I’ve never been deeply upset about a celebrity death. I don’t think I’m a monster or anything. I’ve felt it was a loss. A sad note in the millions of other sad stories filtering at us through the digital feeds we live in, nowadays. But nothing to cry over.
When Blackstar first came out I’d wondered why he suddenly released an album, and something seemed even more nebulous about Blackstar than his usual genuis blend of profound nonsense and profane sense. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
With the news that he had died, 3 days later, it all clicked.
I went back and re-watched the videos. Confirmed by several stories the next day, he had essentially used his death as the focus for an art project.
Classic fucking Bowie. No one could have pulled that off like him.
But it kept pulling at me. It was getting under my skin and I couldn’t really figure out why.
Usually when this kind of thing happens I’ll go the other way and immerse myself in it until I work out what’s got me under its spell. No sense hiding from emotions — they’ll just sneak into your dreams or bang around in the darkness. I listened to the album front to back several times.
I’m still not finished with this process, which is why this is just a quick, haphazard post. But it’s what I’ve got, and I wanted to type it up before it grows stale. Mea culpa, this isn’t edited.
So, like. Why am I fighting back tears every time I watch Lazarus?
It’s got nothing to do with losing him as a person — that pain is reserved for family and friends — and not even that much about his art, although I have respect for it and some of his albums are amongst my favorites. We will have much more Bowie to enjoy into the future than he will, now.
But it’s got everything to do with recognizing that even when you succeed at creating a living myth, the person behind it will be forgotten. Even while alive, the more a myth grows, the more it eclipses that person. But when you die, that myth is finally freed from the shackles of blood shit and bone.
And there’s another side to it too — that the living person is finally free of the oppressive obsession that drives the creative process. To no longer be driven mad by thoughts and need for the mana of a roaring crowd, that’s really freedom. Some seek it by throwing a career away, but there is no true silence until life itself is silent — until we can get out of our own way.
A lot of this has been on my mind already.
The first script of the Tales From When I Had A Face graphic novels (“The Summer Tree”), gives us a story-within-a-story view of a distant future, where Lilith from Party At The World’s End has used the rock star thing to be turned into a living God in the mind of the public. Civilization crumbles but her myth lives on for the people of New Babylon. Now she slumbers in the underworld, a “black hole waiting in the heart of a Sun.” The Summer tree grows from her unmarked coffin.
This is all recounted by Ayta’s Gran, a Shaman who claims to have been to the second world in the future. There’s a lot in there also about how our stories outlive us and how in fact what we are is much more fundamentally a story. A multi-faceted one told by as many people as we touch, through our creations or our lives.
This is where being an artist has always been a little strange. Or perhaps why you have to be a little strange to be an artist.
I’m not sure just how much the drive to create art publicly really comes down to actually changing the world for the better, as it is about being remembered and recognized as significant. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of an artist’s compulsive need for attention. It’s just in a very specific way: artists generally don’t care so much for being human, or right now — we want to become an immortal idea. And we’ll beat ourselves bloody against the cage bars of our prison body to get it. I’ve probably accelerated the process of my spine degenerating by all the hours spent in the chair. But you can’t let that stop you. There’s only so much time.
Yet at the end of all that, what do you get? The same as anyone else: a coffin. Is the myth freed of the frailty of the body, or are we freed of the incessant demands of our daemon? I guess that’s unclear. Whether you succeed or not, the price is always the same. And you’ll never really know what publicly shared myth will replace you, or how long that double will live on. Throughout his career, Bowie has played with masks. And they are what’s left behind.
Anyway. This might be why Bowie’s death is bothering me.
Or maybe I just liked that thing he did with his tongue.
On the day of execution, on the day of execution
Only women kneel and smile, ah-ah, ah-ah
At the centre of it all, at the centre of it all
Your eyes, your eyes
In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen
Stands a solitary candle, ah-ah, ah-ah
In the centre of it all, in the centre of it all
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, I’m a blackstar)
How many times does an angel fall?
How many people lie instead of talking tall?
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd:
I’m a blackstar.