Bowie’s death, just like the rest of his life, was a work of art.
via Flicker user (cc) Sosyo Kultor
The news of the unexpected passing of iconic musician and actor David Bowie, at 69, has shocked the world. Bowie kept his illness private, and his death came just two days after the release of his critically-acclaimed new album, Blackstar. The album was recorded during Bowie’s 18-month struggle with cancer and, given the singer’s history of being ahead of the curve, it’s impossible not to find hints of a final illness in his most recent work. According to a Billboard review published just three days before his death, Bowie used his 25th studio album to “serve up a veritable Grand Guignol of dread, death, even dismemberment.”
In hindsight, it appears that Bowie’s death, like the rest of his life, was a work of art. Bowie built a career out of keeping audiences guessing. Every few years he ch-ch-ch-changed his persona, looks, and musical style, challenging his audience and critics alike. “He always did what he wanted to do,” his longtime collaborator Tony Visconti wrote. “And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was not different from his life—a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift.”
Blackstar’s lead single, “Lazarus,” is named after the biblical character who rose from the dead and is narrated from beyond the grave. The song opens with the lyrics “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/ Look up here, man, I’m in danger!” It ends with a coda in which Bowie extols his newfound freedom, presumably achieved in death, “You know I’ll be free/ Just like that bluebird.” In the “Lazarus” video, Bowie’s eyes are covered by bandages as he sings the song from a hospital bed in terror. The video opens with him emerging from a dark closet. At the end of the video, he walks backward into the closet and closes the door.
The lyrics to the song “Blackstar” feel like a premonition as well.
Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a meter and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
I can’t answer why (I’m a blackstar)
Just go with me (I’m not a filmstar)
I’m-a take you home (I’m a blackstar)
Although his passing leaves a hole in the worlds of music, art, and film, his unflinching look at death and valiant exit is the masterstroke of a true artist. At a time when many in the public eye use the press and social media for exposure, Bowie’s biggest revelation came as it always had, through his art.