Waking up to the news that David Bowie has died was a blow to the psyche I was not expecting today. This is especially true, as I had saved today to write the album review for Blackstar. It seemed like only yesterday that a new album was announced, and the play, and who knows what he had in store for the future. It was only three days ago that the album arrived, his 69th birthday, and it would be hard to listen to the album in any other terms now. Blackstar is David Bowie’s final album.
But I come not to bury him, but to praise him. Bowie’s full career was one of highs, and Blackstar is surely one of his great achievements. The album is loose, backed mostly by a jazz band, but it is also frenetic, and full of life. Lyrically, it seems to be an assessment of who Bowie was in his final days, as all recording would have been done in the 18th month period that he was known to have cancer.
The already released single “Sue (Or In A Season of Crime),” from 2014s compilation album Nothing Has Changed hinted at the possibility of death and illness: “The Clinic’s called/The X-rays fine,” or the even more explicit “Sue, the virgin on your stone/for your grave.” By the end of the song, Sue goes with a mysterious clown, who one can only guess is death.
The title track is elusive, but—with fear of more conjecture—it certainly seems like that solitary candle he references is the life force that he knew was going out. What is a Blackstar but a star that doesn’t shine anymore? He renounces all other titles in the tracks extended aside, but denies them all. He was a Blackstar.
Although it was written for the off-Broadway musical of the same name, “Lazarus” has connotations towards death that are unmistakable. Those familiar with the biblical figure, knows Lazarus is a man who cheated death with a miracle from Jesus, foreshadowing his own death and rebirth. Something is different here though.
Bowie’s Lazarus is closer in nature to Eliot’s Prufrock who compares himself to the reborn man: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,/Come Back to tell you all, I shall tell you all.” In the final line, Eliot’s Prufrock drowns (figuratively), reminding us all that there should not be two miracles. Bowie’s Lazarus greets us, already in heaven, only to go to New York.
The albums most pleading song is the closer, “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” “I know something is wrong,” he sings, repeating the title a few times as the chorus. Those are the words that close out David Bowie’s last album. “I can’t give everything away.” And yet, he tried so hard to give us everything.
Over his entire career, he gave so much away, each time as a different Bowie. Pop Bowie. Pyschedelic Bowie. Ziggy Bowie. Berlin Bowie. Thin White Duke Bowie. I’m Afraid of Americans Bowie. They were all mysterious men, and were sometimes aliens. He gave away every possible version of himself, all for us. Based on the outpouring of grief online I’m seeing, while Naseema plays Hunky Dory in the kitchen while I sit on the couch typing this, trying not to weep (mostly unsuccessful), it’s apparent that the entire world appreciated his many achievements. In Blackstar, he gave us his final self, Dying Bowie. I loved them all. We all did love them, not without cause.
The only thing left to do is to keep listening. The world now changed like that warm impermanent stream by the fact that we will never get to celebrate another Bowie release date. So we must keep listening. We must keep listening and say fuck you to the disease that took our hero away.
You can donate to American Association for Cancer Research in Bowie’s honor if you have a little extra in the bank.
Article: Christopher Gilson