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Look Up Here, I'm in Heaven

David Bowie was the most versatile figure in the history of pop music. An arrangement of his very last album, »Blackstar«, can now be heard at the Hamburg International Music Festival.

Look up here, I’m in heaven

David Bowie

Can a work of art be smarter than its author? »Blackstar«, the last album that David Bowie made, seems to deserve this verdict, at least in the hearts of many fans. It was released two days before Bowie's death, on 8 January 2016, his 69th birthday. Bowie had been diagnosed with cancer of the liver 18 months earlier; he knew that he wouldn't survive the illness, and that this would be his final album. His farewell.

Antonin Kratochvil

David Bowie: Lazarus

The first single to be lifted from the album became the biggest unintentional epitaph in pop history.

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»Lazarus«, the first single to be lifted from the album, became the biggest unintentional epitaph in pop history – as if metaphysical powers had lent David Bowie, his producer Tony Visconti and film director Johan Renck prophetic inspiration for this swan song.

At the beginning of the video, a shadowy female figure climbs out of a dark wardrobe. Then the singer himself appears in the picture. He is lying on a hospital bed, and pulls the bedclothes up to his chin with clenched hands. His eyes are bandaged, and two buttons have been sewn on to the bandages to represent eyes. There are no eyelashes or eyebrows.

Then the singer, who has aged beautifully, opens his mouth and sings: »Look up here / I’m in heaven / I’ve got scars / that can’t be seen«. Hardly has he died, than Bowie announces his resurrection. Every line of the song lyrics and almost every image in the video refers more or less clearly to death, and to overcoming it.

Catharsis in Seven Movements

Like a lot of the whole album, the music in »Lazarus« is of dark and turbulent vitality. Full of anger, existential: catharsis in seven movements. A seething maelstrom of disparate sounds, driven by a screaming sax and unrelenting hard drums, laid on in thick layers like impasto in an oil painting. This rough masterpiece is only reduced in severity by the late sweetness in Bowie's voice, its melancholy and its unbroken power.

In the video's last scene, the singer withdraws backwards into the dark wardrobe of the opening, and it's hard to see anything inside it apart from an upended coffin.

Director Johan Renck says that this was a spontaneous idea that everyone thought was quite witty. Now Bowie wears pyjamas with black-&-white diagonal stripes, a reference to an outfit he had at the time of his album »Station to Station« (1976). He was living in Los Angeles at the time and was in serious drug-induced physical decline – never had he felt so close to death.

David Bowie 1947 - 2016

  • David Bowie was born on 8 January 1947 as David Robert Jones in Brixton, London
  • In 1972 he had his first commercial breakthrough with the album »The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars«
  • In the late 70s he moved to Berlin, where he underwent a »cold turkey« cure for drug addiction and also spent several years that were decisive to his artistic development. »Heroes« is one of the songs recorded in Berlin.
  • In the course of his career, Bowie invented one new identity after another. He had the greatest impact with the fictional character of Ziggy Stardust.
  • Bowie also started working regularly as an actor in the mid-70's
  • 18 November 2015 saw the first performance of Bowie's musical »Lazarus«, an adaptation of the 1976 film »The Man Who Fell to Earth«
  • »Blackstar« was the title of David Bowie's 26th solo album, which was released on 8 January 2016, his 69th birthday. It was the first Bowie album to reach the top of the American Billboard 200 charts.

Heroes just for one day

At the end of his excessively lived identity as the Thin White Duke, wasted by cocaine abuse and totally emaciated, Bowie pulled the ripcord at the last minute and fled from the American West Coast, which had turned into his own personal hell, to West Berlin.

In Berlin he gradually regained control over his life and made three albums, »Low«, »Heroes« and »Lodger«, that some fans of Bowie the glam rocker – alias Ziggy Stardust alias Aladdin Sane – found hard to digest. But for others, these were path-breaking records.

David Bowie had possibly the greatest impact of any pop star – he was certainly the most versatile –, and »Blackstar« was his final statement, terrible in its beauty.

David Bowie

James Bowie's Knife

David Jones, as he was christened in 1947, chose a pseudonym at an early age whose substantial symbolic power he couldn't fathom at the time. In a 1974 interview with the writer William S. Burroughs, the godfather of the Beat Generation, Bowie said that he was already looking for something at the age of 16 that he could use »to cut through all the lies«.

He found what he was looking for in the so-called Bowie knife, which had been manufactured, mostly in England, since the early 19th century, and was allegedly invented by a certain James Bowie. It was mainly used by American cowboys and other individualists, figures whose contemporary descendants the young David Jones admired, soaking up their music like all youngsters in post-war Europe.

The artist used the knife that he'd turned into a name to meticulously carve out one new identity after another. And he used the same knife to cut them away from his body again, when he felt that their time was up. Kill your darlings? Nothing could have been easier for David Bowie.

  • Bowie knives are work and fighting knives
  • They are part of the legend of the Wild West, carried by solders in the American Civil War and later by cowboys as well
  • The knives are named after Wild West hero James Bowie
  • In the 1960s David Bowie was supposedly afraid that his given name, David Jones, was too similar to Davy Jones of »The Monkees«, and this prompted him to change his name

The most beautiful woman of the seventies

It was enigmatic, androgynous figures that held the strongest fascination of all for him: David Bowie was the most beautiful woman of the seventies, and one might well call him a pioneer of gender fluidity.

When the Swiss culture magazine »Du« devoted its entire November 2003 issue to Bowie, the magazine appeared with no fewer than 22 different covers, since the editors found it »impossible to show the pop star in only one single photo«. These 22 David Bowies are all shown in miniature on a double-page spread, with every imaginable haircut and hair colour, style and costume. It would be nice to have the photos as a set of fortune-telling cards: which Bowie will be my inspiration today, and what will he inspire me to do?

David Bowie

Transformation for Humanity

We live in times when every change of direction in a person's life, however small, is hyped into an act of creation – »he has reinvented himself«. In this context, David Bowie's wish – or compulsion? – to regularly reinvent himself may seem pathological. But actually, at least at the outset, Bowie's changes of identify were triggered by his longing to escape from boredom, world-weariness and uniformity.

Bowie mostly used music as an escape vehicle, and his songs are just as varied in form as his physical identities, oscillating with reliable unpredictability between glam rock and blues, jazz and rock ’n’ roll, pop and experimental underground.

Since 10 January 2016 he has continued to transform himself for mankind, now operating from the hereafter. »Look up here, I’m in heaven.« If you think this is hubris, you haven't understood Bowie's last message to us. There is a life after death. See you on the other side.

Author: Tom R. Schulz

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