On the morning of January 11th, I woke up to two text messages, both saying the same thing. Reading the first didn’t register. Hot on the heels of an album that was still buzzing around in the grey area of my mind, it seemed more likely to have been one of those internet rumors that the person in question quickly and confusedly debunks. Upon reading the second, the news was undeniable. David Bowie had died the night before.
The next few hours, it not having sunk in yet, were spent listening to his music while trying to find out more. He had been battling cancer for the past 18 months, all while writing and recording his latest and last album, Blackstar. That didn’t make sense either. It was not the sad elephant-leaving-the-herd-to-die farewell of Johnny Cash’s American albums, nor the more heartfelt and warm goodbye of Warren Zevon’s The Wind. We had, just two days before, heard the voice of a man with much more to say, still evolving, still growing. It might be obvious now what he was saying in “Lazarus”, that he’s “in Heaven” and “free/ just like that bluebird”, and it might be obvious now that the “Blackstar” was the cancer rising up within him as his spirit stepped aside, but it didn’t feel that way. The clues were too subtle.
It really speaks to the man’s ethic that, after releasing his 25th studio album in roughly half a century, it never seemed like his slowing down was a possibility. As if he were more rock ‘n’ roll incarnate than mortal man. Shifting his sound throughout the decades while remaining thoroughly and totally himself, it seemed a given that, whatever everyone else was doing, Bowie would be there to to do it better. Like Lou Reed or Lemmy, he was one of those who never should have left.
First exploding into public awareness in the early seventies, his world has always been, whether celebratory or mournful, whether reveling in excess or starving in despair, one more colourful, more pure, and more free than ours. While his work from early on remains the most canonized, I always connected with him the most when he was shivering from cocaine withdrawal (1977’s Low) or his work from ’95 onwards, looking back on his life as a wizened, world-weary fellow traveler. My favorite album of his remains 2002’s Heathen, which he wrote in New York before, during, and after 9/11. “Afraid” helped me tremendously as an insecure 13-year-old boy, and continues to do so as an insecure 24-year-old man. “Everyone says ‘hi’” was kept on constant rotation during my bouts of homesickness living abroad. As I see it, that album was him at his most bare, at least until a few days ago.
If it weren’t for the creative energy that went into Blackstar, its melancholy would have shined more darkly. We would’ve known that the dark figure in the “Lazarus” video is too a cancer. We wouldn’t have taken all of the gifts you’ve given to the world for granted. We would have thanked you one more time.
David Bowie, I’ve loved you since I was a child. R.I.P.
Our hearts and prayers got out to David Bowies family, friends and fans. His last gift to his fans and the world is as he intended was his album “Blackstar” which can be found at www.davidbowie.com along with all major retailers and online stores such as iTunes.