When my dad died I was 7 and my brother was 12. I never appreciated Dad’s taste in the rat-pack until much later (sorry dad, but Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett are still better than Frank Sinatra). It was our uncle that got us into Bowie, Beatles and Led Zep, and started off my musical journey. I remember a teacher in junior school trying to teach us about classical music had put in the wrong tape, so instead of Mozart we got Queen featuring David Bowie, leading to a chorus of “PRESSURE! Pushing down on me!” I remember being 18, in sixth form and my English Language teacher, Miss Newman telling me I should listen to Lodger, introducing me to Bowie’s Berlin period. I remember being 31 and singing Under Pressure as both Bowie and Freddie, in a manic duet with myself and being given a whiskey to shut up. Fast forward to Monday 11th January 2016 – I’m picking up the keys for the house today and moving out with a housemate and my mum’s shouting up to me to tell me that David Bowie’s dead.
The title track Blackstar is replete with funereal imagery, of kneeling in execution on a stage before a crowd becoming a spirit in death, a blackhole, a figure of nothingness, a void, refuting previous identities “I’m not a filmstar...I’m a blackstar/...I’m not a popstar...I’m a blackstar.” Bowie is redefining his own identity, casting off previous identities and accepting his death. If Space Oddity was Bowie facing God in space and realising we’re all small parts of the universe, and Ashes to Ashes was the come down from this realisation, then Blackstar is about transcending it and becoming one with the stars. Lazarus is about Bowie in heaven reflecting on his life, dropping his mobile phone in an accidental shrugging off of material things and being free like a bluebird. Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) is reminiscent of one of Bowie’s heroes Scott Walker, filled with acid jazz and reminiscent of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy of albums and concentrates, at least on the surface, on the failure of a marriage, about a lovechild, an affair and a departure. Although, equally the man that Sue runs off with could be death himself, alluding to Sue committing suicide as the result of a miscarriage.
Blackstar was Bowie’s parting gift to us – his death, much like his life was a carefully controlled message. It’s so hard to put into words what we have lost here, what music has lost. Bowie became a language we could all speak – a common tongue even in the most foreign land.
Monthly music columnist for the Kirkby Extra, sometimes article writer for Get Into This. Freelance writer/artist/maker.