I loved a lot of David Bowie songs throughout my life. His landmark albums from the early 70s were still a staple of the radio shows I recorded to cassettes from the mid 70s on. Glam anthems, way ahead to my ears then what became of it in the charts around that time. Glam outfits that were equally way ahead. David Bowie was already somewhere else, of course, anticipating the Disco phenomenon I would soon so love, with Philly’s finest. Then following that up with the Berlin trilogy that would inspire legions to create something great, and look great while doing it, too. Then, when I ran around in 60s clothes in my early 80s coastal smalltown youth, I discovered that he already had been there in the best way imaginable, and his early Pye singles were exactly the attitude and sound I was looking for. He was the definite face. He made no mistakes. He even descended to the kids he created with „Ashes To Ashes“, and he blessed them, as they worshipped him. He was a terrific actor on screen as well, making good use of his ever magnetic charisma and sexually confusing identities there, too. Whatever he did, you watched him very closely, else you could have missed out on crucial developments.
When „Let’s Dance“ was announced as being produced by Nile Rodgers, another inerrable hero of mine, I had the highest expectations, but then could not help feeling let down. There were moments, but not enough of them. And in the period of the mid 80s shortly after, pop’s most successful stars could earn a fortune without even the slightest vision (let alone sound), and David Bowie simply became one of them. As soon as he was dancing in the street with Mick I was just embarrassed. Even his outfits were embarrassing. I was really surprised that this could happen. Enter the years of hit and miss. For every glimpse of his former cool self resurfacing, „Absolute Beginners“ or „Hallo Spaceboy“ for example, he took decisions that were unforgiveably below his par, think Tin Machine, among others. Given, you cannot be visionary forever, however visionary you once were. And David Bowie was more constantly visionary than anybody else, for a long time. But the visions at one point were had by others. Not surprisingly he displayed a clever instinct for picking the right ones to utilize for his purposes, but still they were attached. I did not mind, he was performing the elder statesmanship with grace, and as so many artists were still working ideas he already had before, there was nothing left to prove, only if he wanted to. So screw the stock bonds. I sincerely felt happy for him and his family. He deserved it. Then he kind of disappeared.
When he reappeared in 2013, it felt like out of the blue. „Where Are We Now?“ was the first song of his in years I listened to repeatedly. It was beautiful and it felt good to have him back. I was slightly surprised by its sadness, but I thought it was quite a statement to base its sentiment about the most lauded creative period of your career. It challenges comparisons, and I was sure he was still creatively ambitious enough to try and deal with them, no matter what he achieved before. „The Next Day“ was a good album, too. He did not try to reinvent himself, he looked back on what he invented. I visited the Bowie exhibition that was doing the same in Berlin, just in time before it closed, and I enjoyed it very much. It all came back, rather predictably. His stage outfits on display proved he was a small man, but he surely did not have a small mind.
I did not expect that he would follow that retrospective phase so soon, if at all. And I absolutely did not expect that he would follow it up with an album like „Blackstar“. As before, David Bowie chose to remain silent, relying on producer Tony Visconti to reveal the news of its release. I read his trusted cohort doing that in an interview while travelling. He spoke of references like Kendrick Lamar, Death Grips and Boards Of Canada, and that rock and roll was to be avoided. David Bowie recruited a potent jazz quartet from a New York bar for the recordings. It was all rather promising. When I got asked to write these lines I initially wished I could have listened to the entire album when he was still alive, as I was already overwhelmed to the point of numbness by the reactions to his sudden demise. But when I then listened to it, it became obvious very quickly that he was fully aware that he would have passed away once the public would be fully exposed to it. And that it is pivotal to picture the dying artist for the whole experience. The songs are brilliant. Complex and dense, or just stunning, indeed avoiding rock and roll stereotypes, even if the jazz only adds to the picture instead of dominating it. The mood is intense, but it is not entirely dark. Thinking of the motivation behind this album, David Bowie sounds astonishingly swinging, his beloved voice delivering clever lyrics ranging between the horror of his own decay and the feeling of arriving there content, at ease with himself, with truths simultaneously personal and universal. The video to „Lazarus“ is frightening to watch, but comically absurd as well. The last photographs of him taken show him in a sharp suit, lauging. The way he orchestrated his own requiem is incredible, exactly as he wanted to, and as only he could. Being David Bowie, setting lasting examples yet again. Superior, even in death.