Leave it to David Bowie – one of rock’s true demi-gods, along with Elvis, Prince, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Dylan – to die only two days later than his birth date. A Capricorn through and through all his many incarnations. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone, even with all the articles, social media, books, documentaries etc that have poured out since January 10, 2016. A world without Bowie is still almost inconceivable. He resonated, glowed, appeared absolutely other and ethereal, just like that odd alien fish-creature in The Shape of Water.
And he played an alien many times in films, and as persona – Major Tom is in deep outer space with that song, though Bowie admits, in the new HBO doc on the anniversary of his death called The Last Five Years, that he was referring to inner space via his own drug use); Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is as alien as you get – The Man Who Fell to Earth: Bowie never seemed quite earthbound, even in his later years. If you watch the video for I Am the DJ, it’s people all over the streets of NYC coming up and hugging the Thin White Duke in droves, as he could turn their water into wine). Bowie was indeed magical, and the HBO doc – an absolute must see for Bowie fans – portrays many of his older and youthful incarnations – but it also portrays his need to produce work that would be his elder years’ legacy – jazz like in tone, avant garde in lyrics – he found an avant garde composer he loved and started working with her and her jazz combo – hence those last two albums, The Next Day (2013, exactly ten years after his last release) and of course, Blackstar, released just a few days before he died in 2016.
The doc interviews Tony Visconti, long time Bowie record producer (and icon in his own right), plus band members, back up singers – about what was going through his mind in the last years before his death. And as always with Bowie, a lot was going on in his mind.
His first album, David Bowie, was released in 1967. Bowie’s almost thirty full studio records show a breadth of cultural influence and originality that really is without parallel outside of classical composers and very prolific authors.
So put your feet up, grab the very old bourbon, and curl up in the couch with a faux fur blanket, and watch this doc, The Last Five Years. It will seem like the last two never happened – and will refresh your eyes and ears with what a singular artist he was. You don’t watch it so much as inhale it. With your eyes and ears.
The night Bowie left the planet – “died” is almost too quotidien for the likes of him – I was attending the Golden Globes in Hollywood, covering them for The Hollywood Reporter. We had no idea he’d passed till the dj at the HBO after party started launching into an all-Bowie set. A whisper started to fly around the room of at least a thousand folk. Within 20 minutes, everyone looked pale and stricken, and headed for the door to do their own mourning – watching Bowie docs and listening to many of those 30 albums.