There is no way that anyone in this modern era of social media could have missed that the news that the infamous artist, David Bowie died three days after turning 69. Not only that, he left an intriguing new album released on his birthday- just three days before his death. Without a doubt this music video release was planned to coincide with his imminent death as the artist had been fighting a private battle with cancer. Although I am unfamiliar with most of David Bowie's works, aware of the musician from the sidelines, listening only when others played his songs on the radio during long car trips, I could not help but find myself intrigued and drawn to his newest release by the title of "Lazarus". I could only imagine Bowie's giddy anticipation as he knew he would be leaving the world this complicated, musical tidbit of packed to the brim with symbolism for the fans, critics, religious leaders and psychologists alike, to interpret, discuss and dissect long after his death. To describe this last album as a "parting gift" to his fans seems fitting.
The opening scene of the musical video, Lazarus is poignant as Bowie is confined to a hospital bed: empty, devoid and clinical. His disheveled colorless hair, shiny diaphoretic skin, and the tortured blue vasculature of his distended aged veins are clearly visible as he writhes around in bed, experiencing terminal agitation as well as spiritual distress, engulfed in regret and longing. The absence of medical equipment normally seen in the hospital setting as well as the chipped antique metal framed bed, the pilled salmon bedding, the dingy off white tile floor, the antiqued solid wood wardrobe and the threadbare yet ornately ruffled vintage nightshirt suggest that he is in a nursing home. Confined to bed, deprived of sensory information as he has a band of gauze wrapped around his eyes, his only sensory input is enabled by two tiny pin sized holes provided by the carefully placed metal rivets.
An ominous dark female figure slinks out of the heavy wooden wardrobe and finds herself underneath the bed grasping hesitantly upwards. Ironically, while confined to bed, Bowie apparently rises a few inches off the bed- just enough to suggest levitation, but not enough to allow him to escape the confines of his bed reflecting his imprisonment, emotionally, spiritually and physically.
As a nurse, it is important to allow the aged and terminally ill opportunities to reminisce as they approach the end of life. Bowie accomplishes this literally and figuratively throughout the piece. In a scene change, from the sick- bed, Bowie is depicted in an eccentrically patterned, form fitting pair of black long underwear. He finds a burst of energy, dancing as he continues to reminisce and reflect. His alter ego is energetic and frantic as he pours out his story. His scissor like movements are quick and frantic in an attempt to release excess energy after having been bed bound for an indeterminate amount of time. This burst of energy is short lived, nevertheless. In a quick change, his animated facial expression goes blank in mid- song. His eyes become glassy as they stare off into the distance, detached, in an attempt to disengage from the reality of this world, in preparation for his inevitable death. Adapting a mechanical, repetitive form of movement that can barely be classified as dancing, his song becomes more forced and structured. The animated, emotional piece is short lived as Bowie seamlessly retreats into a devoid expressionless human shell. From that point the only animated personality is confined to the bed as depicted by Bowie's grandiose gesturing and wide range of intense facial expressions ranging from intense pain, regret and anguish as he grimaces and writhes in the bed.
Near the end, he exhibits a pained, tortured expression as he holds up a black quill pen, as if faced with an impossibly difficult choice. One wonders the significance of the sharp black quill pen- as if it represents an inner battle- as demonstrated by the intense anxiety on his face. While one may ponder some mundane explanations for the anxiety, I can imagine it represents him contemplating major end of life decisions. The high pitched screeching music only intensifies Bowie frantically scrolls not only on paper but the sides of the table and the legs as he experiences a cathartic release of frantic energy. The final scene shows Bowie's facing turning off like a light switch as his pained anxious facial expression is replaced by a stone- like gaze. He slowly retreating back words with an unsteady Parkinson's like gait back to the oppressive, ominous heavy wardrobe- his gaze glassy and dead. His short, uneven shuffled steps end as he backs into the wardrobe and closes himself inside.
The lengthy music video Black star is even more complicated and intricate as it explores Bowie's search to reconcile his life with spirituality. Disturbing images of rhythmic, decerebrate, seizure activity minimally resembles dancing. Parodies of barbaric, senseless ritual activity represent Bowie's condemnation of organized religion, no doubt. Perhaps these disturbing artists with their expressionless seizure like posturing are representing Bowie's belief that faith in the bible is the product of mindless, brain dead individuals automated by antiquated and barbaric superstition.
For many musical performers, religion- and specifically the bible- is like the big white elephant in the room. At one point in another, in everyone's life, one must make some sort of decision as to whether to believe the bible's claims about Jesus or to reject them. There is an in incongruency between the lyrics of the