It’s one of those things that’s obvious in retrospect. Consider the video for “Blackstar”, the title track to Bowie’s final album. It begins beneath a blackened sky, where a spacesuit lies among a jumble of rocks. The visor of the spacesuit is pulled back to reveal the skull of a long-dead astronaut, a skull lined with jewels. This skull is placed into a glass case and taken through an intricate ritual. The astronaut is Major Tom, a reference Bowie returned to again and again throughout his career. That Major Tom is dead is one of those bits of foreshadowing that would make for creepy conspiracy theories if it wasn’t so blatantly intentional. Consider also the man’s final video, “Lazarus”, where Bowie is literally writhing on his deathbed and singing from the perspective of being in heaven. It should come as no surprise that Bowie knew he was dying; he was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago, and Blackstar is heavy with portents that were written in by a man with his final words on his mind. It’s funny that people latched on so heavily to the tale that Bowie told his bandleader, Donny McCaslin, that “Blackstar” was about ISIS when it’s now so very obvious that it’s about the man himself. Bowie was always one to play with his audience as much as he was one to play for his audience, and the misdirection here makes for a great final joke upon his audience, hidden within a wall-to-wall brilliant final statement. That he was able to complete this final statement, release it, and watch the accolades roll in for a couple of days before dying only cements his legend. Bowie was larger than life, and even his death was a brilliant piece of theatre.
The ending of life is complicated. In a physical sense, David Bowie is dead. His body has ceased to function, his brain has shut down, the process of rot and decay have begun. However, in a more esoteric sense, we live not only in our physical space but also in the memories of those who we’ve touched. We don’t truly die until our name is spoken for the last time, or until the last person who remembers us passes on. In this sense, it can be said that David Bowie will live forever.
3 thoughts on “Goodnight David Bowie, 1947-2016”
I keep re-reading this piece, and the other one you recently published that focuses more on the music itself. Both are apt and lovely. I think it’s important to honor the trickster, as you did. Before seeing the written lyrics of ★, while taking in the video, I was convinced that he was singing, “in the villa of Amun, stands a solitary candle”, and I was completely ‘blown away’ by the beauty of this. The image of the ancient god of wind having a candle in his home completely floored me. Just imagine… if he ever arrives in his own home, the candle’s flame will be blown out. What a poignant and wild way to address mortality! When I searched for the written words, and discovered the actual written lyrics (Ormen, not Amun), I started to wonder if this too was one of his tricks, or if it was just chance. I have a habit of dreaming a few too many layers of symbolism onto everything, but after reading your article again, I still wonder. Could he have left that ambiguity as a way of creating yet another field of divergent possibilities? Riffing on the idea that sound and the sound of words are the waves, and the written words are like particles…. placing him somewhere through and between those positions, succeeding where Whitman’s Sleepers failed, and re-insuring his immortality, by building his message into all of the in-betweens…. Even if I’m completely wrong, I’d like to imagine he gave us that trick as part of his final message….
I thought it was Amun at first too! I didn’t have the same lovely internal image you did (I’m creatively appropriating that at some point) but I thought that he was rooting into the beginnings of organized human religion to conjure up an image of the cycle of the death and rebirth of the creative spark inherent in humanity. Hell, maybe he was and you’re right about him having layered in who knows how much meaning into what was obviously his final thoughts on the world. Apparently Ormen has a reference in Norse history about a pagan king who violently rejected Christianity in the 8th Century, so…as usual the interpretation is up to the observer, much as it always is.
Oh, I love your reading of it, too! Who knows, if BOTH of us heard it that way, the odds are better that it might have been intentionally encompassing. If by appropriating the image, you means writing a new book, then yes please! I might do a painting about it, so as long as you don’t mind us riffing on a related theme, go for it! Can’t wait to read your next novel. Let me know if you want an editor/ proof reader…. (anything to get my eyes on it more quickly).