David Bowie’s death shocked and saddened the world. A friend of mine in Vienna was at a coffee shop on the day Bowie’s death was announced. The guy behind my friend in line asked if the shop accepted credit cards. They didn’t, and he didn’t have enough to pay for his coffee. The barista told the guy, “It’s okay. Pay next time. David Bowie died today.”
Bowie left us with one final record, the magnificent Blackstar. It’s difficult to listen to it now without putting one’s own psychoanalysis on its lyrics and tone, but you can’t avoid the multiple tips of the hat to family, friends, fans, and the Grim Reaper.
The opening title track is nearly ten minutes long. Not many artists could get away with such a bold move, but Bowie does it like a walk in the park. It’s layered with electronic drumbeats, echoed vocals, and acid jazz saxophone that I’m guessing he loved (being a saxophonist himself). The lyrics speak of “a solitary candle” and “the day of execution” before changing gears halfway through to sing of someone taking his place in the spotlight. “I can’t answer why, just go with me. I’m going to take you home,” he sings. My favorite lyric is “You’re a flash in the pan. I’m the great I Am.” I take that as Bowie chuckling at his own mortality and creator.
Bowie, Creator love him, didn’t want the whole record to be doom and gloom, so he made “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” the second track. It’s a cool rocker with squealing saxophones all over it and a bass line that sounds left over from the Let’s Dance album.
The first line in “Lazarus” is “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” – so I wouldn’t worry about David Bowie being afraid of death. He sings, “I’ll be free.” multiple times. I swear it’s a lost Morphine track. It has reverbed saxophone and groovy bass throughout it, with the guitar mostly used to jolting effect while a jazz drummer plays for a stadium instead of a smoky nightclub.
“Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)” is practically the plot of an action thriller, with its lyrics of business deals, medical test results, dark intentions, hasty travel, questioned motives, love, and murder. It moves as fast as a chase scene. His band must’ve had a blast playing it.
“Girl Loves Me” is weird, but that’s means it’s great. I’m not sure it’s a love song. Some of the lyrics are almost rapped. Luscious strings dance around tick-tock drumming and a bass riff that would make John Carpenter jealous. It’s easy to be sad during “Dollar Days” as Bowie sings, “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me. It’s nothing to see.” The song is too lush and grand to keep you blue for too long, however.
The last track is “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” To say it is a beautiful send-off for the Starman is an understatement. The drums in it are upbeat while Bowie sings of final messages and legacies.
We might not see someone like David Bowie for generations. He might not have given everything, but he gave more than most of us can dream of giving others. He gave one of the greatest gifts any of us can give – inspiration – and he gave us this final, excellent record before he went back to Mars.