On Friday, David Bowie’s 69th birthday, he released “Blackstar,” his 27th and, as it turns out, final album. Its centerpiece is “Lazarus,” a dark song that never quite manages to see the light that its biblical namesake saw when he emerged, resurrected.
Bowie died Sunday after an 18-month battle with cancer. And there will be no resurrection — after all, how do you resurrect someone whose influence still shrouds popular music and culture, even more than it did during his most prolific eras?
Bowie was one of the first rock stars whose every move felt like an artistic statement. From his alter egos to his clothing to his confounding involvement in movies like “Zoolander” and a new “SpongeBob SquarePants” television movie, he always seemed more knowing, more advanced, a step ahead of the rest of us. He was on Earth, literally, but his mind hovered somewhere outside, freed of typical earthling restraints, floating in a most peculiar way.
And of course, there will always be the music. “Space Oddity” and his emergence as more than another rock singer; Ziggy Stardust and its iconography; the Berlin Trilogy, his lesser known but equally powerful work; his collaborations with Iggy Pop, John Lennon, Queen and Arcade Fire. A 49-year career produced timeless work, as Bowie veered from identity to identity, more content to challenge his audience than to appease it.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to look at modern music and not see the clout of Bowie. While Young Thug’s sexual ambiguity is divisive in hip-hop now, Bowie was a pioneer of gender nonconformity in the 1970s. Lady Gaga once told entertainment personality Alan Carr, “every morning I wake up and I think, ‘What would Bowie do?’” It is not an exaggeration to say that bands like Radiohead, U2, The Cure and countless others would not exist as we know them were it not for Bowie.
And we were lucky to keep him around. As icons of the ‘60s and ‘70s fell by the wayside — due to drugs, dissatisfaction or irrelevancy — Bowie endured. He endured all the way to the end; “Blackstar” is as essential to his discography as any of his other albums. Sadness is to be expected in this time of mourning, but we should also be thankful that such an artist as Bowie crossed his star with us.