Please forgive the brevity of this post. I have a shoulder injury and typing is painful. But I wanted to say this: Of all the mind-expanding, culture-leading magic tricks David Bowie performed in a career of serial rebirths, his last one is his most audacious. Blackstar is a self-penned epitaph, a swan song, a gift and a requiem all rolled into one. It’s heartbreaking, but also, in its meticulous planning, secrecy and sudden, sad unveiling, brilliant. In making his death a performance piece and a work of art, Bowie left on his own terms. And in doing so, he left us with one final example of how to turn and face the ch-changes. His last work both honors and transcends death.”Look up here, I’m in heaven,” he sings on “Lazarus”; the Starman is still waiting in the sky, whenever we need him. Of course David Bowie is eternal. Did you expect anything less?
Every one of the songs below, though completely different in genre and execution, sounds like it could have been recorded today. At his restless, transformational best, David Bowie led pop music to places it might not have gone without him. He contained multitudes and we will never hear the end of him.
Here’s Bowie doing an amazing “Life on Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes” on The Tonight Show in 1980. Johnny Carson’s intro is remarkable. He got it.
“Young Americans” live on The Dick Cavett Show in 1974, Luther Vandross leading the backing singers. My favorite Bowie song.
“Starman,” 1972, Top of the Pops. Ziggy Forever.
“Suffragette City” live, 1973 (from the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars movie)
Acoustic “Heroes” from Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit, Mountain View, CA, 1996.
“I’ll be free/Just like that bluebird/Oh, I’ll be free/Ain’t that just like me?” “Lazarus”, from Blackstar.
“I never wave bye-bye.” The original “Modern Love” video that ruled MTV in 1983.
©Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2016