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The Man, Mourned, Who Sold the World He Loved
Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
“I’m a Blackstar! I’m a Blackstar!”- David Bowie, “Blackstar”
The death I have entered is a death
in which I cannot lie down…
How beautiful are the young, wailing!- Robert Penn Warren, “Saul at Gilboa”
I’ve had love on my mind lately.
I told a friend I hadn’t wrote often of love. I told him that I wanted to write about it next.
Those are the things you think about when you realize two people can’t punch a rock to the point it bleeds. Only fists get bloodied, only knuckles crack; the exteriors stand poker-faced.
To think of love is to feel like you’ve lost it. All the big concepts are big until, like a Cyclopean light speeding through a tunnel, they illuminate you. Then you see the locomotive.
I still thought of it. Even upon the realization of its possibility, you feel like what you thought was a glass globe may turn to sand in a blink.
I had not thought of David Bowie.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I thought about David Bowie. In my head I was batting about some sub-Klosterman theory about how there were David Bowie people and Bryan Ferry people. Some gnomic aphorism to fire off with the goal of making me look smart. I liked Bowie, but never had my Bowie phase. I figured it was coming. After I had metastasized all the Scott Walker and explored Roxy Music further and listened to Cyprus Avenue for the 20,000th time and ranked all the Nick Cave albums by number of literary references, then would come my David Bowie period.
I learned David Bowie died in the morning. I was up late talking to somebody and fell asleep around one, telling myself “I will write.”
Once I confirmed Bowie’s death, I decided I deserved a day.
I woke up and texted that person. Bowie died. She had sent me a picture of her Alladin Sane’d out.
I drove to work and I put on “Neighborhood Threat.” “Heroes” came on as I passed over the Robert E Lee Bridge. There are no cops and the other drivers are sparse. My attorney and mother will shoot me reading that I’ve never done less than 60 on that bridge.
There’s a part in “Heroes” were Bowie starts singing, screaming like any soul singer, over the churning Eno synths and Fripp’s guitar, this wailing siren thing. He repeats the first stanza. And he keeps this pace for the rest of the song. “I will be king and you will be queen.”
It was too much for me. I put on something else.
I continued to think about “Heroes”, how I associated it with so many loves of mine.
Recently I started sitting zazen. Badly. For three minutes I focus on my breath and keeping my stance. What I’ve found is the most helpful thing about zazen is you can’t keep your ego if you’re only going to listen to yourself as a machine. Suddenly, you realize the mechanized rhythm of everything. Water drops, the heater. Your breath. You are no more important than them for that moment. When you stop, you keep that mind frame, and whatever was churning in your subconscious bubbles up because you forgot about everything besides the moment.
The most important lesson about those mechanized rhythms is this: they go regardless because that’s what they do. They have no present, no past, just a steady drip or whir. And you can keep that mindframe too, because what makes you miserable is that your past and your future are always contending with you, remind you of who you were or what you may be. Sooner or later you can’t even eat lunch without thinking about dying.
This will sound drippy but it’s the closest I can define something that has long eluded me: happiness is a lack of future or past. It’s is or are.
This is why the narrator of “Heroes” goes from ebullience to desperation. “This will happen” becomes, “This will happen, right?”
In the thick of romance, “Heroes” is a tribute. In the sea after romance’s departure, it’s a lifejacket.
Love becomes a meditation, because what matters is lying in bed with time dead or pushed far away. Love is. Why we feel so happy with our fingertips across the wrist of our beloved or in a bedroom with no clocks is that time is frozen.
Love and meditation are both pink elephants. Try not to think about a pink elephant. Love asks that you don’t think about the possibility of its end and meditation asks you to only focus on your breathing at the behest of everything else. They’re gambits. You will do everything but, most likely.
“Heroes” is too, a pink elephant. We won’t fail. Okay, try not to think about failure.
And in that same way, if there is failure, “Heroes” is there as a reminder that you can sing this to the person you love now or the person you will love.
All love songs are borne of desperation and fear that you will lose that feeling to time. It’s the terror management theory with a beat and four chords. They will always sound desperate. You’re saying I love you for four minutes straight. This gets people tazed.
Later in the day I listened to Low for the first time. I heard Bowie sing: “Every chance, every chance that I take, I take it on the road.”
The song is “Always Crashing in the Same Car”. I listened to it ten or twelve times in a row. There’s something of a koan in the title: how can you always be crashing in the same car? Forget that metaphor exists. Take it completely literal. Who would do that?
Maybe the same person who creates a future for a person they couldn’t guarantee they’d keep. Maybe the kind of person who hears “Heroes” when they fall for someone.
The song is obviously Bowie shouting at himself: “how can I keep doing this over and over?” It’s about a coke problem, in a roundabout way. There is no Rap Geniusing it for the precise line that proves it: just anecdotal evidence.
But the title has a nugget of something mysterious, the way “Heroes” does in its entirety. And it’s a pink elephant, too. Now that you’ve realized you’re going to crash that same car, try not to crash it.
After a good solid few listens of Low, I put on the last Bowie album, Blackstar.
Bowie knew he was going to die. All you have to do is read the above epigraph, the pull quote. He knew people would try to recreate what he did. How could you be so smart and not.
Blackstar doesn’t sound like an aging rockstar. It doesn’t sound like a young one, either. It sounds like a man who can summon lightning in a bottle through whatever alchemy making the lightning dance like James Brown. It sounds like a guy aware he’s dying and creating anyway to meditate on it, to create a space where by thinking about it, he no longer will. And like Warren’s Saul, he is melancholy he’ll not hear who takes his place, but not bitter.
Blackstar is more adventurous than whatever will get heralded as the best rock album of the year. In a genre that’s fine with resurrecting ghosts, that is laudable. It’s not cynical. A man who loved all sorts of music made Blackstar. And he had to give it up, but before he did, he gave one last heave.
But through its adventure it never loses track or feeling. It will haunt me, the way Bryan Ferry and Scott Walker do, and my smug little “those with loaded guns, and those who dig” aphorism missed the point. We’re all Bowie people, we just might not have met the Bowie who slays us yet.
The avant-garde was never about eradicating feeling. If music is the food of love, the avant-garde asks, what’s the building of love? Is it a Berlin wall? Are you crashing into it? It’s about taking tiger mountain in a quiet storm with weapons no one considered.
I read through Bowie’s 100 favorite books. On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious.
A guy I need to hang out with suggested a karaoke night at a sushi place. I said I’d appear as the Not Quite Thin White Duke.
I put on some Bowie and drove home. I hit the Robert E. Lee Bridge. I took a brief video, of me driving, of the car churning to “Heroes” and the lights now shining on the water as dark fell over the sky, the skyline passing by and bleeding into lines and strings. I sent it to someone. All the text said was “thinking about you.”
#Real #Tribute #DavidBowie #RIPDavidBowie #GoblinKing #Blackstar
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