12 January 2016

The Final Act: Goodbye, White Duke

He could be everything to anybody, or anything to everybody–we never knew. We weren’t allowed to know. Sometimes, it seemed he never knew himself.

And he was power. He was presence. He was simple, stunning, even in his most understated forms. “Onstage, I achieve emotion,” he once said. “It’s probably why I prefer dressing up as Ziggy to being David.”

We never knew what would come next for David Bowie, who died Sunday from cancer. His 25th album, ‘Blackstar’, dropped only this past Friday, marking his 69th birthday.

“(It) may be the oddest work yet from Bowie,” remarked London’s Times. They weren’t wrong: it may have been, or it still may be too soon to know for sure. But it was to be the final act in a career that seemed destined to push new boundaries forever.

Perhaps this album, viewed in the light cast by his sudden and unexpected death, is just the next stage for him to conquer. This was Ziggy Stardust, after all, and he played guitar. And piano, and saxophone, and cello, and harmonica, and drums. He commanded stages merely by standing upon them. His voice could tear down walls.

With his final movement, the Thin White Duke of Brixton would once again stun us all, leaving us in tears wanting – hoping that there was – more. “My whole professional life is an act,” Bowie said. “I slip from one guise to another very easily.” The act could not be stopped by his mortal life.

He succumbed to an 18-month battle with cancer hidden from public view. Who knew? Who could know? It was the act, after all: David Bowie, vibrant and thriving at the end of his seventh decade of life, pushing musical and artistic boundaries for the umpteen-hundredth time.

But he knew, and we may have known, too, had we only listened how we were supposed to.

“Look up here, I’m in heaven,” he sang on the album’s first single, ‘Lazarus’.The video shows a frail Bowie, prone in a hospital bed, his eyes covered by bandages.

“I’ve got scars that can’t be seen. I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen. Everybody knows me now.

“Look up here, man, I’m in danger. I’ve got nothing left to lose.”

He had so much more to give; he was simply out of time to lead us.

“It’s a good time to be David Bowie,” proclaimed The New York Times Monday, in a story that went to print just hours before news of his death broke via Facebook. It was as unfortunate as it was true: by the time the sun rose on Tuesday, Blackstar had risen to the top of charts across the world.

And so it was that even in death a new guise was unveiled: that of Lazarus, only this time it would be the artist’s own death giving rise to his final work.

“I don’t know where I’m going from here,” Bowie once warned us, “but I promise it won’t be boring.”

It never was, David, and we will forever be thankful.

Forever awaiting the final act.