At the end of 2015, I started to hear of 2016 as the year of purification; the year of speaking our truth. I believe the first place I heard this was Kaypacha’s New Paradigm Community but I’ve admittedly had to dial down my viewing of his weekly Pele Reports at the request of my wife because of my inescapable tendency to add some sort of doom-and-gloom personal apocalypse filter to each of his messages. I immediately envisioned flowing ivory days as my insecurities were bleached away by a passion for sincerity. I certainly didn’t imagine a funeral procession beneath obsidian banners and streets blanketed in black and blue glitter, a sparkling bruise reminding me of vulnerability and mortality as I made each paranoid turn through the beginning of the year. I have walked into the shadow world of 2016 through an onyx gate flanked by the statues of two cold and naked black diamond dogs with eyes twinkling like ice planets.
A Guide for Dying
Blackstar is the first of these statues; a final hymn for the dudes that almost shows us a glimpse of the other side of the black veil between skittering jazz drums and frantic, frenzied brass chaos. I don’t know if it’s possible to face death without fear. Sometimes I think of my own body on the slab in a morgue; cold and naked under unforgiving phosphorescent light. My soul may be gone from it but I love my body. It’s been very good to me in the years that I’ve known it and I’d never trade it for another. My heart breaks to think of leaving it behind someday but that’s my flaw to overcome or swallow. I felt like I considered my death but until I actually contemplated the mundane reality of it, I hadn’t been quite so afraid. I don’t want to think that everyday I reach the time, the exact second on the clock, that I will someday die; to consider there’s a place that I will die whether I go there frequently or have never been yet. I don’t want to have a final song to which I listen, a final word I speak, a final sunset, a final meal. By my nature, I want more but I admit this with deep gratitude and love for all that I’ve had. But Blackstar reminded me that no one escapes death, no matter how brilliant or charming. Bowie’s final album also brings me comfort the same way reading a guidebook brings clarity. Bowie was creating mythological guides that taught me how to live and with his final album he’s taught me how to die. The class and sophistication exuding from a death bed, the dignity of a condemned man – it’s all held so admirably, permeating the record throughout each track. The opening guitar line to “Lazarus” sounds like mourning so deeply that it’s impossible not to be immediately pierced by profound loss upon hearing it.
I Never Expect the Fool to Die
My favorite track, if I were to be brazen enough to isolate a track from such a cohesive record, would be “Dollar Days” which initially sounds to me like resignation, like making peace with the inevitable. But then it’s punctuated with that lust for life and moments of desperately wanting to cling to a colorful world as all fades to ashen gray and an impenetrable black. The last minute of the song is possibly the closest Blackstar gets to a glam rock moment where it somehow juxtaposes the boldness and riskiness of youth against the black unknown in one more proud smile at the memories. This is particularly painful for me. When I look at the Fool balanced at the edge of the cliff, I recognize there’s a risk but I always expect him to turn out okay. I never expect the charming, clever Fool to die.
The Painful Separation of Night Thoughts
Bowie’s Blackstar eclipsed the beginning of 2016 so fatally that I actually felt sorry for Suede having to release their brilliant new record Night Thoughts under such conditions. The second mourning statue guarding the gates of 2016, Night Thoughts is very different than Blackstar while also provoking contemplations of death that are oddly as elegant as they are painful. Where Blackstar offered us fleeting glimpses of a world that we couldn’t yet understand, a world beyond our world, Night Thoughts is firmly rooted in our known world but with its nose up against the black curtain with no knowledge of the other side but instead a haunting feeling of disconnection and separation. Though very sad, Blackstar ultimately achieves a sense of spiritual peace. It almost tells you things are not going to be easy but in the end they will be okay. Night Thoughts is not so quick to offer these sage assurances, instead exploring the beauty and glory of youth against the immeasurable pain of loss and ending up in a space of deep melancholy love. The album is saturated with the pleasures and pains of looking back on one’s life, but there’s always that feeling of disconnect echoing in lyrics like “And isn’t it strange that the method I choose/Is a way to get close but I get further from you?”
I Know All My Neighbors' Cars
The majority of the record is bookended by the panoramic “When You Are Young”/“When You Were Young” which at times reminds me of moments as a child when I’d ponder the eventual death of my parents, thoughts that would reduce me to tears in private, imagined moments of mourning. The album is still punctuated with electric moments of glittering guitar perfection but these don’t step far from the introspection as evidenced by the lyrics of “No Tomorrow.” Possibly the most radio-friendly track on the record, it also contains one of the most subtly destroying lines for anyone of my archetype: “I know all my neighbors’ cars.” As if this weren’t more clear, the brutal video clip features an elderly man committing suicide before his daughter or daughter-in-law turns up to find him too far gone to revive him. It’s actually pretty hard to keep yourself together when listening to Night Thoughts in the right mood.
While dark glam has probably been raining on parades since Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” it’s still surprising to see two albums of such beautiful starkness and honest introspection ushering in 2016. Blackstar and Night Thoughts have certainly soundtracked questions I doubt I’d have asked had they not been written. The introspective nature of the albums is made that much more pronounced against a backdrop of universal acclaim for Bowie. As much as I love to watch his brilliant art celebrated, it pains me to hear people covering his music so I’ve avoided the tributes. There’s nothing more to add to those songs that the music didn’t already say itself and in the case of Bowie, who didn’t imitate as much as he absorbed, imitation just doesn’t feel like the sincerest form of flattery. The funereal tones of Blackstar and Night Thoughts find my very essence aching at sponsored commercials with tacked on emphatic performances, like a self-congratulatory mockery broadcast live from the skull of a god. In bedrooms, on headphones, or in cars lit by sunsets, the juxtaposition is at once sickening and profound.