Bowie’s last career spanning compilation was titled, “Nothing has Changed’ - a cheekily sardonic kick at the lazy cliché of his kaleidoscopic persona – Bowie the chameleon, the musical magpie, the many faced rock legend. It’s been the tagline of mid-tour radio interviews and opener of unofficial biographies for half a century; you can excuse his tired laughter at the image. But “Nothing has changed” couldn’t have been further from the truth. For me, and millions of others, Bowie changed everything.
From the snaggle-toothed, blond mopped boy appearing on TV, self consciously speaking on behalf of the ‘society of the prevention of cruelty to long haired men’ through to the 68 year old man bursting back into the world, blindfolded button eyed Blackstar, shaking and smirking amongst the crucifixes and Major Tom’s bejeweled corpse – he threw nothing but curveballs every time he strolled smiling back into the public consciousness.
After his punchy foray into industrial pop and drum n bass at the end of the 90s, his tone pacified and the smirking, strobing face of his invincible Ziggy monster seemed to settle and set free a slightly lost, older Bowie - emerging blinking into the light. The albums that followed ebbed and flowed with gentle care, a wealth of beautiful moments on each of them. The best songs were thoughtful, bittersweet and gently brushed with melancholy. ‘Thursday’s child’s video saw him reflecting on his life in a mirror as the years begin to show. ‘Where are we now?’ was a smaller, simpler man travelling through Berlin with a sad contentment. These were beautiful songs, but it wasn’t until Blackstar that we saw that wild eyed boy from Bromley land back into our lives, an unexpected but welcome guest.
Black Star exploded into existence and Bowie fans listened with goofy smiles, watched the video in delighted bewilderment. Bowie was back, and Ziggy was back – now coexisting, playing good cop/ bad cop through the wonderful madness of the new album’s title track. The following video gave us a strong clue to something darker. In ‘Lazurus’ Bowie is bedridden, old and feeble, while cartoon Ziggy struts and giggles, eventually returning to the shadows until we need him again.
It’s hard not to equate this loveable rascal to the creatures of Labyrinth, promising Sarah as they leave her, they’ll always return, “should she need them”.
He was telling us something. Ziggy is forever, but Bowie was dying. Only those around him knew and he orchestrated everything to his last day - the consummate showman to the last.
His final work was crazy and beautiful, and knowing now what he knew then invests it with even more power. It’s almost too much to listen to him sing ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’ with such courageous fragility.
Blackstar was his gift to us, and so was every other album he wrote for us. Each crammed with a love of music, love of people, love. Bowie’s there in those albums and we can bring him back to keep us company, “should we need him”.