Artist, musician, actor, and fashion icon David Bowie turned 69 and came out with his new album “★,” on January 8, 2015. Two days later, he passed away.
A startling surprise to the public, Bowie’s death was due to an 18-month battle with cancer, speculated to be liver cancer which had originated from the lungs.
When I first listened to the lyrics of “★” when it came out, it was far from what I had expected: unusually dark compared to the colorful music I had come to know from Bowie, with haunting lyrics and a chilling sound. When I heard the news of his death one Monday morning, the album began to make sense, especially in the context of what he was going through.
The album begins with the song “Blackstar.” When I first listened to the song and watched the music video, I was, to say the least, a little disturbed.
It begins solemn and cold, with singing that sounds almost like a chant. In the video, Bowie is shown blindfolded with black stones for eyes. According to Rolling Stone, Bowie was playing a “doomed prophet.” Troubling words like “…on the day of execution, only women kneel and smile…” give me the creeps.
Then, halfway through the song, it is almost as if the sun comes up as the blindfold comes off. Bowie can be seen grinning as he sings, “Something happened on the day he died, spirit rose a meter and stepped aside, somebody else took his place and bravely cried.”
I believe Bowie wrote the song “Lazarus” about himself and his silent battle with cancer, as he says “I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” In the music video, he can be seen in a hospital bed with a dark figure lurking, which I interpreted as a physical representation of death. It comes out of a closet at the beginning of the video and at the end, David Bowie is pulled into it. Throughout the video, Bowie looks troubled, tortured even, as he says “Look up here man, I’m in danger, I’ve got nothing left to lose.”
In the last song, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” looming death seems almost obvious. It’s an uplifting song, but with reference to something tragic. Ominous lyrics say things like “I know something is very wrong,” and “The blackout’s hearts the flowered news, with skull designs upon my shoes.” I think Bowie felt he was dying, and told the world through devastating symbolic messages.
David Bowie was a legend, a huge influence on music and pop culture, and “★” was only a snapshot of all the music he gave us. As always, Bowie surprised us. This album was a great note to end on. I had originally wanted to review the album because I didn’t like it, but Bowie’s death gave me a new perspective. In a dark place, fighting cancer, I can see why he wrote such dark lyrics as these, but I’d rather remember him differently.
Instead of mourning the loss of such a powerful artist, I celebrate his great career, with songs like “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” and “Young Americans.” From co-writing “Fame,” with John Lennon, to performing “Little Drummer Boy,” with Bing Crosby, from performing “Under Pressure,” with Queen, to appearing in the cult classic movies such as Labyrinth, it is clear why David Bowie was loved.
He was loved because he was someone who dared to be different, a bold musician and a fearless artist who inspired many. He once said that his art was not just about his need to express, but his desire to contribute to culture. He did, and we won’t forget him. As the great David Bowie continues to remind us, “We can be heroes, just for one day.”