Two years ago, on January 10, the “Duke” passed away calculating his definitive release (the moody ‘Blackstar’ album) and showing us his last coupe de theatre
A very intense sorrow was felt for the millions of fans mourning David Bowie. Two years ago it. January 10, was a evil disease that carried away the creator of ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Starman’ and ‘Ziggy Stardust’, and Bowie knew exactly the deal. He had discovered his illness months before, just after he came out with the surprise record (‘The Next Day’, his first album after a decade of silence) and just as began work on the idea for ‘Lazarus’ with Belgian director Ivo van Hove, a musical which would come out on the Off-Broadway circuit in December 2015.
«He was so ill recently that he couldn’t take part in person at rehearsals», said Von Hove, «but in one way or another he managed to collaborate with us right to the end.». A compulsive worker with a powerful work ethic where his art was concerned, something that shines through even in the last record of his career. ‘Blackstar’ (which should be written with a simple black star like this: ★), though a masterpiece of sorts, will come as no surprise except to those who have never really paid attention to the Thin White Duke.
With its mix of jazzy sounds, dark ambience and electronic artistry, ‘Blackstar’ (Bowie’s twenty-fifth offering) stands as an artistic legacy which readily brings to mind the famous Berlin trilogy from the late ’70s, (‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’), but also an eternally restless soul.
His music from the ’90s, for example, and the flirtation with black music that was ‘Black Tie White Noise’, the industrial gloom of ‘Outside’, the mongrel rhythms of ‘Earthling’ or the heartbreaking melancholy of ‘Hours…’ which in autumn 1999 brought that weary decade and controversial century to a close.
Fortunately, glam rock makes no appearance in ★, but that hardly comes as a surprise from a perfectionist who “assassinated” his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust way back on 3rd July 1973 during the final British tour date with the Spiders from Mars at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. The most surprising thing about the album however is something else. Something which has already received more than enough morbid attention from the gossip rags but which we have to remark upon again: its ruthless timing.
Bowie felt death inside him so keenly that he wanted to honour/celebrate it, not just with a record, but with a work of art. A black monolith. A serious work in progress begun in early 2015 (recording took a total of ninety days), kept secret for months.
So avant-jazz it could have appeared on ‘Station to Station’ in 1976 and was finally released on 9th January 2016 on the date of his last birthday. Two days earlier, ‘Lazarus’, the second single from ★, appeared on the web with a video where the singer – gaunt and frail as never before – bid farewell to his fans, making ironic and oblique comments on his fate (the first verse contains the lines: ‘Look up here, I’m in Heaven’).
His long time producer Tony Visconti had eloquent words which might as well be carved in stone: «David always did what he wanted to do, and he made Black Star as a parting gift to us. I knew for a year that this was the way it would. I wasn’t however prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.».
Bowie, always prepared to reinvent himself perhaps because a pathetic sixty-nine years is not enough time to truly appreciate everything. If his death has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot live forever (if Oasis will pardon us contradicting their ‘Live Forever’). And so we have to wake up and make the most of the time we’ve got. Starting today.
If you think about it: Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Ian Curtis, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain and Dimebag Darrell – for one reason or another, none of them died of old age, and so they can hardly be taken as examples. David, yes. And as long as he could, he drank deep of the cup of life, and used it to produce wonderful work. Like a real genius always do.