By Izzy Yellen
With my somewhat recent focus on the emotional impact of music, I am beginning to recognize, feel and understand more and more the strength of the connections that can be created between musician, music and listener. The night of Sunday, Jan. 10 was no exception, as my eyes welled up after seeing the news of David Bowie’s passing. Bowie is a longtime listened-to musician and influence of mine, and to know his incredible and lengthy career had come to an end was heartbreaking.
My interactions with Bowie’s music have been frequent since a young age, having been shown him by my parents in the first several years of my life. I remember always being astounded by his singing and orchestration. I did not connect much to the lyrics until a few years ago, but listening to the music was nevertheless emotional and something I looked forward to. I have fond memories of putting on a greatest hits album of his that covers most of his career while mowing the lawn. There were many moments where I just stopped, not out of fatigue but to take in what I was hearing.
Despite this immediate and consistent interest in him, I cannot recall ever having a phase where I listened to pretty much only him for more than a couple weeks, a habit I have with many other artists. I would always come back to him though, but, typically, listening to him felt different than listening to other artists. I cannot pin down the reason or articulate the difference, which only causes me to listen to him more.
The strangest feeling since hearing of Bowie’s death is that listening to his music does not feel the same anymore. This occurred for me with Lou Reed’s passing as well, another artist who resonated with me. The music and sentiment takes on new meanings, something extremely clear with Bowie’s final album, “Blackstar.” As I read the news, I dug frantically in my memory for the last time I listened to him. The only thing I can compare to this feeling is hearing of a relative or friend passing away and then trying to recall the last time you saw them, if not moments before their death. Although I was not as close with Bowie’s music as I am with loved ones, it is a scary feeling. It really feels like he is gone. Everything becomes a memory and does not resemble a tangible connection like it used to.
Immediately after hearing of his death, I put on “Space Oddity,” probably the first song I heard from him and no doubt the first one I loved. The song has always been heart-wrenching, but it was immensely more so that night. The disconnect in the last verse, when Ground Control loses touch with Major Tom, feels much more real, like all his loved ones, collaborators and fans calling out to Bowie when he is no longer there.
While I have subconsciously thanked Bowie for all the ways he influenced me—opening me up to get weird when creating and fill with emotion and whimsy—I am even more grateful now, fully realizing what he accomplished with his music, art and fashion. He showed me, and countless others, that it is okay to stand out; it is okay to reinvent yourself and be strange. There are not and were not many like him that did this, and he deserves that praise. In this time of mourning, I urge you to put on a record of his and let it all sink in. My heart goes out to his loved ones and all those who were affected by his work.
Bowie’s final album, released on Friday, Jan. 8—his 69th birthday and two days before his death—is a beautiful work filled with chilling foreshadows to the end of his battle with cancer and atypical orchestration compared to his more popular mainstream works. It is clear he knew his time was coming while working on this album and releasing it when he did.
For those who listened to it between its release and his passing, it was still no doubt a beautiful record. However, for those who happened to hear it after, the true nature and meaning of the album is thrown at the listener, in a possibly overwhelming manner, as it was for me.
Earlier in the night, before the news came out that he had died, I had planned to listen to the album to review the day after. Therefore, my listening session and initial time with the album was all the more meaningful. Despite this being an album review, I would like to avoid sharing the full meaning and lyrical content of “Blackstar,” purely because it is something that must be experienced firsthand by the listener.
That being said, the musical content of this album was a bold choice for Bowie. With such fame from pop hits that most of the world knows, it was somewhat of a curveball for him to make such an experimental and dark album his swan song. Although it is unlike most of his other material, I loved it.
The way all of it comes together—his pained, somber singing, jazz influences, abrasive guitars, sterile drums and more—is perfect. It is an album that has various layers that can be listened to and analyzed over and over, most of them too disturbing and depressing at first, but it is well worth it. I cannot think of a better goodbye from David Bowie. It is likely you will find yourself holding back tears by the end, but let them flow. Accept his death while being grateful for him to care so much to give us all such a touching, genuine piece of art.