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:He 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. (more…)
David never told us he was dying. Then again, he sort of did:
“Lazarus” was the title track of the Bowie musical that premiered in 2015, the main character of which is an older version of Thomas Jerome Newton, the alien David played in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Newton would like to die but can’t — this idea had been an obsession of Bowie’s since “The Supermen” — whereas the biblical Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus.
In the video David emerges from a cabinet that, in this context, can’t help but resemble a coffin. At the end he goes back in. What does it all mean?
Like I know. I never saw the musical, and I’m not sure I want to — I heard the soundtrack and was not impressed, and as far as I can tell there’s no plot to speak of. It does not seem to be available for viewing in any case. I remain a little curious, and maybe someday it’ll pop up in some form; indeed do many things come to pass. (more…)
The companion piece to “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” is “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” which was initially a home demo that Bowie liked and ended up including on some versions of his 2014 compilation Nothing Has Changed.
As with “Sue,” he ended up recording another version for Blackstar:
And again I have to admit: I do not love this song. It has some energy, it’s different, but I do not find it worth the attention that Chris O’Leary lavishes on it, both in Ashes to Ashes and on Pushing Ahead of the Dame. His writing is good though! I shan’t waste any more of your time, or mine, trying to expand upon it; there will be more to say tomorrow.
As 2024 dawns, I am finally approaching a major personal milestone: reaching the end of Chris O’Leary’s Ashes to Ashes, which I have been working my way through for longer than I care to admit. Around the same time I will finish adding all of David Bowie’s albums to my computer’s music library, which has also been a long time coming.
In commemoration of these great events, I will be posting about David’s last ten songs over the next ten days, in the runup to our observations of his birth and then his death. After that the Bowie thread will be done. For now. It will never really be over as long as I’m living and writing.
The first song on the list is “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” a song that I respect more than I like it. I think it’s great that Bowie finally fulfilled his ambition of playing with a jazz band, and that he clearly seemed to enjoy playing with his new toy. But the result was not anything I would listen to for pleasure. (more…)
I vaguely remember looking over the track listing of The Next Day before it had come out and noticing that there was a song called “Valentine’s Day.” Bowie being Bowie, it seemed unlikely that this would be a Hallmark moment.
And indeed, though on the surface “Valentine’s Day” is one of the poppier numbers on the album, underneath it is a pretty grim piece of work. Without ever actually coming out and saying it, David gradually lets us know that Valentine is a psychotic school shooter, and his “day” is the one on which he will carry out his killing spree — and, as these things go, probably end up dying himself.
It is perverse and perfect. Says O’Leary:
It wouldn’t be as chilling if Bowie hadn’t made the song so catchy, with his Beatles chorus vocals (compare his ooo-la-la-las to those of “You Won’t See Me”) and [Ear] Slick’s guitar arpeggio fills. Even the line about Valentine’s victims — “Teddy and Judy down”—has a sad Sixties echo to it, calling back to Ray Davies’ Terry and Julie in “Waterloo Sunset“; in a brighter time, the song could have been about them, a pair of lovers trying to work things out. Instead they’re just bodies lying in a classroom.
A track that seems as if Bowie used a Waring blender to make it, “(You Will) Set the World on Fire” is set in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s yet has a garish rock-show arrangement. Its title is a would-be manager’s promise of fame but it’s also advice given by St. Catherine of Siena.
—Chris O’Leary, Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog, 2015
If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire!
—St. Catherine of Siena, Letter 368, circa 1380
I really like this one. Musically, it’s pure, gut-level rock’n’roll of a type that Bowie has done rarely, and done well even less. Like the best possible iteration of Tin Machine. Lyrically, I love the sheer perversity of lyrics about the Village folk scene set to such metallic backing. I mean, what could he possibly have been thinking? Why? Then again why not?
—Pushing Ahead of the Dame commenter “Billter,” 2015