Creation, Mortality, and Remembering David Bowie

ALL RIGHT DAMMIT let’s write through the feels.

Right now I’m listening to the album Blackstar on repeat, which I bought in my first record store visit in years, and which was one of only three copies left, because it’s a beautiful work by a beautiful person who left us yesterday after changing the world forever through his music and his existence.

David Bowie was my first crush, ‘Outside’ was the second album I ever bought (on cassette!), and I once spent an unforgettable year as the keyboardist and backup singer in a Bowie cover band. I’m sure we all have our own stories, because that’s what Bowie was – he was stories, he lived them and made them and wove them together and and piled them on top of each other, and the possibility he offered us, the possibility of story, was contagious. It infected all of us, generations of us daring to be heroes and rebels and kooks just by the intersection of his life with ours. 

Bowie knew he was dying. He knew Blackstar would be his last studio album, and he approached that daunting concept with dignity and power. There’s something profoundly right, to me, about the artistry behind the timing of the album – released on his 69th birthday, two days before his death. Yes, turning his own death into art is pure and perfect Bowie. Yes, this is how it should have been. This is the last performance of a man who lived and breathed performance, a man who was born to create.

The last song on his last album is titled ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, and of all the poignant grooves on Blackstar this is the one that let loose the waterworks I’d been holding back all day. Take the first line: “I know something is very wrong”. No kidding, David. And then the chorus repeats the words of the title, over and over, echoing what’s been a pillar of my own fear of dying for as long as I’ve been writing: One day, you will be gone, and you won’t be able to make anything more. 

For a creator, at least for me, knowing that death means you have to stop giving away the things in your mind is a heartbreaking and terrifying concept. Which is why the way this album was produced and released is nothing short of beautiful, to me. It’s beautiful that he got to do a final project that he knew was his final project, and to turn his adieu into one last act of creation. It’s never enough, you’re never ready to stop making things, but the best you can hope for is a raw and elegant way to tie it all up in a bow and say goodbye. 

The last word of the last track is “away”, but David Bowie is anything but. He has left us, and we mourn; but David Bowie jumpstarted a perpetual motion machine of stories, starting with his own and rippling out in exultation. He leaves with us a legacy of invention, which will keep inspiring people to make and dream and live creatively for generations to come. 

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

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