The news broke over America in the middle of the night, and all day Tuesday many had taken to social media to express shock and sadness about what they learned: David Bowie is dead. He came to Saratoga in the summer of 1990 and performed at SPAC - sandwiched between dates that featured the B-52s, Heart, and Eric Clapton – and, at least early on in his career, inspired musicians to misfits who dared to be different in art, and in style.
Bowie gave birth to songs that spanned the spectrum - a cliché of a line if ever there was one - but in this case it is also true. Consider everyone from Mott The Hoople and Bauhaus to Culture Club, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nirvana played his music. Bands from different eras, each playing different songs. A cover version of "Space Oddity" by a Canadian astronaut is the first musical recording in space.
It was just a few weeks ago that a spontaneous conversation about Bowie was had on Division Street with Yaddo President Elaina Richardson and Rolling Stone magazine writer Will Hermes. To Richardson, Bowie’s Diamond Dogs Tour represented the first concert she’d ever attended; the same tour was among the earliest shows I’d ever seen as well - although to be brutally frank about it I remember being less-than-thrilled that his Ziggy Stardust character had been retired and replaced with a brass section, synthesizers and a movable catwalk. To Hermes, Bowie was an artist whose work still mattered, as demonstrated on his new album Blackstar. “It's this mix of familiar and strange that makes ‘Blackstar’ so rewarding,” Hermes told NPR.
The album was released on Friday, Bowie’s 69th birthday. Two days later, after losing an 18-month battle with cancer, he was dead. It was an illness that was kept private.
In retrospect, you could argue ever since the first day that he fell to earth, Bowie had an awareness of human mortality. In songs like “Time,” and “Changes,” and his haunting rendition of Jacques Brel’s “La Morte,” it appeared the clock already had been running backwards. At least that’s the way things look when staring through the back end of a telescope.
“Lazarus,” Bowie’s latest, begins with the cracking open of a door, an image of the singer in what appears to be a hospital bed, and the line: Look up here, I’m in Heaven, I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.