An artist to the very end, David Bowie took his leave from earth with yet another perfectly executed piece of performance art. Days after marking his 69th birthday with the release of his best new music in years, Bowie died early Monday.
A statement noted that Bowie had been battling cancer for 18 months and died “peacefully … surrounded by his family.” There had been no prior news of Bowie ailing. In a separate statement, Bowie’s longtime producer Tony Visconti described the new album “Blackstar” (ISO/Columbia Records) as the dying singer’s “parting gift” before concluding, “For now, it is appropriate to cry.”
As news of Bowie’s death spread, social media lit up with tributes, remembrances and shocked reactions. In the wee small hours of Monday morning, longtime Bowie guitarist Carlos Alomar posted on Facebook: “Can’t sleep... It’s like my heart is frozen, and my gaze is fixed... Nothing comes to mind..... Stunned. Not making much sense right now... gotta sleep.”
One artist who took the news particularly hard was singer Kat Robichaud. A Raleigh expatriate who now lives in San Francisco, Robichaud (who made the top-10 of NBC’s singing competition show “The Voice” in 2013) idolizes the chameleon-like Bowie as her biggest influence.
“I just can’t believe it,” Robichaud said. “It’s like the wind’s been knocked out of me. He was everything to me. And he made this amazing new album while suffering in silence. He did the only thing he knew how to do – be awesome. Be David Bowie. I’m devastated.”
Along with playing her own music, Robichaud sings in a San Francisco-based tribute band called Church of the Silver Sacred Sexual. She said they are planning a free concert later this week so that people can gather to mourn.
A Bowie tribute show that was already in the works will happen March 31 at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The Roots, Cyndi Lauper and Jakob Dylan are among the acts on the bill, along with Durham’s Mountain Goats.
Another Bowie tribute show that was already in the works (and always scheduled to be announced Monday, coincidentally enough) will happen March 31 at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The Roots, Cyndi Lauper and Jakob Dylan are among the acts on the bill, along with Durham’s Mountain Goats.
“There was always the hope that Bowie would be there,” said Mountain Goats drummer Jon Wurster. “Sadly, that will not happen. I can’t say what song we’ll play. But it will be a fairly deep cut, that much I can tell you.”
On Monday, fans were also recalling their in-person brushes with Bowie from over the years. Kitty Kinnin, a longtime deejay for various radio stations in the area, met Bowie long enough to be photographed with him backstage at Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in 1995.
So many people try to reinvent themselves, but Bowie was the master. It was his gift to make that work every time.
Kitty Kinnin, longtime deejay for various Triangle radio stations
“He was incredibly gracious and funny,” Kinnin said. “But I was so starstruck, in such awe, that I can’t even remember what he said. So many people try to reinvent themselves, but Bowie was the master. It was his gift to make that work every time.”
News of Bowie’s death also cast new meanings on “Blackstar.” Mortality obsession is nothing new for Bowie, going back to the hit single “Changes” 45 years ago (”Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older”). But that theme has taken on added emphasis for Bowie on recent works, culminating with “Blackstar” – especially the song and video “Lazarus.”
“Lazarus” opens with Bowie declaring, “Look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” And the video shows him in a hospital bed before entering a darkened closet.
“This new album is such a brilliant piece of work,” said Peter Holsapple, co-founder of the dB’s. “It takes a lot for anybody to record anytime. But my God, to do it when you’re dealing with cancer is unimaginable. It’s hard to accept. I was listening to ‘Blackstar’ and trying to figure out how they’d tour it, which obviously won’t happen. But what a way to go out.”
Honoring a true original
▪ TV networks MTV and VH1 will air dedicated programming to “celebrate the life of the musical genius.” MTV is airing some of David Bowie’s biggest MTV moments including his 1984 VMA performance of hit song “Blue Jean,” an archival interview with Iggy Pop and more. VH1 Classic will air blocks of Bowie music videos over the next couple of days and the film “Ziggy Stardust.”
▪ Mourning fans are remembering Bowie at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The star on a Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk became covered with candles, flowers and glitter Monday. Meanwhile in Berlin, where David Bowie recorded his “Heroes” album, a makeshift memorial sprung up outside the star’s old apartment. And in Great Britain, fans have gathered to lay flowers beside a mural of Bowie in Brixton, the south London neighborhood where the singer was born in 1947.
▪ On the U.S. iTunes albums chart, which updates frequently throughout the day to reflect digital purchases from users, Bowie’s new album “Blackstar” peaked at No. 1 on Monday. “Best of Bowie” was No. 2, pushing Adele’s “25” to No. 3. And two other Bowie albums reached the Top 10.
▪ Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger called Bowie “an inspiration” and “wonderfully shameless.” “We had so many good times together,” Jagger said. Former Beatle Paul McCartney also paid tribute, calling Bowie “a great star.” “His music played a very strong part in British musical history, and I’m proud to think of the huge influence he has had on people all around the world,” McCartney said.