In hindsight, something really did happen on the day he died didn’t it? How much has the world changed since the January 10th 2016? I’m not pretending he had special powers. That he kept the darkness at bay through the power of song. That he was indeed the Starman sent down to warn us and show us our potential. I’m not saying that, you are.
Blackstar is a powerful record. Loaded with weighty portent as only a rock and roll meets funeral jazz album could be when the musical icon who is recording it knows he is dying. That he will barely see it’s release. That his days are so short that it’s a race to complete. It’s hymnal in places. Especially at the start of this track. It resembles something monks in certain cloistered isolation would echo around stone walls while living out their vow of penitence.
The exquisite instrumentation that accompanies the opening lyrics about ‘solitary candles’ and ‘the center of it all’ is a mix of film score orchestration, breakbeat drums and lonely saxophone. It is a monolith of heartbroken musicality. Zavid of course synonymous with the sax when he’s swinging, (only) dancing and turning to the left is signing off with a final parp in a great suit and as a ghost at his own funeral.
Four minutes into this deep blue emotion the song collapses in on itself. The drums falter and low moans are washed away by celestial organs. He’s back. Look up there. He’s in… We’re in heaven.
“Something happened on the day he died, Spirit rose a meter and stepped aside. Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried I’m a Blackstar”
There’s a rhythm returned to us. A slower swagger but it’s still an echo of Let’s Dance. If the hairs on your limbs and neck aren’t swaying at their extremities right now you’re not listening close enough. You should. These are useful instructions.
“How many times does an angel fall? How many people lie instead of talking tall? He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd, I’m a Blackstar”
He’s still got it. Even in death. As David Bowie slipped behind the veil he left us just the guide book we needed to process our grief. About him going, about us staying. About the mortality of the ones we love, about the inhumanity we’re left to make sense of.
It’s a common school of thought that a family pet is a good primer to teach a child about life and death and processing loss. So you love them and cuddle them and clean up their mess for the few blessed years you share. Then when they leave us, their parting gift is a teachable moment. Rock Stars can serve a similar purpose. Now I’m not suggesting David Bowie is the equivalent of the class hamster. You are.
Losing The Thin White Duke, The Purple One and Lemmy in the same few weeks was an axis of defeat and loss to anyone tied to a particular era of music. Like bigger world events before and after the rotten hand dealt at the end of 2015 start of 2016 it seemed like the comfy cosy era of TV and MTV was in a fire sale. Cleaning house to make way for the dystopia on the horizon. Much less than six months after Ian Kilminster both Bowie and Prince were gone. The late 20th Century was ancient history.
“I can’t answer why, just go with me, I’m-a take you home, take your passport and shoes and your sedatives, boo! You’re a flash in the pan, I’m the great I am, I’m a blackstar”
People keep telling me things like We are the same distance from 1980 now that the outbreak of the second world war was to 1980. “Quick Maffs” I know that. I can count. It shouldn’t hurt as much it does. But it does. We’re all going in the same direction. I’m fine with that. Lucky we got sent the guide book from a clever funny friend who has already been. They’ve highlighted the best bits for us so we have a good time when we get there.
“At the center of it all, Your eyes, your eyes”