‘Something happened on the day he died’ – lyrics from Blackstar, Bowie’s final opus.
Since the news broke this morning of David Bowie’s tragic passing two days after his 69th birthday, the phrase ‘broke the mould’ is being bandied about. To me, this implies that there was a precedent of sorts to be ‘broken’. But the thing is that David Bowie made a new mould. The ultimate innovator and creative genius didn’t follow in anyone’s shoes, he didn’t try to inhabit any other mould and then aspire to smash it. He made a new one. One that, over time, other people would try to meld into in order to be classed in his league. But they would always fail. There was only one.
His contribution to the arts via his pure unadulterated artistic talent was a new phenomenon. His fluid sexuality, showcased in that iconic Top of The Pops performance in 1972, where he draped his arm around his guitarist Mick Ronson and thus causing havoc in living rooms all over the place, but also awakening a new realisation of sexual openness.
His creative prowess led to collaborations with art, music, film and fashion and showed a man of huge intellect and intelligence. His was a questing mind – a post-modernist, surrealist mind. Never content to remain in any particular incarnation, be it Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust or The Thin White Duke, his was the pure creative mind that kept on pushing on, continuously bringing us a new, never seen before point of view.
Alter-egos aside, the man as himself was an intellectual, elegant gentleman who handled his immense fame with stylish grace. The last years of his life saw him somewhat retreat from visibility and his 2013 album release, The Next Day, was the first in a decade. Just four days ago, on the 8th of January, also his 69th birthday, he released Blackstar – his opus. His parting gift. Already receiving huge critical acclaim (and not just due to his passing), this feels like what we should be listening to today.
And when you do listen, the realisation creeps in that he is saying goodbye – it’s all becoming clearer as the hours pass by and we come to grips with the fact that the artist was fighting cancer for 18 months unbeknownst to the public. We can take the final song, I Can’t Give Everything Away as a poignant and beautiful farewell, knowing now what he knew. The lyrics from Lazarus read, ‘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…’
Yes, we all know him, revere him and know how honoured we were to witness his creations. And thus what loss we feel today.
“When he shall die take him and cut him out into little stars and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.” – Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet