Bowie and Garcia Márquez: Death, Mondays, Chestnut Trees, and Speaking in Tongues

When a Bowie nerd stumbles on a literary reference and quietly shouts Hallelujah so he doesn’t wake up the neighbors

David Bowie died on January 10, 2016, days after dropping Blackstar, an album stacked with cryptic musings that both frightened and delighted his fans. Bowie was as close to the notion of a Renaissance man as a rock star could ever be, albeit in a very dada-esque kind of way: He seemed to draw inspiration from everywhere and stack his ideas with complete disregard for established conventions about structure and meaning. This turned his works into puzzles, filled with unannounced references. Many of his fans, hopelessly looking for meaning, spent years deciphering beats and rhymes. While Bowie always denied that his songs carried any hidden messages, he delighted in digging Easter eggs everywhere he could. Sometimes, by sheer coincidence, a piece of obscure lyrics would clash with reality and strike the ground as a lightning from a clear sky.

One of those lines was “Where the fuck did Monday go?” from the Blackstar song Girl Loves Me. After the news of his death spread across the planet, it suddenly acquired a tinge of supernatural clairvoyance. You see, January 10, 2016, when Bowie drew his last breath, was a Sunday.

I remember the first thought that came to my mind when I listened to the song in the new, dreadful context. I said to myself, this is how religion must have begun. Someone somewhere did something that coincided with something else and the human mind, this tireless pattern-detector, registered it, found correlation outside causation and exhaled, comforted by the feeling that the world made little more sense after the unexpected discovery. Bowie would have loved the unintended coincidence, I thought. It was his favorite thing, randomly stitching words and watching them acquire meaning.

But it turns out the phrase may not have been so random after all. The song itself is a masterpiece of gibberish, it features a jargon called Polari peppered with Nadsat, the fictional language found in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Stuck between the undecipherable rhymes are few lines in (normal) English:

Where the fuck did Monday go?
I’m cold to this pig and pug show
I’m sittin’ in the chestnut tree
Who the fuck’s gonna mess with me?

I was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez when the Monday reference hit me again, along with the melody of the song, after a scene in which one of the main characters, José Arcadio Buendía, is visited by the aged ghost of a man he killed years ago. They sit to chat for so long that time stops and José Arcadio gets stuck in a perpetual Monday, while for the rest of his family the week continues as usual. Overwhelmed by the curse, in a fit of rage, José Arcadio starts destroying his house:

Ten men were needed to get him down, fourteen to tie him up, twenty to drag him to the chestnut tree in the courtyard, where they left him tied up, barking in the strange language and giving off a green froth at the mouth.

If the timing of Bowie’s death was coincidental, the references to One Hundred Years of Solitude are definitely not. Somewhere in heaven Bowie is now probably laughing at me, wondering whether I had better things to do than writing articles about obscure lyric references. The answer is no. :)