Was going to skip CD Monday this week and let The Next Day linger a little while longer, given today’s news about David Bowie. But by some crazy twist of fate, the album I grabbed on the way out this morning — M. Ward’s Transfiguration of Vincent — includes a languid, somber version of “Let’s Dance” as its second-to-last track. Another crazy coincidence involving this guy whose birth certificate lists the same first and last names as mine.
I guess I didn’t know that David Bowie was sick, and I’m wondering if anyone knew. Was it a secret? Or maybe an open secret industry people knew about? Given the imagery in his recent round of videos, it seems like he was trying to tell us how close to the end he was.
This is a romantic idea, but I’d like to think that he saw and enjoyed how positively people were reacting to Blackstar. Obviously his legacy wasn’t hinging on it, but I hope he knew he was respected and deeply relevant in his final hour. So many artists fade to the back of our consciousness and then snap to the front then they die. I’m not sure when the videos for “Lazarus” and “Blackstar” were shot, but it couldn’t have been that long ago, which means he was still hard at work, making meaningful art, while staring grave illness in the face. Pretty wild.
There’s a reason this hits close to home for me. My dad died of brain cancer a couple years after I graduated college, and during those years, it wasn’t easy seeing him. He was bed-ridden, so he lost a lot of weight, and his ability to speak faded, so communication became very difficult. I did a terrible job of making trips to Norfolk to see him. I very much wish I could do those years over. And I wish he could have been able to say goodbye in some way, especially because words were so important him. He was a college professor, which meant that lectures were part of his everyday gig. And he loved chatting with people. I remember that he’d take forever getting home from work because people would stop him on his way out. I think about that when I see someone I know and pass by with just a “Hey.”
It’s not about going out with a bang, though I’d say Blackstar qualifies. Being able to do the things — or more to the point, the one thing that makes you who you are — right up until your dying days… not everybody gets to do that. Bowie now seems like the very embodiment of that good fortune, and while it brings up bitter memories, being reminded that it’s possible feels good.
Speaking of bittersweet, here’s M. Ward’s version of “Let’s Dance.”