At four am today I received a text sent from a good friend I have known for over thirty years. “Oh my… David Bowie died…Cancer”.
Instantly I checked the news. I checked social media. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. It was only three days ago that I finally received my pre-ordered brand spanking new album from the Thin White Duke, Blackstar.
It was true. Terribly, terribly true. I went upstairs and told my still sleeping wife what had happened. I walked back down the stairs. I began to make lunches for the kids, tears in my eyes, and looked back upon the messages and not so well hidden meanings in the two music videos that had been released before the album. It was obvious, now.
Blackstar, the single and video single released earlier was long and black and odd and wonderful. In the first scene, a spaceman with s small yellow happy face patch on his upper chest lies dead on an asteroid or moon. As soon as I saw him, it, I said to my wife “That’s Major Tom. He’s singing about the death of Major Tom.”
I was right, but more right than I knew. You see, I have been in the past few years obsessed with hidden meanings and background stories intentionally dropped into song. The Major Tom story is in a good number of Bowie track and songs by others. I did a bit of more intensive research last year and decided that yes, he was and is Bowie himself. Deluded at times, affected by drugs and fantasy, Major Tom was, is, the man who had so many other personas. I assumed incorrectly that the new album would enlighten us more as to this in the background but overarching persona of the genius composer Bowie.
The day before the album was to arrive, a second video for the song Lazarus appeared. Bowie was in a deathbed singing, Bowie was up and revitalized and writing frantically as death looked on, Bowie was floating above the bed, Bowie slunk back into a black coffin like wardrobe as the song ended. I became concerned. “He looks bad. He looks older than he is.” I told Karen.
I ignored my thoughts even though I said aloud at least once “I think he’s dying”.
The album arrived and I listened to it four times in the course of my workday and at the gym that night. It was and is spectacular. I wrote a very concise review and posted it on the official David Bowie Facebook page the following morning:
“My review: It is very simple. ★ is the best David Bowie album I have heard in decades. It is lush, odd, weird, heartstring pulling, full of prophecy and reminiscence about days and people gone by. If it is his last album, which given his age is entirely possible, it is his opus. Buy it. Listen to it alone, with headphones on, and read the lyrics. Few albums I have heard before are so full of story.”
Two days later, the news hitting me from all sides, I feel crushed. His Ziggy Stardust album was the first I ever bought with my own money at the age of twelve. My late sister and I shared a decades long love of his music and often annoyed our mutual friends by switching records to his at parties. He was the Prince of all who felt like misfits but he made you feel content to be so. Music fashion, video, sound, poetry, art, it is all good and important and he made you know this. He let you know in no uncertain terms that you should embrace the different, the odd, the strange and that average is boring. It’s okay to be you.
Bowie completed Blackstar as a very sick man, a man who should probably have just relaxed and let people keep him medicated and happy till his time came. Instead he produced an opus as a gift to all of us.
Art, any kind of art, is important. Be art. Be like him. Screw normal. Be happy.