Like Lazarus, Bowie Rises Again
In 1997 I invited about a half dozen friends to David Bowie’s 50th Birthday Show at Madison Square Garden, where Lou Reed, Robert Smith and a who’s who of stars joined Bowie on stage. One of the guests I invited was a friend named Brian, who owned a successful New York City Ad Agency. Brian was always impeccably dressed in his hand tailored suits from London, so when he replied to my invitation with the statement “I’ll start to get ready now!” it seemed a little odd. Brian showed up at The Garden wearing full eye make up, spiked and colored hair, and black nail polish. Check out the concert footage online or Netflix you may see us in the center of the pit…look for Brian’s eye make up! What motivates an ad executive in New York City, who was not prone to eye makeup and nail polish, to revert back to his teenage self in London, dressing in their idol’s style to attend one of his concerts nearly 30 years later? After following Bowie for the majority of my life as a fan and having the opportunity to meet and interview him for CBS and WorldSpace/XM, I believe the simple answer can be summed up as follows: Bowie’s longevity and consistent popularity speaks to an audience that, like the artist, is never satisfied nor comfortable with the status quo. Neither basking in the success of past accomplishments nor feeling compelled to give an audience what they expect or think they want to see or hear. That is why BlackStar, released worldwide on Bowie’s 69th Birthday January 8th speaks to creativity having no age or boundary.
Bowie’s new recording is filled with a jazz fusion overtone and hints of a Kendrick Lamar-like pentameter with lyrics like “I’m not a Popstar, I’m a Blackstar, You’re the flash in the pan, I’m not a Marvelstar, I’m the great I Am. I want Eagles in my daydreams, Diamond in my eyes, I’m a Blackstar, I’m not a Gangstar, I’m not a Pornstar, I’m a Blackstar.” Compelling, long and self indulgent, Blackstar is an art film/music video that comes in just under ten minutes to meet the YouTube music video threshold, meant to push Bowie fans outside their comfort zones, just as the artist pushes limits to grow. Blackstar breaks new ground from any previous Bowie incarnation.
One of the seven tracks from BlackStar is called “Lazarus.” Lazarus also happens to be the name of the off-Broadway musical co-written by Bowie and Enda Walsh. The show opened in Manhattan in December and is currently the hottest ticket in New York. Lazarus, the song, features a haunting sax solo. If you look for any consistent thread through the 40 years of Bowie it is certainly the saxophone. Bowie, who plays guitar, piano, mandolin, viola, violin, cello, harmonica, mouth harp, keyboards and tenor sax, learned to play alto sax from Ronnie Ross, who later went on to play the sax solo for Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. The story goes that Bowie was in the control room when Ross was recording the sax solo for Reed. After the session Bowie walked in and thanked Ross. Ross replied, “for what?” Bowie said “for teaching me saxophone when I was a bloke of 9 or 10 years old.” Ross was reported to say “Good God, you said you were going to be a rock star, didn’t you?”
I distinctly remember hearing the “45 RPM” version of Space Oddity being played on Philadelphia’s Top 40 AM Station WFIL and becoming an instant seven year old fan. Bowie found a home on one of my future stops in radio, the legendary WMMR, which was the first place you would hear Man Who Fell To Earth, Life On Mars, Changes, Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dogs, Heroes to the surreal yet sweet Xmas duet with Bing Crosby. The connection between Bowie and Philadelphia was a two-way relationship. His1974 live double album concert was recorded at my hometown’s Tower Theater, and his 1975 Young Americans album was recorded at Sigma Sound in Philly with Luther Vandross and John Lennon on vocals. I recall dressing as Ziggy for Halloween when I was a teenager. Even my Mom was a Bowie fan making sure a dinner and movie in 1976 was “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
Fans appreciate Bowie through his many incarnations, from the Thin White Duke to John Merrick on Broadway in The Elephant Man to his pop persona from Let’s Dance to Never Let Me Down and Glass Spider.
Blackstar and Lazarus are evidence that Bowie has not stopped breaking ground.
The new release will be available as digital download, CD and Vinyl and contains a track listing that includes the title track “Blackstar,” "Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” “Lazarus,” “Sue (Or in Season Of Crime,” which has an original version on Bowie’s 2014 compilation album “Nothing Has Changed,” “A Girl Loves Me,” “Dollar Days,” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away.”
Twelve years ago Bowie’s heart attack in Germany took him out of the public eye for 10 years. Now, like Lazarus, Bowie rises again.