David Bowie: the art of the exit

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Knowing his end was near, protean singer David Bowie worked to prepare for his release. By publishing a last album, testamentary, he preferred to face his death, the better to thwart it with the immortality that the status of artist confers. And, from his musical comedy to the many unpublished ones sleeping in the cupboards, he left us an inestimable legacy

Let’s quickly move on to the release of yet another compilation in November 2016, Legacywhose only interest – and still – lies in an unpublished version of “Life on Mars?”, to return to the other Bowian discographic event of this year 2016: Who can I be now? This second retrospective box set (after Five Years in 2015), traces from 1974 to 1976 the American parenthesis of the blond angel, who then abandoned the glam panoply to devote himself to soul music and sonic experiments. If we can welcome the presence of the 2010 mix of the album Live Nassau Coliseum ’76which restores a certain luster to this Dantesque tour (until now only available on the deluxe edition of Station to Station), we remain a little unsatisfied regarding the real-false unreleased record, The Gousteractually an alternative version of Young Americans which doesn’t add much more to his discography.

Exiled Alien

In mid-2015, in complete secrecy and between treatments for liver cancer, David Bowie worked daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., recording Blackstar at the Magic Shop Studio located in southern New York. Always with the greatest discretion, he then joined a small theater in the Bowery where mysterious rehearsals were taking place for a project that had been close to his heart since adolescence: producing and composing a musical! After thinking for a while about adapting on stage The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from MarsBowie preferred to co-write with the Irish playwright Enda Walsh a sequel to the film The man who came from elsewhere where in 1976 he played an extraterrestrial, Thomas Jerome Newton, abandoned on Earth. In an austere and closed setting, the exiled alien, now played by an inhabited and astonishing Michael C. Hall (Dexter !), shares his metaphysical questions with several “visitors” eager to help him finally reach his mother planet…

Directed by Ivo Van Hove, this musical includes several old Bowie songs (“Absolute Beginners”, “This is not America”, “Heroes”…) rearranged and sung by the actors themselves, who manage to avoid, sometimes little, the kitsch that generally befits this type of production. The notoriety and intrinsic quality of the songs have a lot to do with it, the last three unreleased tracks composed and recorded by Bowie easily rising to the level of his great classics: the celestial and inhabited “No Plan”, the falsely pop but authentic gem “ When I Met You” and the disillusioned rock of “Killing a Little Time”.

“The death of a sacred monster inevitably leads to a craze for the objects of worship relating to it. »

Published on October 21, 2016, the soundtrack of the show gives off a particular vibration charged with emotion. This was actually released in a single day, January 11, 2016, just 24 hours after the singer’s death. Some performing artists only learned the sad news once they arrived at Avatar Studios, just before entering the booth dedicated to voice recording. “In order to support each other, we all attended each other’s recordings, sitting in the control room. Except for mine because seeing them all like that would have made it impossible for me. I cried non-stop all morning…”confided Sophia Anne Caruso, a young actress aged 15 who plays Thomas Jerome Newton’s muse.

Despite an austere scenography and a sometimes abstruse esoteric subject, the New York performances (from December 7, 2015 to January 20, 2016) met with triumphant public and critical success, which is currently being repeated in London where the show will be on until through January 22, 2017. These will likely be the last performances featuring the original cast. Final project in which Bowie was involved, Lazarus is also at the origin of the last public appearance of the singer, who came to attend, on December 7, 2015, the New York premiere, at the end of which he fainted backstage…

The man who came from elsewhere

We know that the death of a sacred monster inevitably leads to a craze for the objects of worship relating to him, as well as a commercial revaluation of everything that directly or indirectly relates to his person. Until the most improbable. In June 2016, during an auction taking place in Beverly Hills, a lock of the singer’s platinum hair was sold for 16,000 euros. This dates from 1983 and has been preserved until now by an employee of Madame Tussauds who had worked at the time on the design of the wax statue of the artist. More seriously, in terms of memorabilia, Bowie had (once again!) taken a lead by authorizing the teams of the Victoria & Albert Museum to freely access his colossal archives, which number 70,000 pieces, including a good ten thousand of photos. “David Bowie is”, the resulting exhibition in London in 2013, was a resounding success and has since toured the world.

In 2016, after Groningen (Netherlands), Bologna constituted the final European stage of this multimedia retrospective which reflects in 300 “pieces” the multidisciplinary talents of the rock chameleon, and which recently gave some ideas to big names such as the Rolling Stones (“Exhibitionism” currently at Industria in New York) and Pink Floyd (“Their mortal remains” at the V&A from May 2017). But Bowie didn’t just meticulously manage his own archives. Passionate about the visual arts and a painter himself, he also loved collecting and was even one of a few rock stars, with Elton John, Brian Ferry And Brian Enowhich according to Fernando Mignoni of Christie’s London, “have really, through their numerous wise acquisitions, left their mark on the market”.

More than 400 pieces from the singer’s monumental private collection, including works by Basquiat, Duchamp, Picabia, Gilbert & George, were revealed to the public this year. Before being sold on November 10 and 11 during an auction organized by Sotheby’s, which panicked buyers and counters for a total gain of 33 million pounds! More modestly, but also much more affordable, the site Bowie France is organizing a convention on January 8, 2017 in Paris which is none other than the very first gathering of this kind ever dedicated to the artist in France.

Unfortunately, in October 2016, unlike the United States, Germany and England, France did not benefit from the theatrical and DVD/Blu-Ray release of the film. The man who came from elsewhere duly remastered in ultra high definition (available for import). This philosophical tale directed by Nicolas Roeg However, just forty years ago was Bowie’s first major role (the best?), who plays an alien who landed on earth to save his planet in danger of extinction. Skinny as a nail, drunk to the bone, often in conflict with Roeg whom he had kept waiting for eight hours during their first meeting, the ex-Ziggy Stardust delivers an icy and emotionless performance which serves to marvel the incarnation of his character, Thomas Jerome Newton.

“In terms of records, Bowie had planned various posthumous releases that did not exclude unreleased material. »

Essential for anyone who wants to understand the genesis of Newton, which we find today at the heart of the musical Lazarusthe vision of this cinematographic UFO is also for the technical mastery of Nicolas Roeg whose excessive zooms and cut editing, where shots follow one another abruptly, will make the heyday of video clips from the 1980s onwards. Throughout During his career, Bowie appeared as a headliner or as a simple guest in some 25 feature films, notably in 1992 in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me spin-off of the eponymous series by David Lynch, where he played the role of agent Phillip Jeffries. We now know that the Thin White Duke was also supposed to appear in the 2017 version of this cult series, alongside Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) and Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails).

Bowie will not be absent from the screens in 2017 thanks, among other things, to the BBC, which did not skimp on resources: the documentary The Last Five Years directed by Francis Whately, already author of the remarkable Five Years in 2013, will report on the conception, thanks to previously unpublished images and audio interviews, of his last three projects: The Next Day, Blackstar and the show Lazarusincluding the exclusive broadcast of an isolated vocal track of the singer captured during his last recording. Bowie at the BBC will compile his appearances on the English channel throughout his career (clips, interviews, concerts, etc.), of the young David Jones aged 17, interviewed in 1964 as the founder of “The association for the prevention of cruelties inflicted on men with long hair” until his performance at the Glastonbury Festival in 2000.

Finally, BBC Radio 2 will return on January 9, 2017, in Exploring Life On Marson the genesis of this title – inspired by “Comme d’habit” by Claude François with whom it shares the same chord sequence – considered by many to be his absolute masterpiece. In November 2016, the photographer Mick Rock has posted a new version of his famous music video “Life on Mars?” originally filmed in 1973, in just five hours! 2017, the year David Bowie would have turned 70, will naturally begin with numerous celebrations to mark the first anniversary of his death. Among them, the tour Celebrating David Bowieorganized by his close friend, the comedian Gary Oldmanfor the benefit of the Children & The Arts charity, will bring together musicians and friends of the artist in a series of concerts given around the world.

The first show which will take place on January 8 in London will bring together, among others, Mike Garson, Catherine Russell, Earl Slick, Gerry Leonard, Adrian Belew and Gail Ann Dorsey. At the discographic level, Bowie had planned various posthumous releases not excluding, according to Tony Visconti, unpublished material: “While he was terminally ill, he thought about the successor to Blackstar and made me listen to five demos…” David Bowie is here… Definitely.


Written by

Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is a dedicated writer and key contributor to the WECB website, Emerson College's student-run radio station. Passionate about music, radio communication, and journalism, Christopher pursues his craft with a blend of meticulous research and creative flair. His writings on the site cover an array of subjects, from music reviews and artist interviews to event updates and industry news. As an active member of the Emerson College community, Christopher is not only a writer but also an advocate for student involvement, using his work to foster increased engagement and enthusiasm within the school's radio and broadcasting culture. Through his consistent and high-quality outputs, Christopher Johnson helps shape the voice and identity of WECB, truly embodying its motto of being an inclusive, diverse, and enthusiastic music community.