In my haste to get yesterday’s post up, I neglected to read the last paragraph of Chris O’Leary’s entry on “Lazarus” in Ashes to Ashes. It describes the following scene (line breaks are added for dramatic effect):

Bowie is at an early run-through performance of Lazarus [the musical].

The bandleader Henry Hay asks for his thoughts: “Is everything OK? Would you like anything else?”

“Yes,” he [Bowie] says. “I think I’d like a sing.”

A keyboard intro, a call to attention on the snare. David Bowie sings before an audience for the last time in his life. A performance that’s the memory of a few actors, musicians. lighting techs, stage managers. He sings “Lazarus.” The song of a dying New Yorker, a pop poet of the downtrodden. A beggar in heaven, a twice-dead man, an outlaw. An exiled alien, living on Twinkies and gin.

Look up here, Bowie begins, the musicians there to back him up. I’m in heaven…

That would be a pretty good final scene for a Bowie biopic:1He sings his last song, graciously acknowledges the applause of the tiny audience, and exits stage left.

The next song up in the queue is one that didn’t make the cut for Blackstar, appearing only on the posthumous No Plan EP. And frankly I find this decision baffling, as IMHO “When I Met You” is one of terminal-stage Bowie’s best songs.

When David was scribbling furiously in the “Lazarus” video, he might have been writing the lyrics to “When I Met You,” which crams almost 500 words into four minutes (actually three, as the first minute is instrumental). The vast majority of them are single-syllable words, including “when” (35 times), “I” (54), “met” (39), and “you” (61). It feels like an exercise in communicating as quickly as possible, but was custom-written to serve a narrative purpose in Lazarus, where it appears toward the end (“during a scene in which Thomas Jerome Newton looks back on events in his life,” says The Bowie Bible). O’Leary calls it “a duet between a man and a voice in his broken mind — a dialogue on love, despair, and redemption by someone staring into a cracked mirror.”

In Lazarus it is a literal duet:

In Bowie’s version he sings both parts, distinguishing the two voices with pitch and processing.

A few last notes on “When I Met You”:

  • There is a foreshadowing here of “Blackstar,” when David sings “My spirit rose.” (“Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a meter then stepped aside.”)
  • Whereas “Lazarus” channeled the Cure, for its first 30 seconds “When I Met You” sounds very Joy Division.

Well actually that’s only two, but I have to go make dinner and there’s a Warriors game tonight. Later!