Two years and two days on from Blackstar and Bowie’s 69th. Two years on from Bowie’s departure. January 10th: Blackstar Day.
How much more do we know about the album and its messages? Lots, if you’re forensically inclined and need to have the whys explained. I’m not and I don’t. To me, Blackstar is kinda frozen because when Bowie went, time slowed – for a little while – and when you go back to the album, time slows again. Maybe that’s down to how and when you listen to it.
But when do you listen to it?
Not too often is my answer. Not yet, anyway. Definitely not in daylight, and not without complete attention for the whole album – it’s that kind of record. And even though it’s not played often, it feels as close and personal as any lifelong favourite, as it no doubt does for every other Bowie fan out there. I did play Blackstar on Sunday though, for the anniversary of its release. Mary Anne Hobbs paid elegant tribute to Bowie in her morning radio programme, as you’d expect, and that night, out walking in the 2-degree dark with a feels-like -6 freeze, Blackstar focused the senses. No distractions. New things heard. Still as knocked out by it – and by him and his exit – as the first time.
Blackstar is such a full-on album that it feels like the best gigs you’ve been to. Moving yet introspective, possibly even transcendent, yet never to be taken for granted. Like a true live-music moment, Blackstar absorbs. It’s more than just an album of music: it’s a life and a death and an afterlife, all at the same time, and it’s this inseparability that surely makes Blackstar’s pull stronger. I don’t want to know too much about its making or its meaning, if there is a meaning – again, not yet. Just enough to revel in its jazzed creativity, but not so much that the mystery and the magnitude of that January 2016 weekend is lost. It’s the kind of album that makes you think UP, especially on the title track and Lazarus. We think space, we think in ideas, we think bigger when we listen to Bowie’s best. Don’t we? And I’d put The Next Day up there as one of his best too, another album which fits the blackout of night. They’re not for comparing, and Blackstar stands alone both for the music and what it came to represent, but The Next Day was a step toward. Countless times I’ve lost myself in it in the small hours when sleep has slipped away.
So yes, back to Blackstar. It deserves a quality of attention. You could say that, with that album and its layers and wrappings, Bowie is teaching us how to listen again – a last lesson from a pop-music-art creator-collaborator, a signal to get off the musical waltzer and slow things down a bit. Or, in the case of Dollar Days, slow down a lot … there’s a good reason for it not being the last track on his last record. Too fraught a finish. If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to … fuck, man. Those words, followed by the spirited sax that rises out of them, are almost unbearable. I Can’t Give Everything Away at least offers a momentary musical lift.
And with that, we have another year and another RIP to David Bowie. Still vivid and unreal, it’s all we can do to cue up the music and immerse ourselves in Bowie stories. There’s no such thing as indulgence this week, so take your radio pick from Marc Riley’s Bowie tracks, or Mary Anne Hobbs and her interviews with Donny McGaslin and Denis O’Regan, or a repeat listen of this “Heroes” 40th anniversary doc. Just do it all, and check this Guardian feature on writers’ top Bowie tracks too.
Just sharing the love.