Two days after David Bowie’s final album Blackstar is released, the man himself tragically dies after a long battle with cancer. Even then, he intended to use all of it to inspire this swan song as his parting gift.
So it isn’t surprising that this particular music video is gonna be all creepy, with its haunting melody, occult rituals and somber jazz undertone. After all, since it’s inspired by one Aleister Crowley, you can be sure it’s gonna be somewhat dark and bizarre.
The iconoclast David Bowie is renowned for truly living the personas he took on during his earlier days, but this time it’s far different. This time he plays a dying man…but this time he isn’t role-playing anymore. This is a man legitimately contemplating the final chapter of his life as he goes on the mic. What would a man sing about as he realizes that his own death is coming?
So the film director might want us all to obsesses over it, but we want you to join us as we calmly pin down the notoriously elusive meaning of Bowie’s Blackstar…I guess.
The Astronaut And The Girl
The exact moment she opens the helmet of the astronaut who died ages ago, a candlelight is bought to the center of our eyes. The symbols of life and death juxtaposed in this already barren world blanketed by darkness from the eclipse. She notices the skull encrusted with jewels and decides to take it. Her expression remains stoic as she strolls to the temple, carrying it in a display.
It hardly matters if the astronaut is who we think it is, because finding a skull encrusted with jewels is clearly more fascinating. Such is the case in Bowie’s relationship with Major Tom. Back in 1969, USA’s mounting excitement with Apollo 11 and space missions in general inspired Bowie to create dramatic stories like “Space Oddity” among others.
In his songs, Bowie as the storyteller decided Tom’s fate at his whim, burdening him with a married life and condemned him to die in space. As those songs became hits, he made his riches off Tom’s suffering.
“All he said was, I want a tail on the woman. And I said, yeah, yeah, I like that. And he said, yeah, it’s kind of sexual. And that’s it!“
– The Film Director on Bowie, VICE Interview
But like this astronaut scene attests, Tom was already long gone. Just another work of art as Bowie continues with his career…until now. For some reason the astronaut comes back to his memory, a character he killed off long ago in for drama seeks closure even as Bowie doesn’t really want to finish that old story. Even as he tries to downplay his own mortality by cheekily adding tails to girls, he still evokes the image of death.
Once upon a time, Bowie was the master of Tom’s fate, but now he’s close to joining his old character…thinking of his own future, he is curious as to where Tom could be now.
The Priest And The Flamboyant Trickster
Letting his actions speak for him, he shows us all the power of religious faith. As he performs a slow but steady rite with his Blackstar Bible in hand, the entire atmosphere gets bathed in light. The music takes on a positive mood and the imagery brightens. It was a miracle before people’s eyes. For a long moment we are left to wonder if the darkness has truly been lifted.
But it seems that the priest was not the only one trying to bring light to the world…
I can’t answer why (I’m a blackstar)
Just go with me (I’m not a filmstar)
I’m the great I am (I’m a blackstar)
This one was a false prophet. Claiming to be what he was not, he tried repeatedly to pull us in with fake promises, vague answers and a smile. But this Blackstar generation is wiser, and they just echo off defiance to anything he has to say. No one is present with him even as he rambles on.
Even as he pictures himself as a priest, mister flamboyant trickster props up next to it. These two new characters might parallel each other, but they both pretty much share Bowie’s signature agenda. Which is to evoke and then to dismiss, to say he is but deny it at the same time, like a striptease abruptly cut short. First he was the priest, lifting away the melancholic tone of the music like he was performing a miracle. A bigger hook than the song’s actual hook, because hey look religion. Then he was the trickster, privately trying to sell his message to people who could be swayed by lyrics.
Then he echoes off against his own character’s message, and the priest becomes just a sideshow as the music turns dark again. Even though this is his swan song, he wants us to know this is still a David Bowie song and that he will absolutely not give us a straight answer for once. Except for the fact that he is, and always wants to be – from those countless repetitions, a “blackstar”. And therein lies something very close to an answer, or at least an overarching theme…if there was one.
The Day Of Execution
In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen
Stands a solitary candle, ah-ah, ah-ah
In the centre of it all, in the centre of it all…your eyes
On the day of execution, on the day of execution
Only women kneel and smile, ah-ah, ah-ah
He knows what’s coming for him. Tormented with the knowledge of his fate, he sings softly to himself while screaming out at the same time. He tries to find solace in his belief, repeating to himself that your eyes are truly in the center of it all, that the candlelight is still there in the villa, wistful that only women kneel and smile on the day of execution…but as the day draws closer we no longer see candlelight nor do we hear anything upbeat like before. Only darkness remains.
The jeweled skull radiated with such power that the convent girls shook to the marrow of their bones, their bodies instinctively reacting to the very face of death. As they commenced the ritual, an ugly beast appears in the cornfield. It hungrily makes for the crucified scarecrows with button eyes, who were condemned to wait for their fates. As the execution begins in earnest, Button Eyes collapses…
Bowie clearly intends this to be his swan song. However, as much as he must have contemplated deeply with all the references/wisdom from all his novels, he still doesn’t know for sure what’s on the other side. For a man who’s always kept secrets from us, tantalizing us with fragments that barely matched, he’s kinda getting a taste of his own medicine.
No one can really answer what happens after death, and the religious already know. Which perfectly explains Button Eyes’ tormented look, because Bowie is a curious futurist, someone who explores all possibilities then denies them but now faces a mystery that for once didn’t come out of his head, something that forces him to face absolute truth.
In Conclusion – The Blackstar
Across all the internet fan theories on the term “Blackstar”, you can probably notice a creepy trend. That once you even entertain that idea, you will go down that spiral for hours on end. A thousand possible theories could be made just on the title itself, and they would all be right, or maybe not. But input equals output, and just like how an actual star releases energy as it collapses on itself as it dies. Just because it’s happening in your head, why can’t it be real?
DO WHAT THOU WILT
This is the true meaning of Blackstar, and look how cheeky the whole thing actually is. He made us all go through the same creative process as he and Crowley once had, opening our minds to pull out all these creepy theories from our heads by connecting imaginary dots together. Well played, Bowie. So yeah, just do what you want with the video.
Like the true artist he has always proven himself to be, Bowie doesn’t let his illness stop him from finishing his own life in the way he wants. While he contemplates how the youth will see his music in the future, he doesn’t want us to keep getting stuck in his story. He wants us to keep thinking of what comes after it, to project our thoughts into the future and be aware that nobody’s always right. This is a guy who loves tricks like “accept and dismiss” and “confirm nor deny” while noting it’s just a piece of art, nothing more.
Even with Blackstar, he puts “I Can’t Give Everything Away” as the title of his last song, defiant to the very end. Knowing this man, even if he’s somehow miraculously brought back from the dead like Lazarus was, I am willing to bet that he’s still going to be all vague about what happens after death.