David Bowie, “Blackstar,” and what it means to be immortal

Efrain Dorado @__efrain, Staff Writer

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When David Bowie first released “Blackstar,” the title track of his final album, back in November, it felt like a rebirth. The return to interstellar aesthetics and lyrics that feel like the ignition of a new era. Ziggy Stardust was setting back off into space in the form of Blackstar, his new messianic form that commands singularity in his theatrical voice. “Blackstar” was the start of something new, something greater within Bowie that was just beginning to emerge.

Now, 3 weeks into 2016, Bowie is no longer with us and “Blackstar” holds a different meaning. You get the sense that Bowie knew his last days on Earth were near and “Blackstar” is his last masterstroke in a life full of them. “Something happened on the day he died/ Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside/ Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried/ (I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar).” Bowie wanted to leave us all with one last fragment of a man who held the aura of a myth. “Blackstar” no longer feels like a rebirth of a man but rather the embodiment of his legacy. Whether it be Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke or The Man Who Fell to Earth, all are eras of a man who transcended human life while he walked among us. “Blackstar” instead is the continuation of that man, meant to bring his message and legacy to those not fortunate enough to experience the world with him in it.

The mark of truly masterful musicians is how they weave personal narratives with their records. Each album is a bullet point in their expansive careers, shedding a light onto their influences and personality at that time. Kanye West does this, Paul Simon does this, Joanna Newsom does this and Bob Dylan does this. But Bowie took it one step further–he embodied these eras in actual people.

Bowie crafted fully realized characters that personified his influences and interests and put himself in these characters. He created and adapted their own unique habits and caprices: Ziggy Stardust saw Bowie breaking down limitations of gender and sexuality within himself and society, long before they became regular topics; Aladdin Sane was a continuation of Ziggy but had the infamous lightning bolt draped across his face and saw Bowie exploring the duality of his mind on the brink of insanity; The Thin White Duke, which Bowie described as the persona furthest from himself, was a chiseled, emotionless and amoral Bowie that shined in his cabaret-style image but was battered by heavy-cocaine usage. Every single choice Bowie made was a grand event that defined his character even more deeply.

Now listening to “Blackstar” in full brings out a duality in its message. It’s almost frightening how the lyrics now represent Bowie’s final days up until he lost his battle with cancer. The song “Lazarus” is a blatant reference to the concept of death. Originally written for an off-Broadway production that would revisit Bowie’s Man Who Fell From Earth, it now stands as an artful final statement from Bowie. He parallels himself to the Biblical parable of Lazarus, who was resurrected by Jesus after having been dead for four days, which compliments the messianic imagery filtered throughout “Blackstar.” His statement narrows down onto the condensation of the human narrative, Bowie questioning if he does transcend it as he may have led on. As well as the religious and cosmic undertones, the concept of immortality is alluded to frequently in “Lazarus.” Bowie questions immortality and rebirth, realizing this may just be the end, yet hints that his intentions for himself go beyond the grave. “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.”

The entire record is now shadowed by his passing. It’s impossible to not see each dreary note or every heavily-delivered word as an intention, furthering Bowie into his esoteric existence. On the track, “Girl Loves Me,” Bowie gives off the feeling that this is all part of his plan, all of it, even down to the date. On “Girl Loves Me” Bowie repeatedly asks himself “Where the f–k did Monday go?” Bowie lost his 18-month struggle with cancer on a Sunday night. This may just be a matter of happenstance, but with Bowie it’s difficult to see it as such. Bowie never felt like he was entirely here on Earth, he always held the impression of a being one step ahead of everyone conceptually and spiritually.

Each time his passing crosses my mind, I wish it to become untrue. Every time I realize the world is now without him, I feel my heart sink. The world feels quieter now that he is no longer apart of it. Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney described this feeling perfectly, “It feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone.”

We always built Bowie up to be this ethereal figure. He represented a side of humanity that the rest of us could only dream of reaching, as if he was immortal. And in our hearts, I think some of us truly believed he was. Each and every day, you come across at least one person Bowie has changed in some way, and will forever, until the end of time, come across people affected by his passing. Bowie is now and forever one with the cosmos, never again will there be a human like him.

See you soon, Starman.

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David Bowie, “Blackstar,” and what it means to be immortal