This is not a conventional obituary. You can find those all over the news today, so take your pick. I can’t write objectively where this subject is concerned, so bear with me.
As a journalist, I’ve written a fair share of obits over the years… but this past couple of weeks have been especially heartbreaking, as I’m sure they’ve been for you. We’re all still reeling from the loss of two amazing artists: the stately actor & writer Angus Scrimm, whom we lost on Saturday, and rock legend Lemmy Kilmister, who left us on December 28. I recommend you study their legacies and revel in their works as well; they were giants who once walked among us, a dying breed indeed.
But before turning out my lights last night for bed, I made the mistake of popping up my news feed for a minute or two. Those minutes became an eternity as headline after headline issued some variation on the same words: David Bowie had died of cancer, just two days after his 69th birthday, which he had marked with the release of yet another personal, genre-shaking album, BLACKSTAR.
I wanted so much for it to be a crass joke, or even an Andy Kaufman-like publicity stunt. I wanted to wake up this morning and see that Bowie had risen on the third day, initiating yet another of his seemingly endless cycle of stage personas — beginning with Ziggy Stardust, the charismatic spaceboy who fell to Earth to blow our minds. It would have been the ultimate in a series of re-inventions. But alas, the truth was he knew this was coming.
Though it came as a heart-rending shock to everyone, including many of his close friends and collaborators, Bowie may have known of his illness for a long time. When rumors circulated in 2013 that he was in poor health, he responded by releasing his first album in 10 years, The Next Day, and all was right again. But his final record, BLACKSTAR, contains pieces of a puzzle which only now we can begin to solve.
His latest single, “Lazarus,” comes with a surreal and melancholy music video which Bowie described as “a gift to his fans.” What he didn’t explain was that it was a parting gift, from an artist who knew his days on this planet were numbered. Tony Visconti, Bowie’s long-time friend, creative collaborator and co-producer on BLACKSTAR, confirmed that the album itself was intended to be Bowie’s final curtain, and that he began recording it shortly after receiving the cancer diagnosis.
“I knew for a year this was the way it would be,” Visconti posted on Facebook this morning. “I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”
Right now, tears may be all many of us have the strength to summon right now. I don’t even have that; all I feel right now is the hollow void that envelops the mind of those who suffer from chronic depression. It may color my words today, but it can’t obscure my love for this man’s world-changing music and profound creative spirit.
Even as horror fans, we have so many amazing memories of Bowie to open up and examine today. His relationship with the eerie and macabre dates back to his very first recordings, with the novelty song “Please Mr. Gravedigger,” continuing through the wickedly playful “Scary Monsters,” and finding full fruition in his acting career — including his starring roles as Newton in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH and Jareth the Goblin King in LABYRINTH, and a small but memorably chilling cameo in David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME.
But his genre film career reached its zenith with an unforgettable performance in Tony Scott’s 1983 THE HUNGER, yet another indelible persona, which resonated in much of his creative output to come. Its essence — and the soul of the film — is perfectly captured in a scene which became instantly carved into my memory: Bowie’s forlorn gaze toward Catherine Deneuve as his ageless vampire lover, both standing naked and vulnerable in the shower, as he softly intones the question “Forever? Forever and ever?” Those words continue to echo in my mind.
I’m not going to waste words recounting the man’s achievements, since you likely know them as well as I do, and they reach your heart in a way that’s as unique as your own life experiences. All I ask is that you take note of how closely David Bowie’s art has woven through it all. It’s not possible anymore to separate his work from who we are as human beings.
Maybe Bowie really did come from the stars to guide us. I’d like to believe that… maybe there’s hope in the idea of him returning home again. Maybe that means he accomplished his mission, and the seeds he planted will grow. We certainly need that — now more than ever.