The initial impulse was to read, to reread, to keep searching the paragraphs for any betrayal of an error or misquote. When credible outlets started confirming the news that David Bowie had, in fact, lost an eighteen-month battle with cancer, that reflex lingered: read, reread, scroll to the top of the page, open a new tab, and start again. Keep searching. Keep hoping that the click would lead to a clumsy correction instead of a heartfelt “R.I.P.”
None of us are long for this world, and Bowie — the Starman, Ziggy Stardust, the Man With the Power, the Hero of the Wonderful and Weird — was always going to leave us for a glamorous heaven of his own making. But while death has played a looming, staggering part in his recent work — both with his new Off-Broadway musical, Lazarus, and on Blackstar, his 27th studio album — the thought of the mortal themes coming from a very terrestrial place is a shattering blow to the countless fans who have been devouring his music for decades. To watch the video for “Lazarus” and process its lyrics as a sure-footed Bowie gives voice to them is an exercise in wide-eyed, tragic bewilderment: Look at me, I’m up in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen/I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen/Everybody knows me now. “Lazarus” is no longer the stark, darkly gorgeous single it was upon its release on January 7, but a prophetic note from a man who could negotiate with devastation. Bowie narrated and choreographed his own departure from this world with spectacular grace. He died as he lived: on his own terms, in the key of his choosing, and challenging the unknown with a mischievous grin and a wink.
As Voice contributor Max Mertens pointed out on Twitter, the Bowie clips flooding social media today serve as some small comfort in that they show just how vast and effective his catalog remains. The links to live performances, the screengrabs from Labyrinth, the numerous covers of his rousing, euphoric, ever current songs — his imprint on pop and rock is eternal and all-inclusive, a necessary reminder that we can be heroes and rebels at the same time, and that the pursuit of modern love is one worth fighting for till the very end.
Ain’t that just like me? It is indeed. Farewell, David.