Blackstar Shining

Last Thursday night at around 10:00 PM, I received an e-mail from iTunes telling me that my pre-order of David Bowie’s new Blackstar album was available for download.  Two of its seven songs had been previously released, and I had loved them both, so Marcia and I actually got in bed and listened to the whole album together in its entirely before going to sleep, something we’ve rarely done in our 28 years together.

The plaintive chorus that ends the album — “I can’t give everything away” — soared melodically, even as it haunted in terms of why the 69-year old star of stars was thinking in terms of bequests and transferals in the first place. We discussed those and Blackstar‘s other lyrics the next day, noting they were dark, imbued with strong images of mortality, alternatively raging against it or succumbing to its embrace. I noted that the album reminded of me Bowie’s classic Station to Station, a tight, seven-track disc with an epic opening title song, followed by oddly-framed, evocative pieces of no recognizable genre.

Katelin and I had then texted about the album over the weekend, which was pleasing since I often claim a particularly bright “Parenting Gold Star” in knowing that she has grown up to cite David Bowie as her favorite artist, loving many of the same albums that I do, with similar fervor. I was also pleased to realize that Marcia and I had seen Bowie’s keyboardist on the new album, Jason Lindner, in concert a couple of months ago as part of the Anat Cohen Quartet, where he was stellar. Lots of positive past and present connections, in other words, with lots of promise for the future.

So, like the rest of the world, I was utterly shocked and gutted to learn this morning that the great one had flown away, and that he’d been battling cancer throughout the entire creative process of this album.

Last night, the final piece of music I listened to (well, other than the Steven Universe theme song, which we watched right before bed) was “Lazarus” from Blackstar. The story of Lazarus is generally viewed as a positive one, of rebirth in this world, in anticipation of rebirth in the next. We were awed as a family when David Bowie emerged like that song’s subject from what seemed to be a creative crypt two years ago with the unexpected The Next Day, which I easily declared 2013’s Album of the Year. Many (me included) would have read the new song allegorically in terms of that recent creative rebirth — but now knowing what we know, it was something far more explicit, and the recently released “Lazarus” video now takes on a whole new meaning, on every level.

David Bowie was a brilliant artist, both musically and visually, and the final views we have of him (see also the “Blackstar” video) find him controlling and curating how he presented himself to his audiences with all of the care and creativity we’ve come to expect over the past half century. I don’t normally feel any real emotional sense of loss when people I don’t know personally pass on, but this one resonates deeply with me. David Bowie has been a part of my personal life and our family’s life in meaningful, inspirational ways, and what an awesome legacy he leaves behind for millions of other people who feel the same way.

We should all go with such grace and dignity and self-control. What a gift to see it done that way.

9 thoughts on “Blackstar Shining

  1. Thank you. A big loss to everyone who knew his music, I didn’t grow up with David Bowie but he grew on my as a grown-up. I’m grateful to have seem him perform in Brisbane about 10/12 years ago.

  2. Over the weekend, I was stuck in the St. Louis area on business, and happened to catch the documentary “David Bowie: Five Years” on TV in my hotel room. I had my laptop with me and for the next couple of days, I was listening to my large collection of Bowie albums and songs spanning from 1969 to 2013 (I’d planned to buy “Blackstar” when I returned home, instead of using the hotel’s wifi). Early yesterday morning, I listened to “The Next Day” in the dark as I drove to the airport ,and soon after, I learned the sad news from the television at my gate.
    I wanted to see what you would write about his passing, and I thank you for rising to the occasion. I was a fan of his when I met you at school, but it was mostly from the album “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” and some singles played on the radio in the 70’s. I’m pretty sure you introduced me to his “Berlin Trilogy”. I remember standing in the entrance to my room, without stepping into the hall, to first hear “Let’s Dance” from another room in Bancroft Hall. By the time “Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture” came out in 1983, I bought the cassette and my love for his music has grown every decade since. I remember first seeing a video for “Loving the Alien” in Spain in the summer of ’85. Sometime in the 80’s, “Stay” became one of my favorite songs, and later, “Look Back in Anger”. I remember calling “Don’t Let Down & Down” a perfect, pop song in California in ’93, listening to the “Outside” album over and over in Antarctica in ’95, and the “Heathen” album over and over after a harsh breakup in ’04, the same year I saw finally saw him, with Earl Slick, in concert, from the same tour that Mellie saw.
    Although I wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to my love of music, I try to avoid idol worship. Still, when I saw Bowie in concert, I felt that I was part of a collective outflowing of love from that audience. I can’t think of another example like that from the numerous shows I’ve seen before and since then.

    • I still have not seen “Five Years” yet, but very much have wanted and needed to . . . is it out commercially in the States?? (Off to investigate shortly!)

      I have lots of Bowie memories from Annapolis, too, including listening to and talking about him with you. “Let’s Dance” and all of its related singles are almost a soundtrack of that period for me (the only album that resonates as strongly for me was the Police’s “Synchronicity,” which we had on cassette while out at sea on Astral . . . listening to “King of Pain” on Walkman headphones on deck at night staring into the stars = memorable!) My girlfriend at the time (who you knew) was also big on that album, especially “Cat People,” so it was played nearly constantly for many trips down there on top of exposure in Annapolis.

      I also can’t stress enough how meaningful it has been to bond with my only child (soon to be 25!) over Bowie and his craft . . . she’s not usually publicly gushy about many things, so a short piece she wrote about how much his passing meant to her was quite touching to me, too.

      I flipped through his discography this morning trying to identify my favorite moments or Top Ten songs for a mix . . . it was hard to do, since first cut was about 30 songs, and even then I felt bad leaving some off. I’ll post the list here at some point . . . after I listen to it a bunch more!

      Thanks for thoughtful note . . . great to be reminded of some of those memories, and great to hear of other examples of how Bowie’s work touched you in the years after we went our separate ways.

      I wish I’d had the chance to feel that mass love in person as you and Mellie did!

  3. David Bowie was one of the best rock artists of all time. The sheer amount of diverse sounds in his discography and the profound impact he had on pop culture is absolutely awe-inspiring even to this day. He will certainly be missed.

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