Rich Wilhelm

New Year’s Thoughts Recorded During My First Listen to a Vinyl Copy of David Bowie’s “Blackstar”

In David Bowie, Music/Opinion on December 31, 2016 at 2:25 pm

 

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Tall Father Christmas was honored to take a few spins on David Bowie’s “Blackstar” album. Santa is happy that Rich’s mom gave him this super cool piece of vinyl for Christmas.

 

I will admit it: David Bowie’s album, Blackstar, is the only record made in 2016 that I have truly delved into and listened to in depth. Not to go blaming the year 2016 itself — though,  why not? 2016 is being blamed for all kinds of things.– but, for a variety of reasons, this was not a year in which I sought out new music and listened to it often and deeply enough to get a handle on it.

As someone who loves music, and likes to keep up with it, I wish I had been more diligent. As it happens, I’m making up for it now, diving into amazing albums by artists ranging from A Tribe Called Quest to Sturgill Simpson to Loretta Lynn to Solange to Leonard Cohen to Drive By Truckers. And, yes, of course I will give Lemonade a listen. Maybe I’ll write about those albums someday, but for now, I want to focus on Blackstar.

It was my intention to go out and get Blackstar (on CD. I’m still a little backward.) the day it was released, January 8–Bowie’s 69th birthday. That didn’t happen, nor did it happen over the next two days. Then, Bowie was gone.

Even just hours after the awful news of Bowie’s passing had hit, it was becoming difficult to find copies of Blackstar in stores, but I drove up to Plymouth Meeting Mall during my lunch break and found it at the FYE store. I began listening to it on my way back to the office and I’ve been listening consistently to it ever since.

It is important for me to note this: Bowie could be alive and well right now — and don’t we all wish he was? — and I would still consider Blackstar to be a major piece of work. Of course, the circumstances of the album’s creation and release lend a deeper resonance to the songs, but now that Bowie can no longer speak for the merits of Blackstar, the album easily speaks for itself.

Despite that, I think Blackstar might have become an intimidating listen for some people because it was labeled Bowie’s “death” album the moment Bowie died, and once something becomes a death album, some listeners might step away from it.

The truth is, Blackstar is dark and eerie in places. But it also crackles with dark humor at times and the music is spectacularly played by Donny McCaslin and members of his avant jazz group. Bowie’s voice is magnificent, he contributed some nice guitar playing, and his lyrics are as odd and cryptic as ever.

In short, Blackstar is Grammy Album of the Year material and ought to have been a shoo-in for a posthumous nomination. It would have been the most deserved posthumous Grammy award ever, and yet the folks who decide these things felt that Justin Bieber’s latest album needed an Album of the Year nod more that Blackstar did.

Whatever, Grammy people, whatever. And I say this as a guy who doesn’t even have any serious issues with the Biebs or his music.

Can’t let the Grammy’s lack of foresight derail my train of thought though. The seven songs on Blackstar, from the sprawling –and, yes, eerie — title track to the oddly uplifting closing song, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” are well worth hearing here and now and, I think will be well worth hearing 50 years from now. If you’ve heard Blackstar, you know what I’m talking about.  If not, I agree with Bowie: I can’t give everything away about Blackstar. You ought to give it a spin.

I have a feeling that Bowie would have preferred that people simply pay attention to the music on Blackstar, rather than the circumstances under which it was recorded, and I get that. But, particularly on the last day of what many people consider to have been a crummy year, it is worth noting that, when faced with the ultimate deadline, David Bowie got down to the business of being David Bowie.

Of course, that meant writing and recording Blackstar, as well as a musical called Lazarus. I’m sure it meant taking early morning walks through his beloved adopted hometown, New York City, at least when he felt up to it. And, of course, spending time with his wife and daughter. Bowie seemingly spent his final year fully being David Bowie. With Blackstar, we have all benefitted from the fullness of Bowie’s final year, but most of all, I hope Bowie shuffled away knowing he’d made the best use of his time that he could have.

And I’d suggest that could be our challenge for the coming year, and the years to follow. While we all hope to not receive the dire diagnosis Bowie did, each of us will face struggles in 2017. And it’s no secrete that many of us here in the United States are not happy with the incoming presidential administration and are trying to work out our best response to that situation. But if each us reached deep into ourselves and attempted to live the best versions of ourselves, if we each tapped into whatever mysterious force David Bowie accessed during the final year of his life, maybe 2017 won’t be so bad after all.

Happy New Year, people. Let’s do something with 2017. And, thank you David.

 

 

 

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