photo manipulation by nacrowe
the artistic and cultural legacy of DAVID BOWIE is so massive that i often feel like i consume him by way of his acolytes and those inspired by his ability to constantly shape-shift without losing any sense of authenticity. i see his influence in everyone from TRENT REZNOR, MIKE PATTON, BJORK and BECK to basically any artist who ever attempts a radical creative departure or rebranding whether such is successful or not. BOWIE was never afraid of taking public risks and was willing to jump headfirst into new invigorating collaborations, identities and experiences with a sense of abandon and wonder.
sadly i never got to see him play as he ended his touring life in 2006 (a few years after i resettled to the EAST COAST and started regularly going to shows) with his run of A REALITY TOUR live dates that ended prematurely when he had a mild heart attack in EUROPE. it was an interesting tour in that he came out as himself, not as a character as in the past. he never toured again after that and basically became a homebody in NYC for the next several years raising his daughter with his wife IMAN.
the BRITISH documentary DAVID BOWIE: THE LAST FIVE YEARS (BBC, 2017) recounts his reemergence after an almost decade of his self-imposed sabbatical throughout the 2000s with his final two albums, THE NEXT DAY (COLUMBIA, 2013) and BLACKSTAR (COLUMBIA, 2016), as well as a musical, LAZARUS. this end-of-life narrative is told through interview with his many intimate friends and collaborators: most notably his producer TONY VISCONTI, touring and recording band members EARL SLICK, GAIL ANN DORSEY, CATHERINE RUSSELL, GERRY LEONARD, CARLOS ALOMAR, DAVID TORN, ZACHARY ALFORD, REEVES GABRELS, AVA CHERRY and MIKE GARSON, long-time childhood friend WARREN PEACE and directors TONY OURSLER and FLORIA SIGISMONDI and graphic designer JONATHAN BARNBROOK. the film goes through decisions behind notable songs and visuals with these collaborators and provides insight into where his head was at during this period. what emerges is that he was interested in themes surrounding fame, identity and death/rebirth.
his LAZARUS musical in particular revisited his extraterrestrial THOMAS NEWTON character from NICOLAS ROEG's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (BRITISH LION, 1976) film in order to explore the nature of human connection, which is an ongoing theme in BOWIE's work since the experience of fame for him was a barrier to an authentically lived reality. in the play, finding an authentic connection in another person is a means of unlocking a proper preparation for death. for seceding from lived reality in totality. its interesting to think of the implications of such a gambit: was he saying goodbye to his audience? maybe hello for the first time?
the hall of mirrors that was BOWIE's personas reveals insight into the nature of our own public-facing images, especially in the age of digital media and social networks. we are all a copy of a copy projecting our ever-shifting hopes and dreams out into the ether. just like MAJOR TOM we are all lost in space searching for some kind of recognition.
i found this documentary highly engrossing and recommend it to any fan of BOWIE or anyone interested in the power of ART.