Monday, 11 January 2016

The Man Who Stopped The World: Tribute to David Bowie. by James WF Roberts





The Man Who Stopped The World:
Tribute to David Bowie. 
by James WF Roberts 









I first listened to David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, on the night it came out on Friday 8th January, a few days before his sad and untimely death, and the first thing that struck me before knowing anything about his illness or what would eventually happen, was the darkness, the melancholy, the questioning of life and society, that Bowie was always famous for, but there was something else that I thought was remarkable, about this album Blackstar—Bowie had re-invented himself one last time. 





Listening to the album all the way through you don’t get a sense of urgency to finish things off, but there’s almost call to arms, to rally against the approaching night. 




Bowie was the quintessential artist of my time and my parent’s time, so much of his identity, art and celebrity has shaped the way we create art, music, music videos and how we see ourselves within our sexuality and our own sexual-identity.





Since the 1970s so many people growing up confused, disenfranchised and alienated from their background, their oeuvre have turned to Bowie, not so much as a leader of any particular movement or socially aware ideal—but the role he has given to so much of us was that of a bridge—you don’t feel as ostracised or that strange, if David Bowie can be like that why can’t I? if David Bowie is that out-there what’s wrong with what I am…’ I know many people in the GLBTIQF, visual and performance and literary arts that have openly acknowledged that they wouldn’t be the way they were if it wasn’t for Bowie.

What Bowie also showed to many of us, that you didn’t need to chase celebrity, to chase fame to be constantly relevant as an artist.  It is no secret I am a huge Freddie Mercury fan and ergo David Bowie, The Beatles etc; but I am seriously wondering in my age group, I am 33 years old, and for those in the younger age brackets what cultural and artistic heroes and/or icons do we have in our age? Bono? Lady Gaga…Justin Beiber? I doubt it.


The video for the Blackstar single and album has been out for sometime now, with all of its Lovecraftian nightmare meets David Lynch, meets Anton Levay/William Blake visions of fallen angels, avant garde jazz-infused science fiction, dirty drums and bass, church organs, Gregorian chanting—just when you think you’ve got a handle on the whole LSD-mind-warped video there’s a hint of an old Black spiritual/bluesy ballad of mourning, grief and dare I say acceptance? Bowie in the video is doing his best Peter Capaldi/12th Doctor homage bandaged face with dots and buttons on his eyes, the old blind/mad soothsayer himself. 


This is a song about spirituality, saying goodbye, acceptance and transcendence; it’s all there in the name of the album and in the song itself, a black star is a gravitational object composed of matter. It is a theoretical alternative to the black hole concept. So if a black hole or a worm hole is gateway to new dimensions, is a Blackstar the end of all things?  Of course all of this is just my opinion of this album, but there are just so many clues that only the enigmatic Bowie would deliberately hide in plain-sight that were so overlooked in all of the other pre-reviews and actual reviews of the album.


The song was originally conceived when John Renck asked Bowie to compose the theme music for The Last Panthers, a crime show he was directing. An edited version of the song was released for that purpose, before the single version was officially released in full on the 20th of November 2015. It was accompanied by a music video, full of bizarre imagery, directed by Renck.

Critical reaction to the video was mixed. It was praised by Pitchfork as an “intensely creepy” video that “begins in space and gets crazy”; the Daily Telegraph compared it to “HP Lovecraft by way of David Lynch”. However, whilst The Guardian liked the surrealism initially, film critic Andrew Pulver concluded that it was “a straightforward example of a surreal dream-logic film that tries to sustain itself a bit too long.”



The reaction to the song itself was firmly positive. Mojo described the song’s blend of rock and jazz influences as “exciting and adventurous”, whilst Alexis Petridis of The Guardian described how it “carries the listener along with it as it conjures up an atmosphere of mounting dread”.

Saxophonist on the album Donny McCaslin has claimed that the song was written about ISIS.

Of course I couldn't help myself but get out all my old gnostic and mythological and symbol books floating around my office/bedroom, because I have to know what somethings may actually mean in the song.

Is this Bowie coming completely full-circle and finally laying to rest Major Tom at the beginning of the video?  I am not going to go too far into my interpretation because I could be wrong and this only a guess from me, at best anyway.


“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
Your eyes…”

Of course ‘your eyes’ could easily mean the third eye, the spirit eye or the eye of G-d.
 Ormen is the Serpent in Old Norse; Kundalini is the golden serpent of enlightenment which ascends the spinal column Tree of Life. Throughout the video there are depictions of alchemical transitions,  Major Tom’s skull as a sacred relic, scarecrows being crucified. A solitary candle is a no brainer, really, a symbol of finding your way from death to paradise, like a funereal pyre.  Then later the songs goes, “on the day of execution, only women kneel and smile”—all of the disciples except John fled when Christ was executed at Golgotha. And only the women were at the tomb, kneeling and praying, watching as the rock moved from the entrance of the tomb. 

But these are just some of the ideas that came rushing into my head after I listened to song over and over and over again.

Many people consider this to be Bowie's most experimental album in years, I happen to agree with this sentiment. For years Bowie's been know as the Icon-of-No-Fucks! And this is certainly visible in this album. 

Tis a pity she Was a Whore is based on the controversial 17th-century English play in which a man has sex with his sister and ends up stabbing her in the heart in the middle of a kiss. The twist, the Thin White Duke has put into his interpretation involves the first world war, a robbery and some very Bowie-esc gender-bending, the message is the same that we are a savage species and will resort to a language and culture of savagery when appropriate no matter where or when.
"Dollar Days" is strange type of confessional song, if you listen carefully enough to this pondering restless song, you can almost hear the backing track of Space Oddity, in fact I think a side by side listening of these two songs would be very interesting. It reminds you of wishing that the golden years, retirement were blissful with no feelings of inevitability or the shadow of death hanging around.  "I’m dying to push their backs against the grain and fool them all again and again," he sings, the words doubling as a mantra for the album and maybe Bowie’s career and life in general, but to me there’s a Dylan Thomas style, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight’

Of course the main standout on this album besides Blackstar is Lazarus, he’s parting gift to his fans. I am wondering a lot about this song whether or not he was thinking of his friend the late Freddie Mercury when writing this album. Freddie’s sad demise and harassment in the press as he was dying is legendry and I have seen many of the interviews and articles at the time with Bowie denying Freddie had AIDS when everyone knew he did. Bowie got to go out in his own way, with the ultimate dignity and class he always showed.


“Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now

Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose”  

From Lazarus by David Bowie (!947-2016).




 According to the Daily Telegraph, Blackstar was a very well planned and executed farewell by Bowie.  Tony Visconti, Bowie's long term producer, who worked with Bowie to complete his final album released a statement, saying as much, "it was deliberately created and timed as a 'parting gift' for his fans. 

There’s so much that can be said about this seven track album but it is not for me to say it all.
You need to buy this album. This is another genre-defining moment of Bowie and his last hurrah, and I can’t think of a better to go out than with a huge fucking bang!  

Bowie will be missed by everyone and I think I will leave the last line to Bowie himself: 

"I'm cold to this pig and pug show
I'm sittin' in the chestnut tree
Who the fuck's gonna mess with me?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/12092542/Bowies-last-album-was-parting-gift-for-fans-in-carefully-planned-finale.html



This is an extraordinary album and you need to buy the bloody thing 

To buy the album: 
 
https://itunes.apple.com/au/album/blackstar/id1059043043


 http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B017VORJK6/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=B017VORJK6&linkCode=as2&tag=telegraphcouk-21




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