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Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Black Star Falling

     The  news hit us from out of the blue, unexpected like a shot from the dark.  He was gone - that male/female shape shifter who seemed to take different forms at will, as did his art.  He'd faded into the background in recent years.  I'd first become a fan in the "Stardust" years, even attending a concert around 1975 that featured a surrealistic Salvador Dali film called "Un Chien Andalou."  I still cringe thinking about that sliced eyeball.  But he lost me when he morphed into the Diamond Dogs character. I just wasn't into disco.
     His ambition and success took him many directions.  He'd parlayed his talent into acting, starring in the stage version of "The Elephant Man", and playing various elflike creatures in fantasy films.  His gaunt features and waiflike form especially suited him for those roles.  But we hadn't seen or heard from him in awhile in any major way. 
     That's why the news stunned us so. He was gone. If we hadn't been paying attention, we didn't know he recently had released a Broadway musical called "Lazarus."  He didn't actually appear in it, but it was unmistakably his.  The critics liked it but were a bit confused. It was cryptical.  What did it mean? 
     Then even more recently, he released a video by the same name.  Three days later, he was gone.  All at once the meaning of the cryptic, mysterious musical and dark video became all to clear.  He had been deathly ill, was dying, in fact.
     When a person is faced with their own death, they start to look for signs that there is something beyond this physical realm we live in.  What better place to find that sign than in the biblical story of Lazarus who, as the story goes, was raised to life after being dead for four days.  The Bible tells us that when he arrived at his friend's tomb, "Jesus wept."  (It's the shortest verse in the Bible.) Then  with voice thundering, defying death, Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead.  Lazarus appeared upright at the tomb entrance, wrapped in grave clothes, while the onlookers stand there, stunned.  Jesus tells them to unwrap him. He's alive again.  You can imagine the chaotic, happy, confusing scene.
      In his video, David Bowie appears as another kind of Lazarus, his gaunt form emerging from a tomblike closet, with bandages covering his eyes. The symbolism in unmistakable.  They lyrics seem to be a very condensed life story while the video expresses in vivid imagery the fear of impending death. We get a sense of the physical and mental torment he must have gone through during his illness.  At the end of the video Bowie retreats back into the tomblike closet. There will be no escaping death for this one.
    It's a gripping, artistic, well done but disturbing video.  Part of me wishes that as his parting performance, the Star Man could have left us with something a little brighter, a little more hopeful.  But I guess that would be hard to do when you are facing your own demise.  We are left amazed that he could conjure up the psychic & physical energy to still create and perform under these horrible circumstances.  We are grateful for one last glimpse of his talent.  And we wept.