Today, the world is a darker place.
Today, the light which was David Robert Jones, AKA David Bowie, was forever extinguished. At the age of 69 he succumbed to an 18 month battle against cancer, and as his star finally went out, the night has turned black.
I am still processing this. Bowie has been my hero for forty years. I was psyched to buy the new album, Blackstar, which was released on his birthday just 48 hours ago. And then he died. And I, along with the rest of the world, got the real meaning behind this album.
It was his epitaph. He is the Blackstar. Knowing for 18 months that he was dying, he went into the studio to record this parting gift, and say farewell. On his terms, right to the end. Good on ya.
The entire album has only one voice: His. I would not be surprised to discover that he also played all the instruments. This was his final work, his Magnum Opus. Back to relying on only himself to come up with the goods, it is almost as though he went back to that bedroom this all started in, in Brixton, London, recording the Space Oddity demo. This music shows how far he came, yet returns to his roots at the same time. And of course, he nailed it, yet again.
I like to think that he knew his final journey was one he had to take alone, and he built that into the album. You can hear it in the voice as well as in the heartbreaking lyrics. No other voices. He planned, prepared and executed this project, knowing he had months left to live. It was his ‘Going out in style’ project, and one of his best works, the music really is fantastic. An amazing showman right to the end. Can you imagine the strength of character that must take? Respect.
I watched the video for the title track with new eyes. Here’s my take.
Bowie’s career took flight in 1969 with Space Oddity, and Major Tom was catapulted into existence. Ashes to Ashes came much later, and showed the ch-ch-changes Major Tom (and Mr. Bowie) had gone through along the way.
The Blackstar video neatly bookends the career and completes the journey of Major Tom as we see the skeletal astronaut lying dead on a barren planet under a black star. Major Tom found his final resting place, on the other side of the event horizon. He is taken to the ‘Villa of Amen’ (House of God, of course) where a solitary candle burns to mark the passing of this great being, with the diamond encrusted skull and eyes. His journey complete, he can be at rest. The celebrants dance as they mourn. As will we. Not a smile to be seen.
Bowie wears buttons on his eyes during the video. Placing buttons or pennies on the eyes of the dead is an ancient practice.
The middle eight? Soul searing. It’s as if he rolled back the Bowie voice to the 70’s. Simple, melodic, haunting. And it made me cry.
He knew he was dying. And yet he passes the torch to whoever fate and the whims of the music industry will make into the next star.
The song and video both trail into a discordant instrumental mix which seems at first unnecessary, almost filler, until it dawns on you… we are hearing this amazing man’s failing heartbeat, and we are there as he takes his last breath. If you have ever sat by a deathbed, you will know what I mean, And you will hear it in this song. It slides into. Silence. And you will sit there waiting for one more breath that you know deep inside will never come. Just another minute, please…
David is famously quoted as saying “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” Wherever you are now, David, it won’t be boring. For you. For us? This world is a darker place.
Man, I’m going to miss you.