By Joe Jamnitzky
First off, I want to thank our editor, Brenda, for letting me write this article. I haven’t written anything here for well over a year now, for one reason or another, but since my first Lost & Found article was a David Bowie album, and my first new album review was also a David Bowie album, I reached out to her to see if she’d be gracious enough to let me contribute this to the magazine, and she was. So, thank you Brenda, for this chance.
I feel that anything I say about Bowie would be almost a cliche. That’s what happens when you have a career spanning over 50 years and manage to touch so many people in that time. The fact that he was always such an original artist makes it difficult to really write anything original about him, because there’s no way we could ever put him into words as well as he could.
Bowie had strong ties to the Philadelphia area. Not only has it always been considered one of his primary strongholds when it came to his fan base, but it’s a well known fact that the majority of the album Young Americans was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, located in Philly. The stories of the fans who would wait outside the studio, hoping to hear any bit of the music being recorded, have been documented, some more hazily than others, but the outcome has never been forgotten. On one of the final days, he brought the group into the studio to hear the tapes that had been recorded, and up until he stopped touring, he would dedicate performances in Philly to the “Sigma Kids”.
For myself, I grew up on his music from a young age, thanks to my mother playing him constantly. While she grew up in the time of his classic ’70s output, I myself was in high school during his ’90s era; my first concert was seeing him and NIN in Camden, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had. As a hardcore fan, I remember being delighted at hearing him perform lesser known album tracks, such as “Joe the Lion” and “Teenage Wildlife”.
I was fortunate enough to see him a second time, at Borgata in 2004. I went to the second of two dates, and while I was bummed that I missed him playing “The Bewley Brothers”, it was made up for by getting to see him drag out “Fashion”, “Panic in Detroit”, and especially “Diamond Dogs”. In retrospect, I’m lucky, because this would end up being his final tour.
It’s been well documented that he basically spent most of the 2006-2013 period in exile. It was assumed he retired, and indeed he spent most of his time being a family man, something which was well deserved. Then, out of nowhere, with no warning, came The Next Day. The album still holds up well for me, and while there was no tour (or even interviews), we still had videos, and he was obviously back.
When Blackstar was announced, there was the obvious excitement. Finally, he was releasing music regularly, and even had a play in the works, which had been a lifelong dream of his. Now, though, we know why…
It’s since been confirmed that he had been suffering from cancer for the past 18 months. This album was recorded with the intention of being his finale, his swan song. He released one last video, for “Lazarus”, the day before his birthday, and this was also a calculated move. The opening line, “Look up here, I’m in heaven”, and the closing shot of Bowie disappearing into a dark closet, were intentional. He told us…we just didn’t know it at the time.
I, personally, have been in tears, and am not ashamed to admit it. I was awake at 2:30am when I found out, and was hoping it was a hoax. Obviously it wasn’t.
This is a void that will never be filled, because he was one of a kind. Right until the end, though, he still had us fans in mind, wanting to give us the closing of his career on his terms, as only he could deliver it. By closing his career his way, he gave us something to use as closure as well. Blackstar was his goodbye, and while this death still hurts, still shakes us…at least he said goodbye to us.
“I’m not a prophet or a stone-age man
Just a mortal with potential of a superman
I’m living on…” – “Quicksand” by David Bowie, 1971
You will be greatly missed, but you will always live on.