Blackstar, “Lazurus” and Bowie’s Swan Song

Passion of the Weiss takes the week to celebrate the life and mourn the death of David Bowie.
By    January 19, 2016


Thomas Johnson told Jesse Tuck not to drink from the spring.

Read all of POW’s David Bowie Tributes Here. 

Celebrity death in the Twitter age has become almost routine. This is the occasion that demands “almost.” Typically, rounds are done through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Respects are paid within the confines of 140 characters and a million emojis. A customary tide of sadness sweeps up, then slowly backs down. I don’t like it, but I recover quickly. Quicker with every passing it seems. Fittingly, David Bowie’s death felt different. The shock didn’t wash away clean, and its residue felt even worse: Guilt.

I didn’t—and still don’t, really—believe I’m qualified to feel as strongly about his death as I do. I identify myself as a fan, but what that actually means is hard to discern. I discovered Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke through obituaries. Tributes, some from this very site in the last few days, have introduced me to more of his music than I should care to admit. I took him for granted. Either naïve or cocky, I just assumed David Bowie was immortal. I assumed he really was this eternal astral entity that would always be around—that’s what common sense dictated.

The “Lazarus” of January 8th was a peculiar song. The crescendo it raised to felt even farther underground than the dank drums and guitar from which it began. It was dark and foreboding. Aching, and aching to be listened to. A far cry from “Changes,” or the, like, ten other songs of his I really knew. The video freaked me out. I played it absent mindedly, “the new David Bowie single,” through my laptops speakers as I barely paid attention. Whatever I thought to be more important at the time feels insignificant in retrospect.

Its true intention has been brought to light by a Facebook post from his family and a tweet from his son, but “Lazarus” remains an exercise in aching. The “Lazarus” of now barely resembles its former incarnation. It’s no longer being sung from New York. Rather, it’s being delivered from Heaven. It’s a eulogy, his eulogy, as only he could give. Unseen scars so clearly audible. Reassurances that there’s nothing left to lose, but it’s hard not to beg to differ. With a four-bar bridge, Bowie spews tales of his rock star lifestyle in New York. Of parties and drugs and girls and Mick Jagger and cocaine and money. But the pre-social media gloom dissipates, stripped away by the triumph in his delivery. At it’s most dingy, “Lazarus” builds from a simple guitar and drum pattern as a pair of fierce synths add to the epic. A torrential uproar of fusion. Jazz and rock. Puny Earth and the rest of the galaxy. Life and Death. Through it all, Bowie remains strong, and deservedly so.

A sly smile adorns his face, regardless of what has been going on behind it. This all depended on the news, not the cause. Unlike the titular character, Bowie won’t need to rise again; he completed his task the first time. Wisdom and wear still unable to overshadow mischievousness. There’s even a smugness present, and why not? His final trick paid off. He’s satisfied. Gently, humbly, and oh so powerfully. His first foray into music, a saxophone, closes his last song as a blissful wink. Bowie earned his freedom, and he took it on his own his terms. Of all the things he’s been in 69 years, it turns out David Bowie was a bluebird all along. It’s a beautiful departure, but a departure nonetheless. And departures of this magnitude are heartbreaking. No amount of poeticism or symbolism can change that.

Considering his stature as a galactic monolith centering culture, its no surprise how many modicums of his life are being said to best represent his passing. “Space Oddity, “Changes,” and “Heroes”. Low and Let’s Dance. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, obviously. Those records, some of which were forged more than twenty years before I was even a thing, couldn’t have foreseen what Bowie would become. Listening to them today, it’s incredible how they’ve aged: not at all. As Stardust, Bowie was vigorous, excited and energetic, even when he bursts into energy and the world ends. As everything else, he was wizened, frenetic, otherworldly. Fearless. But Bowie the man aged, as everyone does. He just did it better than most.

“Lazarus” is his greatest summation for me. It has to be. For a generation of would be, should be, fans, his goodbye kiss will be the greatest entry point to his mythos. The poetic irony wasn’t lost on him apparently, he even writes it all down in the morbid music video. Except it’s not morbid at all, it never was. That irony is what makes it so perfect. To his last song, Bowie was nobody but himself, every version of what that meant. Smooth, like the Duke. As wide-eyed as the Martian, blindfolded or not. Lying in a hospital bed, conscious of the impending, Bowie finished his orbit. Wise enough not to deny himself and impossible to cut short, he keeps scribbling ideas and manages to fit one last dance in. He looks aged, sure, but not tired. Never tired. As he retreats back into his cupboard and shuts the door, there’s no great burst of energy, no Light Beings to sap his life force. Only darkness. A comforting darkness, I imagine, when walked into proudly.

January 10th didn’t make any sense. It still doesn’t. No one lives forever, and I should know better than to think so. David Bowie won’t mean to me what he meant for so many, he couldn’t. I can’t conjure the loosest idea what it’s like to say farewell to such a familiar voice though I wish I could, truly. At the very least, now I’ll know how it felt when David Bowie shook the world. I realized this week when I heard him, when I really heard him, sing, “This way or no way, you know I’ll be free.”

I was hunched over my computer, and wracked with guilt when that pesky wave of sadness returned. Though when it swept away, this time, it left relief. “Lazarus” is a perfect microcosm of David Bowie’s life. His heyday was two decades before I was born. That I was present to experience his final victory, that it nearly shook me to tears, is something I won’t disregard. David Bowie may not have been immortal. But he will be eternal. Death is, after all, just another planet.

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