Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.
David Bowie has died, as dramatically as he ever lived, even leaving us with a parting album, released on his birthday, and celebrated days before his death, with a final death-embracing video as he slips away into a wardrobe.
As an artist, he was an enigma — an artistic chameleon — never the same, always re-inventing himself, always bigger than life. As a performer he was rock theater; tantalizing us, and making sure we never figured him out. For a while we didn’t even know his sex. It was for that reason I was never into his music. David Bowie was always deeper and darker than I wanted to go, but those people who went with him, are the ones who will miss him the most.
The last song of his final album, Blackstar, is the song, “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” In it, Bowie pinpoints what his message has been all along:
Seeing more and feeling less
Saying no but meaning yes
This is all I ever meant
That’s the message that I sent
In other words, “I meant the opposite.”
In the video of one of his last songs, Bowie sings from his death bed. It is being celebrated now because of the poignant lyrics of a man who knew he would be dead by the time most people discovered this swan song. It opens with the line “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” The song is called “Lazarus,” and most of the commentators will probably think he was referring to the man Jesus raised from the dead as a kind of resurrection of Bowie through his music that lives on.
That works. But there’s another Lazarus in the Bible, and I have a strong hunch he was thinking about that Lazarus. That Lazarus was a poor man, covered with sores, who sat begging at the door of a rich man hoping for a few scraps from his table. When these men die, their roles reverse, and the rich man is now looking up at Lazarus in heaven, begging for him to come with even a drop of water to cool his tongue.
“Look up here, I’m in heaven.” Are we the rich ones, looking up at David now, begging for a drop of water to cool our tongues? If anything, this album is a warning from a man who was dying — a warning to all of us to live so that we can die well, not like one whose final shot across the bow of life is that, in the end, we can’t even give everything away.
True art mirrors life and makes us grapple with its biggest questions. David Bowie was never about answers, he was too busy making sure we knew what the big questions were. Like the questions that scream from another piece of good art, the movie, Blade Runner: “Where do we come from? Where are we going? And how long have we got?”
David Bowie, dead at 69.
Ground control to Major Tom
Can you hear me Major Tom?
… Major Tom?