Look up here, I’m in heaven
With the benefit of hindsight, David Bowie’s last release before his death, Lazarus, contains obvious lyrical giveaways as to the master chameleon’s imminent, final transition. Certainly the video leaves little to the imagination. It’s awful, heart wrenching stuff. I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch it again.
Yet when the news broke yesterday evening (AEST), the shock was universal but for those in Bowie’s inner sanctum. It was 10 minutes into the ABC’s 7pm news report before we saw a hastily cobbled eulogy. Similarly, online news services were caught on the hop.
That Bowie’s dignity and privacy remained intact until the very end said much about the respect he commanded. Behind the flamboyant front, Bowie was the English gentleman, well beyond boorish behaviour or outrageous statements that some artists feel compelled to concoct for relevance sake.
His death was no different from his life – a work of Art.
– Producer Tony Visconti
Something about Bowie’s death is particularly affecting. Firstly there is the shock, notwithstanding few really saw the frail shadow of a man who attended the premiere of Lazarus (the stage musical) in December. Nor had I viewed the astonishing Blackstar video released around the same time. More than anything though was how he fought his inevitable end in such pain but at the same time with such dignity, determination and brilliance.
As many have commented, Bowie transcended time and space, projecting a sense of immortality. Sadly it was we, his fans, that were projecting. Almost anything was possible for Bowie. Almost.
All of my life I tried so hard
Doing the best with what I had
Something about me stood apart
Imagining a world without David Bowie entails imagining a world without literally hundreds of tremendous artists he influenced and inspired. And that in itself was a whopping gift beyond his own incomparable output.
Bowie set the template for artistic longevity. Yet unlike others who followed the road map he rarely lost his way. Underneath the styling was a brilliant capacity for music. The riffs, the hooks, the melodies and the obscure lyrics inspired by the universe have stood the test of time. For good measure Bowie could play almost any instrument, seriously act, paint and humour.
Appropriately, Bowie took his surname from a type of knife for he always had cut-through. Just as Bowie’s contemporaries caught up he’d already moved on and left them in his wake.
If the Beatles were music’s Bradman then Bowie was Tendulker.
Twenty-seven studio albums, 9 live albums, 46 compilation albums, 111 singles (5 UK number ones), 51 music videos and 3 soundtracks.
Weight of numbers tell a story, but not the journey. Notwithstanding, 130 million record sales undersells his impact.
In a career that was characterised by several gap years, and latterly a gap decade, Bowie enjoyed some stunning creative spurts. Such as writing, producing and releasing Low, Heroes and (with Iggy Pop) The Idiot and Lust For Life in just 12 months.
Judging today’s artists by those standards is somewhat unfair – Bowie went down so many music avenues and spawned so many imitators, there’s precious little new ground left for others to claim their own.
Do you remember a guy that’s been
In such an early song
I’ve heard a rumour from Ground Control
Oh no, don’t say it’s true
Like a great percentage of his fans, David Bowie’s career predates this blogger. My first encounter with David Bowie was Ashes to Ashes. As a young child the song and accompanying video blew my mind. Still does. Notwithstanding I had no clue of the lyrical subtext. Unlike critics lucky enough to remember his famed 70’s output as it was rapturously received, I also took a lot from Bowie’s less feted, later recordings such as Absolute Beginners, Black Tie White Noise, Jump They Say, The Hearts Filthy Lesson, I Have Not Been to Oxford Town, Thursday’s Child, Never Get Old and New Killer Star. More recently, from The Next Day, I’d Rather be High is another Bowie gem by my reckoning, on an album as strong as any in the back catalogue.
‘Genius’ and ‘legend’ are terms bandied about all too readily these days where fame and celebrity is the end goal rather than a by-product of an outstanding body of work. There’s not much about David Bowie that hasn’t already been said far more insightfully than by myself. To illustrate, I’ll conclude by quoting one eloquent twitterer;
‘Dear planet Bowie, please send another one’.
Rest in Peace Ziggy.
A farewell epic – the dark, mesmerizing Blackstar.