I have been obsessed with David Bowie’s music for many years, so any new release is an event. And since Friday, I’ve been absorbed in his latest album, Blackstar. As I played the album repeatedly over the weekend, I had started mentally writing an analysis that I planned to post here.
Then yesterday, the unthinkable news broke of David’s sudden passing.
My first few plays of Blackstar on Friday afternoon, left me asking a lot of questions, especially wondering whether tracks such as Lazarus, Dollar Days and I Can’t Give Everything Away were somehow autobiographical. David has rarely been so openly personal and emotional in his writing – on occasions you have to fight through layers of metaphor to see what lies at the core, but not so in this case. The songs are open and vulnerable. However at the time I had simply concluded that he was writing from his perspective of life at his age, with mortality an ever more poignant subject – and how devastatingly true this transpired to be.
Playing the new songs late into Sunday evening, they were still going round my head on Monday morning when I woke up to the news I’d foolishly hoped I’d never have to deal with.
I've known of David’s music from an early age, but it wasn't until I was in my teens and working out what music turned me on, that I found myself properly discovering David’s music after seeing the promo video for Jump (They Say). The album Black Tie White Noise had just been released, so that was my starting point.
That musical discovery took me on a very long and exciting journey, as over the years, I waded through Bowie’s back catalogue, exploring his various phases and incarnations. The release of the 1.Outside album in 1995 had a profound effect on me, and I still hail it as one of his greatest and most underrated works. Like much of his music, it still sounds ahead of its time today.
Seeing David perform live on the Outside tour was an incredible experience, as was seeing him again years later in 2003, on what became his final tour. Amazing concerts and memories I’ll forever cherish.
“Ain’t that just like me?” is one of many lyrics on Blackstar that have now become all the more significant. Indeed, only David could have you mesmerised and inspired by new music one day, and leave you heartbroken the next.
Ever private and always humble, Bowie clearly wanted to avoid letting on he was ill, and the inevitable media onslaught and sensationalism that would go with such an announcement. This was one dark secret he kept until the very end.
The fact that he wrote and recorded the whole album and worked on the Lazarus stage play whilst he was, unbeknown to us, battling cancer, is surely a testament to the man’s creativity, focus and willpower. He wanted to see both projects through to the end, and that he did, making his final, brief appearance on stage in early December at the premier of the Lazarus play, then holding on long enough to see his final album released on January 8th, his 69th Birthday.
Although the music on Backstar now speaks for itself, Jonathan Barnbrook’s cover design is no less profound, a star icon in stark black and white, and the only David Bowie album cover not to feature the artist in some form, nor his name (at least in conventional lettering). Through its simplicity, this cover stands out like a bright star among Bowie’s many iconic album covers, making its mark almost like a full-stop at the end.
When an artist goes before their time, their work often feels unfinished. Although David undeniably still had a lot more to give, he had carefully crafted what he knew would be his final album, a closing chapter to his incredible discography and musical legacy, reflected in the final moments of his video for Lazarus, which sees him playfully busting some of his 70s stage poses before walking backwards into a wardrobe and closing the door. Theatrical to the end.
Few artists have inspired me artistically and musically like David Bowie has. I have felt a connection to his music on so many levels, and it has been a true soundtrack to life, through both difficult and good times.
We have lost an icon and a legend, culturally and inspirationally. But while David’s black star will be shining bright somewhere up there, his music will live on forever here, with us. Even so, the world without David Bowie is a duller place.
We will celebrate all things Bowie by continuing to listen to his music and observe future generations discovering his five decades worth of artistic brilliance. David made it alright to be different; a reassurance to those of us who never quite fitted in. Nobody will ever replace him, nor be able innovate or challenge things the way he did. David Bowie was there at the right time and could only do all that he has achieved in this particular timeline.
To have been able to enjoy his music, to see him play live and simply to exist at the same time as David Bowie is a precious thing to behold.
Thank you, David.