“Pushing through the market square / so many mothers sighing / news had just come over / we had five years left to cry in”.
I always get a bit emotional around this time.
Five years ago we lost one of the greatest of all time in what was a terrible year for our favourites shuffling off this mortal coil. George Michael, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher, Leonard Cohen, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, and Prince all departed in a year that was thought of as the great mass exodus of the best amongst us.
However, the year began with one loss that overshadowed all others: David Bowie. Ziggy Stardust returned to the sky on the 10th of Jan just two days after his 69th birthday and two days after the release of his final album, Blackstar.
In tribute to the Starman, on what would have been his 74th birthday, his final work, Lazarus, is being live-streamed this weekend. You’ve got three chances to catch it: today at 7:00 pm AEDT, tomorrow 7:00 pm AEDT, and Sunday 3:00 pm AEDT, the 5th anniversary of his death.
Lazarus is a bizarre space-musical that reworks tunes from across his career and a brilliant final mystery from the ever-changing artist. Producers Robert Fox and RZO Entertainment Inc are releasing the stream of the London premiere of the production featuring Michael C. Hall of Dexter fame in the lead role.
Tickets for the stream can be purchased here from Dice.
I saw the show in London with my Dad, whose own passion for Bowie ignited mine. I remember him playing Starman in the car as we drove around Sydney as a kid and thinking it was extremely weird. I wanted to hear it over and over and over.
I awoke on the day of Bowie’s death to a phone call from my Dad in tears. My Dad never cries, but being an East-end boy from London in the 70s, Bowie was a central figure in his life. “It feels like a death in the family”, he said. We had been playing Blackstar only the night before and my Mum had commented that the album didn’t make any sense. It all fell into place though, when we realised it was meant to be heard after he had passed.
Bowie’s final years were shrouded in mystery and a retreat from the lime light as he battled numerous health issues. He stopped performing live in 2004, cutting short his Reality world tour after suffering a heart attack on stage in Germany (though he finished the set).
Amid rumors and hopes that he would one day return to headline Glastonbury or Coachella, he only ever did a handful of one-off performances, notably playing Changes with Alicia Keys for a fundraiser in 2007. It’s unclear why this shonky video is the only recording of it online.
During that reclusive time he blessed us with two full length albums, The Next Day, released after years of silence and speculation with no warning or publicity – something Beyoncé would also do with her self-titled album years later – and Blackstar.
Bowie died at the age of 69 after a long and unknown battle with cancer. The fact he even made it to that age through the heady days of the 70s and 80s is a miracle in itself. Bowie once claimed to have lived solely on milk, red peppers, and cocaine in 1976 and that he was so out of it he completely forgot making Station to Station.
While working on Blackstar, wandering around New York and recruiting musicians he saw in jazz bars for his last work (along with LCD Soundsystem‘s James Murphy), he was also writing and directing the musical that would be his final artistic output.
Lazarus, a story inspired by the 1963 novel The Man Who Fell to Earth (and the film of the same name in which Bowie starred), feels like the man’s own retrospective on his life. To me it felt like Bowie trying to make sense of it all by turning his shapeshifting career into a semi-coherent narrative.
It’s got a beautiful cast and a wonderful soundtrack. If you watch it for nothing else, the final minor-key rendition of Heroes is absolutely heartbreaking. I remember standing in the theatre as the crowds were shuffling out staring with wet eyes at the black-and-white image of Bowie that illuminated the now-empty stage and feeling like Bowie had once again delivered a mind-bending piece of work that would take years to unravel.
Forward thinking to the last, it’s a difficult but visionary piece of work that serves as a final reminder of just how restless Bowie was in his creative outputs. If you needed any other reminder of just what a genius the man was, here’s Bowie telling Jeremy Paxman in 1999 why the internet is going to be a big thing:
The five-year anniversary of Bowie’s death is also set to be marked with a special BBC Radio series, Bowie Five Years On. The run of tribute programmes will begin on January 8, 2021.
On that same date, Yungblud, Anna Calvi, Duran Duran and more will honour Bowie’s life and legacy during a one-off live-streamed event, A Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day!.