In His Final Performance, David Bowie Embraced Death

In His Final Performance, David Bowie Embraced Death January 11, 2016

David Bowie in the video for “Lazarus” (Fair use)

I woke up earlier than usual this morning, only to find that David Bowie died last night, just days after his 69th birthday.

I’m devastated. No other musician or pop star filled my life with such joy and mystery. “Legendary musician” doesn’t even begin to cover it. David Bowie was elemental, everchanging, and I assumed eternal. I took his presence on earth for granted, evidenced by my review of his latest album Blackstar, published just two days before he died.

The conclusion is mostly a refrain of maintaining mystery, but it could also be heard as a hint that Bowie still has characters to greet us and tricks up his sleeve, despite this latest death obsessed treatise. In the meantime, ★, amidst all its trappings, is a puzzle begging for examination, and a solidly unique work from an artist who is no stranger to breaking boundaries.

Well I got that half right. Blackstar is a “death obsessed treatise,” but precisely because he was preparing us for his departure. I think he had already accepted it. It was the rest of the world he was trying to prepare.

If you haven’t already, watch the video for “Lazarus,” also released mere days before he died. In it, a blindfolded Bowie (I’ve seen this character referred to as “the blind prophet,” though I don’t know where that comes from) lies in a bed, and occasionally levitates, while singing “Look up here, I’m in heaven/ I’ve got scars that can’t be seen/ I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen/Everybody knows me now.” Meanwhile, a menacing woman waves her hand ominously underneath the bed. Later, another Bowie, unblinded, dances in a uniquely Bowie fashion before sitting down, pen in hand, to scribble down some final message. He bites his nails before doing so, and darts his eyes around, wondering how to construct his final message. He finally goes for it, jotting it down furiously, writing off the paper and down the side of the desk. He stands, dances again, and retreats into the wardrobe behind him. The figure in the bed continues, “Oh I’ll be free/ Just like that bluebird/ Oh I’ll be free/ Ain’t that just like me.”

As it turns out, “Lazarus,” and Blackstar as a whole, was full of clues that this was Bowie’s final work. It has, naturally, completely altered my view of the record. As an album , it was brief, mysterious, and profound. But as a final act, a parting gift, it is so much more. David Bowie has taught us that embracing the unforgiving flow of time and death can be greeted with the same creative ingenuity as a new image. I’m not trying to be morbid or superficial, but that is the message of Blackstar; an artist whose career can be boiled down to a lifetime of work about change, has gone through his last transition, and he documented it through song and film.

Ain’t that just like him.

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