Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bowie at his Best (finale): 'Lazarus'

The unforgettable David Bowie lost his 18-month fight with liver cancer Jan. 10, 2016.

Two days before his death — which came as a shock to the world — and on his 69th birthday, he released what would be his last single and video, "Lazarus."

The title has a bit more than simple irony.

Lazarus is the New Testament character whom Jesus raised from the dead. As we all know, the spirit of any performer or artist — and David Bowie undoubtedly was both — lives on, whether that's on video or film, in music, through paintings or drawings, in the written word and especially in our memories.

This is one of the last photographs taken of David Bowie.
He's still smiling in this picture taken by Jimmy King and
posted on Bowie's official website Jan. 8, 2016
— Bowie's 69th birthday and two days before
he died of liver cancer.
Bowie's moody "Lazarus" is bittersweet and hard to forget because it's his last release.

And it's not just any video. In "Lazarus," we see the long-time chameleon who was a moving target as he easily and expertly moved from one genre to another deliver his most autobiographical music video.

Bowie died just as he lived his career — on his terms.

The bittersweet, haunting and somewhat creepy "Lazarus" video is a fitting conclusion to an unbelievable career. "Lazarus" is Bowie telling his fans good-bye, paying subtle homage to his career and preparing himself for his own death.

Granted, I've only seen the video once. And it may be a long, long time before I watch it again.

Not just because "Lazarus" is the last song from my all-time favorite performer and my main man; I only needed to have watched it once to see how poignant and bittersweet Bowie's performance is and how symbolic the images are. It's guaranteed to stick with you — whether you're an obsessed Bowiehead like me or a casual fan.

From the first line, the master songwriter grabs us by our throats: "Look up here, I'm in heaven."

These screen shots from David Bowie's "Lazarus" video are courtesy of
And in the second line, Bowie shares how he's been fighting this cancer he knew would kill him — but out of respect for his fans and loved ones, the immensely private entertainer kept it a well-guarded secret: "I've got scars that can't be seen."

In a rare bit of pride and reflection, the third line brings Bowie's unforgettable legacy home: "I've got drama, can't be stolen/Everybody knows me now."

Bowie, in the video, appears from a closet.
This is how Bowie entered the stage
for the beginning of each of his 1987
"Glass Spider" concerts.

(As I said in my concert reflection tribute and another fan said in a 2004 interview I did: The man always knew how to make an entrance. Who else could get away with entering the stage by descending from the belly of a spider while talking into a microphone disguised as a silver, antique telephone?! Or playing "Ode to Joy" over the loudspeaker to herald the beginning of his Ziggy Stardust concerts and his "Sound + Vision"/greatest hits tour?)

For much of "Lazarus," Bowie's dressed in the same blue jumper from the back cover of the 1990 Rykodisc re-release of his 1976 album, STATION TO STATION. It's the six-song opus that gives us the memorable opening line of the title track: "The return of The Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lover's eyes …"

With "Lazarus," Bowie delivers a subtle reminder that he's back. But will soon be gone.

Yes, David, I'll always remember you as my favorite nickname, The Thin White Duke.
This is the back cover for the 1991 Rykodisc re-release of
Bowie's 1976 STATION TO STATION album.
Not this is the same outfit he wears in his last video, "Lazarus,"
40 years later!

Bowie gives us one last character, the scarecrow with pin-eyes on a white bandage which is wrapped around his head. As with so many of his incarnations, it's a striking one.

Throughout the "Lazarus" video, DB struggles on a hospital bed — a none-too subtle symbolism of his death bed. With more than a bit of an homage to his stellar 1984 "Loving the Alien" video. …

Aside from close-ups on his gnarled hands, which look like nothing less than an old man's, Bowie looks fantastic. As he did throughout his life, he could pass for younger than his calendar age in "Lazarus." Leave it to the handsome David Bowie to look great even as he's about to die.

His hair turned a splendid grayish-white; there's no hint of any of his natural, mousy brown hair he so often dyed. (It's impossible to know how long his hair was like that, as he was a recluse for most of the last 12 years of his life.)

This is one of the last photos taken of the late David Bowie in public.
Here he arrives for the Dec. 7, 2015 opening night of the musical "Lazarus."
Bowie wrote the music and lyrics with the book by Enda Walsh. "Lazarus" was directed by Ivan van Hove.
Yup, the striking man who dyed his hair more than most woman ever changed their hairstyles, stopped dying his hair just as he was dying. The irony is fitting. And beautiful.

Bowie writes feverishly in this scene from his "Lazarus" video.
Again in the 1976 costume, Bowie is writing letter after letter. He is deep in thought. And then hastily writes.

The powerful yet subtle performance is highly symbolic of Bowie's burst of creative energy before his death. His hypnotic, thoughtful, jazz-infused, Bowie-weird, final seven tunes on his swan-song album BLACKSTAR put an exclamation point on his lengthy, memorable career — his first No. 1 album in the United States.

Don't forget about the "Lazarus" musical Bowie wrote. It's a sequel to his first movie role, 1976's "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and Walter Tevis' novel of the same name.

(There's a brilliant article in THE GUARDIAN detailing the last 18 months of his life and his "18-month burst creativity," told by the very few people who worked with him on BLACKSTAR, the musical and his video and knew he was dying. Their anecdotes and memories are a testament to Bowie's dedication to his craft, just how ill he was, just how hard he worked (when he was physically able to do so), how kind and classy he remained and how much he trusted his creative teams with his private battle with cancer. A must-read!)

This is a promotional photo for the late David Bowie's final
Bowie's first appearance in "Lazarus" comes full circle in the closing seconds, as he returns to the closet. On its own, it's an homage to his headline-grabbing androgyny and culture-changing conversation about sexuality and gender.

Remember how DB sang in "Modern Love" he'd "never wave bye-bye"?

Well, Bowie makes good on his word; he doesn't wave good-bye in "Lazarus," either. (I remember he loved waving enthusiastically to his fans in concert; his smile was huge every time he did it. And we ate it up!)

The entertainer's exit in "Lazarus" is as memorable as his concert entrances.

This is one of the haunting, final images from Bowie's "Lazarus" video — his last single.
Bowie took the stage with confidence. And a certain unique swagger.

As he backs into the darkness of the closet, Bowie's mismatched eyes are locked on the camera, symbolic of the way the camera always loved him.

David Robert Jones Bowie, we will always love you. Thanks for everything — and giving us one final video experience none of us will forget. Grade: A+

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