Considering that David Bowie’s death on January 10th occurred only three days after his final album’s release, Blackstar (2016) has been subject to a rarely rapid process of initial interpretation and reception, reinterpretation, and reevaluation. While many critics praised the album upon its arrival, only few of them were able to grasp the album’s cryptic messages, let alone its self-referencing qualities. It was not until after news about Bowie’s death had started to circulate that many critics reviewed their initial conceptions. In his brief but honest tribute On Bowie, Simon Critchley remarks that Blackstar “now has to be seen as a message to his fans from beyond the grave, which I and so many others listened to compulsively after its release on January 8th and then with different ears since the news of his death was announced” (170). Bowie’s death reshaped the experience listening to Blackstar dramatically.
The following is an excerpt from my Master’s Thesis about David Bowie’s 2016 album Blackstar, “Death, Transience, and the Conscious Artist’s Mind” . I studied the album in its lyrical and musical entirety, with special attention towards the intertwining relationship of Bowie the man, Bowie the artist, and Bowie the character. Blackstar is a tightly constructed maze, one that can lead the listener in many directions: from the real to the unreal, from the occult to the philosophical, from morbid humour to painful reality, from life to death. The following will examine the title track “Blackstar” along with its music video. Please let me know if you’d like to read more.
The ten minutes-spanning album opener (“a symphony in miniature” (Pegg)) and title track introduces the listener via soft guitar strings before introducing an electronic, dull beat that grounds the mood. As Bowie enters, his multi-layered, distorted voice evokes an uneasy, even alien feel. His lyrics appear befittingly abstract as well, as he sings:
In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen 1
Stands a solitary candle, ah-ah, ah-ah 2
In the centre of it all, in the centre of it all 3
Your eyes 4
On the day of execution, on the day of execution 5
Only women kneel and smile, ah-ah, ah-ah 6
At the centre of it all, at the centre of it all 7
Your eyes, your eyes 8
The “Villa of Ormen” (1) does not seem to specifically refer to a real location, although its connection to the occult is onomatopoetically implied by the unusual choice of the word villa. Ormen is Norwegian for serpent, thus it may “[open] a window onto any number of Biblical, Buddhist or Crowleyan echoes” (Pegg). After all, the serpent symbolism is deeply rooted within the history of the religious and occult: the often documented “worship of the serpent” may recall the biblical “fall of man in Paradise, in which the serpent was concerned” (Barthurst). In the biblical tale of Adam and Eve, “the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Genesis 3:1), providing humans with the gift of knowledge. However, as Cirlot elaborates, the snake or serpent can also be a symbol for “the springs of life and […] immortality”, especially in Indian folklore (286), while the Egyptians saw “’temptations’” in the creature “facing those who have overcome the limitations of matter and have entered into the realm of the ‘dryness’ of the spirit” (286). While I believe that Bowie may have opted for negative connotation rather than the life-affirming in order to set the scene with a familiar phobia, his choice of Norwegian implies an interest in hiding certain amounts and dualities of meaning — a possible leitmotif for the album. In this sense, the “Villa of Ormen” (1) can be regarded as a location in which both life and death are traversed, acting like a junction point between the two, with the lyrical I as its visitor awaiting the “day of execution” (5). They are the “centre of it all” (7), for whom “only women kneel and smile” (6), evoking the image of a mass performing a ceremony. According to Pegg, line 7 may also be a tribute to occultist Aleister Crowley to whom Bowie felt a deep connection:
[It’s] a line that David had already sung in ‘Slow Burn’, while ‘Sweet Thing’ offers an enticingly close ‘I’ll run to the centre of things’. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that Crowley’s ‘magick ritual’ The Star Sapphire, from his 1913 Book of Lies, includes the instruction: ‘Let him then return to the centre, and so to the Centre of All.’
The “solitary candle” (2) reinforces the occult tone, as candles are generally regarded important for many religious and occult rites; candles also illuminate the darkness while being the focal centre of whichever area they enlighten. The candle is therefore “a symbol of individuated light, and consequently of the life of an individual as opposed to the cosmic and universal life” (Cirlot 38). In other words, the “solitary candle” (2) puts focus on a singular entity and its importance within the narrative’s universe. As Bowie arguably traversed a particular ‘darkness’ during his struggle with cancer (“his eventual executioner” (Whitaker 428)), awaiting said “day of execution” (5), he may have found optimism in such singular entities like his work or certain persons around him (“your eyes” (4)). Bowie may also be referring to the entity addressed in the next stanza:
Something happened on the day he died 9
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside 10
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried 11
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar) 12
Line 9 is arguably one of the more apparently self-referential lines on the album, as Bowie’s vocals revert to an almost natural sounding recording, abolishing the layer of sonic distortion. Nowhere else may Bowie be as obviously referring to his own demise, musing about the exact moment of death (“when the news [break]” (Merchant)), both inducing the transcendental (“Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside” (10)) and coming to the realization that he will eventually be followed by someone else to “[take his] place” (11). Merchant argues that “Blackstar” is about Bowie “perform[ing] his final vision”, one that will have a transforming effect on anyone “step[ing] up and read[ing] it”. The exclamation “I’m a Blackstar” (12) is arguably the voice of such a reader: claiming that we are all blackstars, with Bowie as our prophet. Nicolson, however, rejects the implied euphoria about Bowie’s death as an ascension, arguing that “it’s an oddly muted, matter-of-fact way to imagine your own send-off; almost as though he’s asking us not to make too much of a fuss about it”. While it is certainly true that the stanza pulls its focus partly away from Bowie towards a future generation, I do not regard the lyrics as undermining Bowie’s importance. Instead, the poetry here is self-aware of its significance, begging to be read, almost as if a kind of legacy has to be passed on. The lyrical I is simply aware of its position in the world (“his place” (11)), and ultimately being replaced takes both effort and courage (“bravely cried” (12)). Bowie may have been aware of his own significance as a celebrated artist — as a consequence, his own elegy has to pay respect to that notion.
How many times does an angel fall? 13
How many people lie instead of talking tall? 14
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd 15
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangstar) 16
This image of the fallen angel reintroduces the occult themes established in the beginning while line 13 may simply be referring to Bowie’s several low points in his career (drug abuse (Doggett 359), health issues that ended his touring career (Saul), for example). Posing the question how many times an individual can endure hardships before eventually succumbing to them, the biblical fallen angel symbolism also implies a form of punishment for misbehaviour: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Peter 2:4). Bowie’s life as a pop icon also entailed a life of responsibility. If Bowie truly regarded himself as an ‘angel’ in the eyes of the public, he was also well aware of his ‘sins’: “[M]edia hype, indulgence in drugs, arrogance towards one’s audience, underground elitism” (Doggett 359). Now, working on Blackstar, he may have been aware of his impending judgment. His supposed successor, “[treading] on sacred ground” (15), follows in footsteps of considerable importance, but them being “sacred” (15) also recaptures the implied angelic presence (although stained by whatever sins may have remained) of Bowie that perseveres long after his death. The “sacred ground” (15) may thus simply refer to the world of popular music, which has been largely influenced by the artist known as David Bowie. Anyone treading on this ground cannot escape Bowie’s lasting impact on it.
I can’t answer why (I’m a blackstar) 17
Just go with me (I’m not a filmstar) 18
I’m-a take you home (I’m a blackstar) 19
Take your passport and shoes (I’m not a popstar) 20
And your sedatives, boo (I’m a blackstar) 21
You’re a flash in the pan (I’m not a marvel star) 22
I’m the Great I Am (I’m a blackstar) 23
These lines may further establish Bowie’s self-perception as a prophet, a teacher, and an influential figure, while simultaneously exploring the various roles Bowie may or may not have played during his career. He denies being a “film star” (18), which he has actually been (most notably starring in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and Labyrinth (1986)), denies being a “popstar” (20), although he has been one of the world’s most well-known, and he refuses to be identified as a “marvel star” (22), which may be meant to disenchant the perception of him being some kind of perfect hero. Instead, he repeatedly insists on being a “blackstar” (12, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23). This term is central to the album’s theme, as it is both the name of the album and its title track, and is repeated throughout the lyrics. Although any attempt at exactly defining Bowie’s understanding of the term black star is speculative, he may have opted for the actual range of meanings the term evokes, keeping it elusive like himself. Nevertheless, radiologists sometimes call certain cancer lesions black stars (Vincent). Bowie may have been influenced by a shocking realization when his illness became visible in the shape of a black star, or he may have been inspired by the grotesquely mystifying name chosen for such a depressing discovery. One can almost imagine Bowie being presented the X-Rays (which he actually may be referring to in “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” (see section 5.4)), only to see something akin to the album cover’s black star. As he supposedly turned his death into a work of art in its own right (Visconti), he may have opted for his cancer lesion to become the central symbol of his narrative. As Pegg further discovers, “for the ‘blackstar’ itself, there seems no end to the array of suggestive meanings”, from the use of the term in popular culture across all media to real world applications in politics and science.
However, considering Bowie’s career-long fascination with the occult (Doggett 83), it can be argued that the most likely meaning of Bowie’s Blackstar corresponds well with the established tone of occultism in the track: Blackstar may be Bowie’s own interpretation of the Midnight Sun symbolism. As Hall explains,
[The] midnight sun was […] part of the mystery of alchemy. It symbolized the spirit in man shining through the darkness of his human organisms. It also referred to the spiritual sun in the solar system, which the mystic could see as well at midnight as at high noon, the material earth being powerless to obstruct the rays of this Divine orb. (122)
The most immediate connection to Bowie seems to be the spiritual light that materializes within the individual through the Midnight Sun to overcome “the darkness of [the] human organisms” (Hall 122). This is highly reminiscent of the widespread believe in the human soul, an entity that persists in spite of material boundaries, “possess[ing] conscious experience, control[ing] passion, desire, and action, and maintain[ing] a perfect identity from birth (or before) to death (or after)” (Blackburn 346). This iteration, however, stresses the power of the ‘inner sun’ (or soul) to banish the lingering darkness of the body. In other words, the sun is Life, while the body is Death, or: the sun may be Bowie’s art and lasting influence, a force much more powerful than the body that ultimately betrayed him. Bowie’s Blackstar is possibly his salvation, and he summons it through his art, which may have been the main inspiration to complete his final record. Blackstar is therefore more than an album title and an occult symbol; it is Bowie in hopes of becoming an actual Blackstar, something that “shines through the darkness” (Hall 122). In this sense, the absence of Bowie’s face on the album cover, which is actually a first in his catalogue (and according do designer Jonathan Barnbrook, the cover “was designed to reflect the musician’s mortality” (Howarth), is less puzzling if we consider the Blackstar to represent Bowie himself. While his insistence on being a “blackstar” in this track (i.e. lines 12, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23) makes this connection quite obvious, the underlying symbolism suggests a range of possible meanings, as seen in this section, as well as Bowie’s fundamental desire to “live on long after the man has died” (Dombal).
I’m a blackstar, way up, on money, I’ve got game 24
I see right, so wide, so open-hearted pain 25
I want eagles in my daydreams, diamonds in my eyes 26
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar) 27
Here, Bowie more palpably reiterates his status to a point where his lines could be regarded as irony, especially with the unusual informal metaphor “I’ve got game” (24), a result of him being “way up, on money” (24). Considering, however, that wealth could not help defeat Bowie’s terminal illness, his “game” (24) is drastically limited to whatever is still in him, and it emphasizes his world which, all of a sudden, is reduced to whoever comforts him in his final days: “I see right, so wide, so open-hearted pain” (25) suggests an agglomeration of grief and sorrow around him, and he yearns for the freedom and independence that “eagles” (26) represent. The eagle is also an important symbol in various folklores, as it combines the qualities of leadership, courage, and strength: “It signifies, therefore, the ‘rhythm’ of heroic nobility” (Cirlot 91). It may be an image of a past Bowie, one that was able to firmly stand on top of the popular music business; as such, his daydreams encapsulate his secret longing to return to his glory days. In a similar fashion, the lyrical I wanting “diamonds in [his] eyes” (26) implies another facet of how he himself envisions David Bowie: persevering like a diamond, unique and rare as one (de Vries 135). This also recalls the occult theme of Blackstar: In ancient Egypt, the dead were often sent into the ‘next world’ along with their riches, which sometimes included filling the deceased’s eye sockets with coins or (protective) jewels (David). Bowie may have been longing for such a send-off, one that can only be achieved by other people’s care. He is the self-proclaimed “Blackstar” (27), after all, and the repetition of this claim cements Bowie’s understanding of himself.
The rest of the track repeats sections “Something happened” (28–31) and “I can’t answer why” (32–39). Interestingly, “Blackstar” closes with a repetition of the very first lines, havin the song come full circle (“In the villa of Ormen” (40–46). Bowie once again shifts the attention towards his speculative successor (“At the centre of it all, your eyes, your eyes” (45)) as his vocals re-enter the distorted scape of the beginning. Bowie ultimately shifts into obscurity as the instrumentation seems to disintegrate. One can almost imagine Bowie’s heart stopping together with the beat, becoming the Blackstar that shines on.
In summary, the opening and titular track frontloads a multitude of emotions and meanings encoded in a narrative that evokes the natural and supernatural, the occult and the grounded, the alien and the human. “Blackstar” is, as I argue, a tale of death and rebirth, of retirement and succession, of bitterness and gratitude. It covers the significant range of sensations that are being channelled when facing mortality, and thus mirrors the shock and confusion surrounding the death of a global superstar: grief and appreciation are intertwined and form into a rekindled interest in the person. Bowie may have been well aware of this, and certainly reshaped this notion into a song fit to end his career. In essence, it is an existentialist search for self, one inspired by traversing the most difficult of times:
That thematic core is the Sisyphean struggle to embrace existential angst and move beyond feelings of existential anxiety. Clearly, immense anxiety is apparent in Blackstar: there is a plot point of tension that needs resolution, and the narrator attempted to do so as expressed in the song. (Whitaker 428)
“Blackstar” is complex, yet sonically and lyrically rich, and it presents ideas without overburdening them with obvious agendas: “[H]is songs should be about nothing, which in turn allows them to be about everything” (Greenman). The track is thus enveloped in a fog of mystery, largely due to its occult themes, as well as its adventurous mix of musical genres. New Music Express called it a “gorgeously inscrutable avant jazz sci-fi torch song, all slippery drum’n’bass rhythm, two-note tonal melody with hints of Gregorian chant, shifting time signatures, churchy organ and spaced out wandering sax” (McCormick 2015). As “Blackstar” was released prior to the album along with an equally challenging music video, to be discussed in the next section. It foreshadowed a record as something resembling a grand statement of an artist who had experienced his peak in relevance decades ago. While “Blackstar” raises the bar for the album in terms of obscurity, symbolism, and twisted poetry, the rest of the record never truly compares to the complex narrative of the title track, which takes roughly a quarter of the record’s playtime. Instead, with apparently self-referential tracks “Lazarus, “Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, Bowie becomes more straight-forward, as if these tracks are meant to break wide open the encrypted universe of meanings to be found in “Blackstar”. However, as we shall see in the track analyses to follow, these tracks and the three other, more narrative tracks also add their own notions to Bowie’s final statement.
“Blackstar” Music Video
“Following his death earlier this month, views of David Bowie’s iconic catalogue of music videos shot up and broke records across Vevo and YouTube” (Spanos). The music video genre definitely helped Bowie in defining himself as a pop persona; they are texts that unify Bowie’s literary and cultural interests: Music, film, and fashion. While Bowie-centric clips like “’Heroes’” (1977) mirror the star-idolizing pop culture of the 1970s while simultaneously reaching for the display of higher truths, videos like “Let’s Dance” (1983) are miniature epics of their own, focusing on the narrative to transport a vision. The “Blackstar” (2015) video, however, seems like a culmination of both narrative and character-centric invocation, “an intoxicating mix of politics, religion and Bowie’s own mythology” (Spanos). Pegg calls it “another of Bowie’s masterpieces […] [that] is intriguing, elliptical, and crackling with intelligence, mystery and wit”. It also recalls the “surreal, dream-logic era of the music video that Bowie himself mastered in the early 80s with Ashes to Ashes” (Pulver). While the visuals do mirror the implied meanings of the lyric, the “Blackstar” video offers a rich palette of visual hints toward an even greater universe of meanings contained in the track. The sheer amount of images, references, set pieces, costumes, characters, etc. can be overwhelming in this ten-minute epic, but there are some implications interesting enough to be focused on, which this section will be dedicated to.
Figure 1: Selected stills from the “Blackstar” (2015) Music Video
“Blackstar” (2015), in its entire ten minutes, depicts a cult ritual being held by young believers. This ritual is preceded by the observation of a dead astronaut’s carcass by a humanoid, yet alien-looking (marked by an animal tail) female figure, on an unknown planet with a solar eclipse depicted in the background (1). The astronaut’s costume contains a skull covered in jewellery (2). We are also presented with a first glimpse of Bowie, wearing a long black coat, blindfolded, with black buttons covering his eyes, evocatively singing in some place resembling the roof truss of a church, backed by half-naked dancers entranced in a manic dancing fit (3). As the video progresses, the skull is retrieved from the astronaut and delivered to a barren, middle-eastern stylized city (4), with the girl heading towards a blackened castle seen in the background. This is intersected with a shot of a large “solitary candle” (line 2) and the scenery of Bowie and the maniacs. In an unknown place, young people are seen slowly gathering, yet avoiding eye contact with each other, shaking not unlike Bowie’s manic dancers. Meanwhile on the distant planet, a skeleton is seen floating upwards toward the black sun, before the clip cuts to an entirely different scene, just as the song thematically jumps into the more pop-centric middle section (“Something happened on the day he died” (line 9)). Now, Bowie is portraying a priest figure, firmly looking into the distance, backed by a blue sky painted on a wall, which some of his ‘followers’ are leaning on (5). He raises a small book with a black star on it, ceremonially showing it around while firmly fixing his eyes on it, before the camera cuts back to the church’s roof truss scene. Now, Bowie sings, no longer blindfolded, all by himself, before he shares some intimate looks with a bewildered looking follower, with Bowie ending the exchange with a single wink. As his singing progresses, the camera sometimes loses focus, and Bowie’s expressive body language shifts between stoic and slightly manic. At the end of this section, the follower is now seen shouting along the line “I’m a Blackstar” (6), before eventually introducing a new scene: Three scarecrows are being crucified alive on a verdant field (7), their heads concealed by white blindfolds and black buttons akin to Bowie’s own in the first section. Bowie once again presents his black book, before the clip cuts to its final scene: The youth followers from before have formed an alley for the skull to reach its destination. Shots of Bowie, once again wearing the blindfold, are intermitted. In these shots, the camera visibly loses even more focus, leaving behind a blurred figure of Bowie. The followers kneel in front of the carrier of the skull, summoning an outlandish, serpent-like creature (8). As the skull is being held in mid-air, the young follower who had previously shared eye contact with Bowie and had exclaimed being a ‘Blackstar’ now ceremoniously receives the skull on her back (9). The video ends with the snake creature closing in on the three scarecrows, which cry out in agony as Bowie watches them, as they tremble, and apparently succumb. Interestingly, a single frame at the very end of the video clip depicts a stylized picture of Blackstar’s (2016) album cover (10). Stylistically, the video predominantly utilizes different lighting techniques, and as a result, its colours alternate between stale and vibrant, dark and light, pale and colourful (summarized by Pegg as “painterly lighting”). This leads to frequent changes in mood: Not unlike the music itself that shifts from busy distortion to glimpses of Bowie’s well-known glam rock and back to distortion, the video can also be divided into three sections: the first depicts the retrieval of the skull and its transport to the cult gathering, with Bowie portraying the blind prophet figure (1–4). Here, the mix of blue and grey colours evoke an atmosphere of mystery on the distant planet while the bleak brown mush of the city sphere suggests danger and the absence of hope. In the more upbeat second part, Bowie’s priest character preaches about the teachings of the Blackstar until his follower begins to spread the message (5–6). In this section, the lighting can be seen in stark contrast to the other parts with its very bright application that casts shadows of the followers on the fake sky, and makes every detail of David Bowie’s (notably aged and bony) face visible. With the introduction of the scarecrows until their eventual demise, the third section marks an unsettling finale (7–10): The cult gathering and scarecrow scenes are marked by flickering lights of virtually all colours, complementing the playful pipe and organ sections in the music track. In addition, the camera often loses focus, especially when Bowie, returned to his blind state, is central in the shot, as if losing track of him and his actual state of being. In terms of setting, the video makes heavy use of middle-eastern stylized places and employs Christian-themed symbols (the priest, the worshipped book, its preaching) as well as occult symbols (the blind prophet figure, the decorated skull, the three scarecrows, the ‘snake monster’). As such, the locations in the video cannot be defined in the real world because they contain too many contradicting elements. If we imagine the world of the music video as a fictional scape that escapes a clear connection to a real location, its purpose is arguably of a more universal concern, a dream, or the representation of a state of mind. Maybe the conscious artist’s mind that becomes chaotically expressive when confronted with unsurmountable challenges? Because this place is not located anywhere specifically, it could be literally everywhere. Therefore I argue that the “Blackstar” (2015) music video mirrors the lyrics’ supposed messages of spiritual succession. It also proves to be a very personal affair; if it was not considered to be one before, Bowie’s death certainly triggered new entry points into the video.
Bowie’s transformations within the video, for example, are reminiscent of the various characters Bowie had played in the past (Pegg). The Blind Prophet figure (3) that also appears in the “Lazarus” (2016) video can be associated with the themes of inner vision, the rejection of the objective, visual world, and the buttons-for-eyes also remind of puppets, soulless containers with no life in them, only imitations of live entities. The main inspiration for this appearance, however, is most likely the actual biblical description of Lazarus after being resurrected by Jesus: “ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (The Bible. Authorized King James Version, John 11). The figure of Lazarus will be more deeply analysed in section 5.3 on “Lazarus” and its accompanying music video (5.3.1), but in this case Bowie seems to interpret the Lazarus figure as one not necessarily being pleased about its resurrection. Instead, Bowie embraces the madness of this act, transporting it with his movements in the “Blackstar” video, and this madness is arguably inspiring his companions to their manic dance. If we consider this prophet figure as being a contrast to the priest figure played by Bowie in the middle section (5), we are presented with two essential sides of Bowie: one that is empty, blind in rage, perhaps unaccepting, clinging to the little life that he has (or, deliberately escaping death), and one that presents Bowie as being in a moment of realization, one that embraces the Blackstar as he embraces life and its implications. Preaching about his findings, he chooses a spiritual successor (6), while the other Blind Prophets who seemingly could not escape their fates are being sacrificed. Bowie may be saying that if you find salvation in the Blackstar, that is, the light that shines from within you and inspires others, transcending physical boundaries, then you may find peace. The others, the blind prophets which are crucified like scarecrows (7) arguably failed this inner quest for transcendence and are therefore doomed. Bowie’s personas in this video may very well tell the tale of his own personal struggle with impending death: At one point, he may have been blind and mad in grief and denial, but he certainly died a priest, a preacher who invokes positive ideas in others, thus transcending the material world, becoming a “Blackstar”, as suggested by the single-frame Blackstar symbol at the very end of the video, arguably Bowie’s final transformation.
The Successor figure, however, is more speculative. As the lyrics suggest this search for spiritual succession, we can certainly have this interpretation enforced by the face-to-face exchange of Bowie with a single follower in the middle section (6). As Bowie preaches about the Blackstar he makes eye contact with a bob-haired woman, who appears nervous at first, but then firmly exclaims being a Blackstar herself later. Bowie’s lyric “Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried: I’m a Blackstar” (line 11) does not directly specify who “somebody” may be, and Bowie maybe does not really want to know; he is only certain of his or her existence. Interestingly, in the late 2000s, Bowie found fascination in alternative rock bands Arcade Fire and TV on the Radio, even giving some rare performances alongside the former, or contributing to recordings with the latter (Hiatt). He may have been looking for a successor as early as that. As the argued successor receives the ceremonial skull upon her back (9), not unlike a coronation, she is being chosen by the youth cult, one that might not have been directly led, but certainly inspired by Bowie. If we take this group as a metaphor for the popular music business as a whole, it is not much different: the world crowns its own ‘heroes’ who embark on a particular path built by the heroes before them. Bowie therefore did not pinpoint his successor; but he certainly helped paving the way.
The skull that is retrieved from the astronaut’s suit, which may be an obvious reference to Bowie’s Major Tom figure (Nicolson, Kornhaber), is the central item of the narrative, as it traverses between worlds to find itself on the back of the chosen Successor figure. The link between “Blackstar” (2015) and “Space Oddity” (1967) through the astronaut image is quite a poetic, even romantic interpretation as it would, in a sense, frame Bowie’s entire career. It satisfies the implied need for such a career to come ‘full circle’: Major Tom lost in space due to unnatural phenomena as Bowie’s first ‘popular’ literary outing, and then being the source for future generations’ inspirations as his unknown fate is revealed almost fifty years later. For Boyce, the skull is the predominant symbol in the video, as the central narrative that revolves around the transportation of the skull arguably mirrors the artist’s own journey:
It is as if Bowie is preparing for a transformation of a different order of magnitude to those that have gone before: although his consciousness will end, some part of him will walk away from the experience into the immortal realm of art and memory. (529)
This new world is as vague as any can be, but Boyce’s image of the “realm of art and memory” (529) is an interesting thought, one that may be, at least partly, visualized in “Blackstar’s” vibrant scenery. In this regard, if we reconnect the skull to the Major Tom figure that was incepted early in Bowie’s career, we can consider the “Blackstar” video a brief rendition of Bowie’s own traversal through unknown and fascinating realms, as he is preparing to enter the next one, the most unknown and fascinating of all.
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