Blackstar ★: The Final Album of David Bowie
Blackstar ★; The Final Album of David Bowie
David Bowie‘s performances have given him a legendary status within the music industry. Up until his death in 2016, Bowie blended gender lines through his multiple characters and interpretations. Two days before his death, Bowie released an album named Blackstar. It is known that Bowie wrote this album with knowledge of his eventual death from his extensive battle battle with liver cancer. This is made apparent through the nature of his songs and the imagery that accompanies them, leaving the leftover piece to be a combination of exhilarating and depressing.
Before traveling into Bowie’s final piece of art, one must analyze the vinyl and art that accompanies the album. The first thing many people noticed when they bought the vinyl was the peculiar images that reflected off of it when it was exposed to light. On one side, the album creates a bird in flight, on the other side, a spaceship. Many have analyzed this by alluding to the eventual death of Bowie, depicting images of objects in flight— which symbolizes freedom in Bowie’s critical state. Another hint towards Bowie’s death came in the form of the design of the album. The font of the run times on the back of the album is in a font called Terminal — referring to his terminal condition.
The first song in the album is “Blackstar.” While many have connected the name with the cancer lesion, it may be more significant to the ‘Starman’ aspect of Bowie’s career. The word blackstar refers to the transitional state between a collapsed star and a singularity, which makes sense in Bowie’s case if he believes that he is the collapsed star and the ‘singularity’ is the state he will enter after his death. David Bowie sings this song as a star that had seen most of what the universe had to offer, the good and the bad, and was ready to move to the next stage.
Though he presents a sort of inclination towards the next stage of his life, Bowie contradicts this with his next song in which he says, “hold your mad hands, I cried,” possibly referring to the passage of time. His lyrics are accompanied with a familiar, yet deeply discomforting, big band. The combination of the voice, which sounds as though filled with experience, and the band, which sounds strange, provide a nostalgic sound for this Bowie track. However this song is more about the passage of time, it hides a very personal side of it in its lyrics. Bowie calls out to a woman, talking about how she had punched him, taken his purse, etc. Bowie is talking about the very touchy subject of domestic abuse. The ‘war’ he speaks about is the war within a family, or the war between a husband and wife. This would contribute to the experience in his voice. This along with the sadness in his mind increase as he moves into his next song.
The song “Lazarus” makes it apparent that this is truly the last album Bowie will release. His video shows himself tied down in a hospital bed with his eyes covered by a towel that has buttons sewn in to represent eyes. As he sings the first lyrics, “look up here I’m in heaven,” he conveys to the reader his sadness that he has died and reached his next life. He tells his audience that he has scars that he hasn’t shown anyone, drama no one can know. Bowie says this lyric because even though he is famous, he still kept his condition relatively secret to his fans. He then changes his demeanor when he says, ‘look up here, I’m in danger.” He begins to call out to people, but he “dropped his cell phone down below.” This refers to the Bible passage on Lazarus because he’s calling out to be resurrected. While he may be sad, Bowie accompanies the next verse with his stereotypical dancing, blurring gender lines. This represents a change in demeanor, in which he says, “you know I’ll be free, just like that bluebird.” The bluebird mention is usually associated with joy and happiness, being utilized in many things like the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film, or the White Cliffs of Dover. This change in demeanor shows Bowie dropping the idea of resurrection and facing death with dignity.
As the next song — “Sue” — begins, Bowie feels very helpless as he watches his life race towards its end. He’s unable to do anything but talk to Sue. Bowie talks to Sue about what’s happening in his life, saying that he’ll buy the house, that she needs to rest, and most importantly that the clinic called. He says that the x-ray is fine, but he is still paranoid. This could refer to the constant struggle Bowie may have had with believing what doctors said when it came to his own terminal condition. As he reflects on this paranoia regarding his terminal illness, one suspects he slightly turns to insanity regarding the lyrics of his next song. Bowie begins singing, but no one knows what the words he’s singing means. The song contains phrases like, “Devotchka want ya goloss, Spatchka want the Russian.” While many have tried to understand the lyrics in this song, the lyrics truly don’t matter. Similarly to the Clockwork Orange, the lyrics convey sad, yet amorous feelings. One does not need to understand the meaning to feel the feeling. Bowie’s reflection on his own life reflects this type of feeling, especially being the recipient of news on his terminal condition. There is so much confusion, yet so much sadness. Bowie doesn’t understand the meaning, yet he feels the feeling.
Bowie continues his reflection on life with his next song “Dollar Days.” Bowie begins the song talking about ‘cash girls’ and how he doesn’t have many enemies, relating to his blurring of gender lines throughout his whole life. He continues to blur his gender lines and finishes the song singing “I’m trying to, I’m dying to.” Bowie understands when he vocalizes his ideas, his audience will consume those ideas and spread them. He wants to spread the message that he has vocalized his entire life. He finishes this song and continues onto his last words. His last song.
As Bowie finishes this album, he makes apparent the purpose and meaning of Blackstar; to reflect on life and death and accept death. Bowie seems himself as perfectly capable to issue this message because of his current state of coming to terms with the disease that will kill him soon after the release of this album. Bowie bids farewell to the world. Listeners to this song can practically see and feel Bowie’s soul rising to space, perfecting his role as Starman. As a true performer, Bowie plans for his death and tells his fans that he has nothing else to say, he can’t give everything away. He also conveys to his audience that there’s no need to worry, for someone will take his place. Now we wait for the next visionary to take over the void that Bowie left.