David Bowie died a year ago today. He was cremated secretly without service, ceremony, memorial or fuss. In accordance with his wishes the body was taken to the crematorium, the paper work filed and the ashes returned.
Tony Visconti already revealed David, fully aware he was dying of liver cancer, wanted his latest work to be a swan song; a parting gift. Now we are also aware of his illness, the lyrics have become all the more poignant as we understand the references.
Ivo van Hove, collaborator on David’s off Broadway musical ‘Lazarus’, speculated – confessing it was merely a feeling without any substance or foundation –David might have chosen the timing of his death because of the line in the song ‘Girl loves me’. David sings: where the f*** did Monday go. He died on a Sunday.
This is the place to point out the lyrics to ‘Girl loves me’ are partially written in Nadsat the made-up language of ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Bowie cited the film being an influence on the Ziggy Stardust look. His Ziggy concerts opened with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony a track used in the film. He used the Nadsat word ‘droogie’ (friend) in Suffragette City and ‘nazz’ (fool) in Ziggy Stardust. Both songs feature on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
‘Hey man, D-Droogie don’t crash here – There’s only room for one and here she comes’
‘He was the nazz, with God-given ass’
It is claimed the lyrics also feature polari – a gay slang popular from the 1930s (at least) and still heard in the 70s. Some words have become mainstream: eek (face), bona (good), troll (walk), varda (look), bold, butch, camp, naff, nanty, packet (male genitals), slap (cosmetics).
Polari was popularised during the mid-1960s in the BBC Radio show ‘Round the Horne’ featuring Sandy & Julian (2 gay characters voiced by Kenneth Williams & Hugh Paddick). Their catchphrase was ‘Bona to varda yer jolly old eek!
The idea is appealing, for Bowie launched himself into stardom by announcing he was gay in a 1972 Melody Maker interview, and arguably changing the perspective of a whole generation. However the only polari word I found in the song was ‘omi’ meaning man (as ‘polone’ was woman and ‘omi-polone’ was a gay man) and that is spelled homi.
Van Hoven went on to liken David’s unnamed last album (but referred to by the cover image of a Black Star) to Mozart’s Requiem. According to legend Mozart felt he was composing his Requiem Mass for his own funeral.
Mozart was buried in an unmarked common grave with no mourners present. The lack of a monument to this universally recognised genius has haunted music lovers over the centuries. And dare I say kept his legend alive.
Despite historians claiming Mozart’s burial was in accordance with Viennese burial customs of the time, the legend persists of Mozart being isolated and ignored by lesser men, suffering the indignity of an anonymous pauper’s funeral in a common grave pit.
Whether or not these broad similarities are coincidental is a matter for future historians to unravel.
All we can be sure of is that in centuries to come there will be as many biographies of Bowie as there are of Mozart. And classical fans (or perhaps neo-classical fans) everywhere will lament the lack of a monument to lay their floral tributes to the great man.
David has only been dead a year. Despite everything written on the internet, it is still too early to see what shape his legend will ultimately take. Amid the speculation and insight, we can only be certain David’s death will be marked by the same defining features of his life – fascination, rumour and gossip, and the thought that the man was more than a musician – he was a living work of art.
When the silent film actor Rudolph Valentino died in 1926 (on a Monday) the western world went in to mourning. There were riots outside the funeral home in New York where his body lay in state. Women committed suicide. A record was released. It became an international hit. It was called – ‘There’s a New Star in Heaven Tonight’
Given that the majority of the universe is dark matter, perhaps it was only appropriate the New Star in Heaven a year ago tonight was a BLACKSTAR…
Not a white star…
Not a popstar…
Some have said the 5 star parts running across the bottom of the album cover stand for the letters B-O-W-I-E. If this is the case then following on from the second symbol the title of the album is surely ‘O’. Or perhaps more accurately Omega meaning ‘the end’ as in I am the Alpha and the Omega.
Another one for the legend.
*Animation using Diamond Dogs LP cover (EMI/Bowie) & poster by Dutch artist Guy Peeleart (1934-2008); Bowie with dog photograph by Terry O’Neill – Words: Bowie