Lazarus

lazarus

Lazarus (Michael C. Hall, Lazarus stage performance, 2015).
Lazarus (Hall, The Late Show, 2015).
Lazarus (Bowie).
Lazarus (Bowie, video edit).
Lazarus (Hall, Lazarus soundtrack).
Lazarus (Hall, live, 2016).
Lazarus (Donny McCaslin Quartet, live, 2016).
Lazarus (Gail Ann Dorsey and McCaslin, live, 2017).

Stage

Walking into a performance of Lazarus at the New York Theater Workshop in December 2015, the first thing you noticed was a man lying on his back on stage. You might have recognized the play’s lead actor, Michael C. Hall; if not, you might have thought it was someone playing a corpse, one whose presence would spark the drama once other characters shuffled in.

It felt a bit like being at a wake, those fifteen minutes before the lights dimmed. Hall didn’t move, barely seemed to breathe; people taking their seats spoke in hushed tones. (At a post-Christmas performance that I attended, my friend Rahawa and I sat directly behind Duncan Jones. Something had come full circle: not sure what.)

Lights dim. The alien Thomas Jerome Newton grudgingly resurrects. He stretches, stands up, walks over to his bed. An old friend appears, asks him “don’t you remember the person you were? Your life outside?” “That was before,” Newton replies. “There’s nothing left of the past. It left. This is it now.”

Behind a glass wall upstage is a band, who have been onlookers: a smaller audience to mirror the larger in the seats. Now, a keyboard line, a call to attention on snare, guitar and saxophone riffs. Newton starts to sing:

Look up here, I’m in heaven…

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David Bowie had always wanted to write a musical.

When he was 21, he drafted Ernie Johnson, a rock opera about a man throwing a suicide party. In 1971, he envisioned Ziggy Stardust as a hipper Jesus Christ Superstar: he’d originate the role, other singers would take it over for road productions. He was “keen on writing in such a way that it would lead me into leading some kind of rock musical…I think I wanted to write a new kind of musical, and that’s how I saw my future at the time.” Soon enough, he wanted to make 1984 a musical. He’d play Winston Smith, Marianne Faithfull was considered for Julia, the project was scotched. On it went: countless rumors, nothing produced. Outside was once talked up as a Robert Wilson production in Vienna. Around 1998, Bowie considered reviving Ziggy Stardust in a multi-tiered offering: play, film, website, album.

His itch to move on, to play at something new, was at odds with the time and drudgery needed to write and stage a play. There was always another tour, another album to make. And then there wasn’t.

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Script (1)

Around 2007, Bowie was done with long-term touring, was ambivalent about making new albums. He’d acquired the rights to Walter Tevis’ The Man Who Fell to Earth and was looking for a collaborator to turn the novel into a musical play.

An article by the novelist Michael Cunningham, published in GQ this January, sheds some light on this dim period. Cunningham’s prose style, his caginess about certain details and odd specificity about others, makes the piece read like a man recounting a long, bizarre dream, which is perhaps what collaboration with Bowie was like. (And there’s always the chance Cunningham made up the whole thing.)

Bowie allegedly contacted Cunningham and the two met for lunch in New York, where Bowie “admitted that he was intrigued by the idea of an alien marooned on Earth,” Cunningham wrote. “He’d never been entirely satisfied with the alien he’d played [in the Nicolas Roeg film adaptation]. He acknowledged that he’d like at least one of the major characters to be an alien.”

What apparently caught Bowie’s eye was Cunningham’s Specimen Days (2005), a collection of three novellas set in the past, present, and future, with Walt Whitman as a through-line. The SF story, “Like Beauty,” begins in a New York City full of reptilian refugees from the first inhabited planet contacted by Earth. A female refugee and a male cyborg flee the city, heading west. They meet a group who are planning to leave Earth in a spaceship and take their chances on an unknown planet, but the alien is old and dying, and she can’t escape her exile.

He imagined the musical taking place in the future,” Cunningham wrote. “The plot would revolve around a stockpile of unknown, unrecorded Bob Dylan songs, which had been discovered after Dylan died. David himself would write the hitherto-unknown songs.” Also, there should be mariachi music. “He’d be pleased if [it] could be incorporated, mariachi music being under-appreciated outside Mexico.”

Sermon

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For his play, Bowie was toying with the idea of using “Lazarus” in some way. A name with many stories corked within it. Notably, Lazarus is a double in the New Testament. He’s two different men, with no specific relation to each other.

In the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31), Christ tells a parable. Lazarus is a beggar at a rich man’s gate. He desires “to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” Lazarus dies, is carried up to heaven; the rich man dies, goes to hell. He cries out to “Father Abraham,” asking for Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool the rich man’s burning tongue for a moment. Tough luck, Abraham says (imagine him in the voice of Dylan on “Highway 61 Revisited”). “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” The rich man lowers his hopes. He asks for the resurrected Lazarus to go to his home and convince his family to change their ways. They already have the words of Moses and the prophets, don’t they? Abraham says. If that’s not good enough, well, even a dead man at the door won’t make a difference.

You can see John Calvin nodding in his Geneva study while reading this, his thin lips pursed. The rich man isn’t shown to be particularly cruel, Lazarus doesn’t appear to have been particularly holy. But each holds his position: the rich man prospers on earth, burns in hell; the poor man suffers in this life, sits at the head of the table in the next. There are no crossings between heaven, earth, and hell; there are no last-minute favors to be called in. Lazarus has grace; the rich man does not.

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But in the Gospel of John (11), there’s another Lazarus: Lazarus of Bethany, a friend of Christ. Lazarus is expiring of an illness, and his sisters ask Christ to intervene. But Christ hangs back for two days; when he arrives, Lazarus is dead. Christ is mournful, even seemingly angry. ““Where have ye laid him?” They said unto Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.” He restores Lazarus to life, calls him forth from the tomb.

You can wonder why Lazarus, of all mortals, gets a second chance at life; two millennia of biblical scholars have. Was the resurrection done for political reasons, to shore up the Christians in Bethany? To show that death is not the end, but merely a sleep in which we wake to another life? Was Christ despairing about the cruelty of death and just said, no, not today?

Lazarus has no lines in the gospel. We don’t know how he felt, waking up in a tomb after four days of death, his body stinking, swathed in bandages. He briefly intersects with the divine and then he’s left behind in the story. An exile, a resurrected alien stranded among the living. The man fated to die twice.

Sermon (2)

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There were plenty of Bowie’s usual themes here—exile, doubles, death, resurrection, fate. And legend: the Biblical story echoes in the African-American folk songPoor Lazarus,” an outlaw hunted by a high sheriff and his deputy (“they blowed him down with a great ol’ .44”), and who’s left to die on a commissary table after asking his mother for a glass of water (the Luke parable is overturned—now it’s Lazarus who asks for his thirst to be quenched). But Bowie had another Lazarus on his mind.

David hesitantly said he’d been thinking about popular artists who are not considered great artists, particularly the poet Emma Lazarus, who wrote “The New Colossus,” Cunningham wrote. “What, said David, are we to make of a poet taught in few universities, included in few anthologies, but whose work, nevertheless, is more familiar to more people than that of the most exalted and immortal writers?” (Again, even if the Cunningham story is BS, Emma Lazarus was part of the play’s conception early on—“The New Colossus” is quoted in the script book.)

Emma Lazarus was a lifelong New Yorker (she’s buried in Brooklyn—to my knowledge, she was not resurrected), one of the first major Jewish-American writers. She wrote poems, polemics, translations, novels; she knew Browning and William Morris. And today she’s remembered for a few lines from one sonnet that she wrote for the Statue of Liberty (to be fair, I doubt many today could recall as many lines from Browning or Morris), a poem that her New York Times obituary didn’t mention.

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Perhaps another New Yorker, after a health scare or two, was wondering how his work would last. Would he also be reduced to a handful of lines? “Ground control to Major Tom.” “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.” “Ziggy played guitar.” And yet those lines would still be alive—kids would hum them, ad campaigns would keep churning them up. Fragments of Bowie would still be around in 2117, where the complete oeuvre of John Ashbery could be forgotten.

Emma Lazarus would be central to Bowie’s play—a character who falls in love with Thomas Newton, “this most travelled of immigrants” (Enda Walsh), believes that she’s Emma reincarnated. (This character eventually became Newton’s assistant Elly, played by Cristin Milioti in the original run of Lazarus, who sang “Changes” in the spirit of Dorothy Parker.)

Songs

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Cunningham allegedly would suggest plot points or characters and Bowie would respond with “brief passages of music on a piano or synthesizer.” These pieces “had what I can only call a dark buzz of underlayer. They had urgency.” At one point, Cunningham devised a big climactic moment: the alien reveals his true self to his human lover. “I read that passage to David over the phone. The next day he phoned me back and played me a few minutes of music he’d composed for the scene. It was, unmistakably, a fucked-up, slightly dissonant love ballad.” (Bowie also apparently didn’t remind Cunningham that such a scene was central to Roeg’s film; another possible sign this memoir isn’t what it seems.) Halfway through a first draft, Bowie’s heart trouble returned and he needed immediate surgery, Cunningham wrote. “Our musical was put on hold. We never revived it.”

Bowie’s attention was returning to music. By 2010, he’d written many of the songs that would appear on The Next Day. His usual move would’ve been to devote himself to the album and ditch any idea of doing a play: maybe he’d bring up his latest lost idea years later. But Bowie wouldn’t let it go this time—he pressed on with developing his play even as he labored to finish The Next Day.

Maybe one morning over coffee Bowie realized doing a musical about lost Bob Dylan songs, extraterrestrials, and mariachi music was ridiculous even by his own standards. (And of course maybe Cunningham made it all up.) Whatever it was, he grew a touch more realistic about his play. To get it staged in New York, he’d have to offer some type of “jukebox musical.” If people are going to see a David Bowie play, sure, let them hear “Changes” or “All the Young Dudes” along with getting a lot of weirdness thrown at them.

An established playwright collaborator seemed preferable: two absolute beginners at musicals was too many. In the summer of 2013, Bowie asked his producer Robert Fox for suggestions—who’s a great young playwright? Enda Walsh, Fox said.

Script (2)

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Enda Walsh was born in Kilbarrack, a suburb northeast of Dublin, in 1967. Before he turned 30, he’d written Disco Pigs, a play about two teenagers fatally obsessed with each other (the play and its movie version starred Bowie favorite Cillian Murphy).

Reading up on Walsh, Bowie found a voice seemingly born to write his alien-exile play. Describing his Misterman (2011; another Murphy performance), Walsh told the Guardian: “I wanted it to be about a man and a building and for the audience to be asking from the off: ‘How did he end up there? What’s he trying to tell us and why?’ He’s looking for some rest, but his guilt is overwhelming and, besides, he’s existing on Fanta and Jammie Dodgers and cheap cheesecake, so there is no rest.” This is Lazarus in a nutshell.

When Walsh first met Bowie in New York, in autumn 2014, he recalled entering “a secret lift [and] arriving in a completely grey corridor, with this huge ridiculous fucking door at the end of it.” The door (Walsh later told Bowie, “that’s a really stupid door”) led to a gallery, where he found Bowie. Embracing Walsh, Bowie said “you’ve been in my head for three weeks.” True to form, he’d read every Walsh play, and started the conversation by asking about Walsh’s work. “I was just thinking, ‘this is easy,’ because I was talking about myself,” Walsh recalled.

Then Bowie slid four pages’ worth of ideas across the table, and that was the start of it. The two would collaborate for over 18 months, often by Skype: Bowie in New York, Walsh in London.

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He had it mapped out for me,” Walsh recalled. There was Thomas Jerome Newton; his savior, a dead girl; a woman (“Ellie Lazarus”) “who over this short period has a mental breakdown;” and the psychotic murderer Valentine, “who just wants to kill fucking love!” There wouldn’t be a straight narrative as much as a series of events refracted through Newton’s distorted mind: the perspective of a man who can’t leave earth and who can’t die.

Walsh described their writing process as “like making a weather report…I said to him, “Jesus, all we’re doing is constructing weather—it’s all atmospheres and rhythms clashing together.” The bizarre grocery list of earlier versions was gone. Now the play was becoming an ominous mood-piece centered on Newton’s exile and madness. The aim was to create an hour-and-a-half play that felt like a song. “It’s this dream piece, connecting sort of but not fully,” Walsh said. “We talked a lot about a man who effectively wants to die…can we make a piece that feels like it’s been infused with morphine?”

When Walsh learned Bowie had cancer, he wondered how much Bowie was grappling with mortality during the writing. “What must it be like to be David Bowie? [When you die,] are you truly dead?” When they were writing Newton’s final speech, Walsh thought “can you imagine the last moments of your life…to have that grief and fight with yourself, wanting to live, wanting to continue, but wanting rest. That’s what we ended up making…having a silent conversation with each other without it being, ‘let’s go down and have a pint’…how do you deal with the fact you’re not going to be here in three months’ time?”

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I’m done with this life—so a new universe I’ll dream big up there.

Newton, Lazarus.

Caged in his apartment, Newton begins Lazarus in the same condition as at the end of Roeg’s film: drunk, isolated, bereft, numb, missing his home planet. He’s the hollowed-out center of the play, around whom brighter, livelier personalities circle: the grinning murderer Valentine (Michael Esper), the angelic lost girl (Sophia Anne Caruso), and Newton’s assistant, Elly, who’s a set of walking nerves, scrabbling in and out of her clothes.

It was, among many things, a look into how Bowie’s mind worked: an early scene where Newton is thrown around the stage by a female Japanese samurai while they duet on “It’s No Game” could well be how Bowie envisioned the song in his head in 1980. An opportunity to have new songs performed on stage that Bowie never would play live (“Where Are We Now?” is essentially Hall covering Bowie). After January 2016, another layer of the play was revealed: a dying man saying goodbye to his teenage daughter.

“Visionary crap,” pronounced a man sitting behind me at the end of a preview performance.

Studio

lazbass1At first Bowie considered only using his catalog songs for the revised play, but his producer Fox suggested that he write a few new ones.

It’s unclear when Bowie started what became the play’s title and opening song. By 2014, he had a sketch known as “Bluebird,” which he proposed developing with Maria Schneider after “Sue.” That same summer, he demoed the song (now called “The Hunger”) in the studio with Tony Visconti, Zachary Alford, and the pianist Jack Spann. Renamed “Lazarus,” it would be one of the first tracks recorded in the first Blackstar session in January 2015.

“Lazarus” moves at morphine-drip tempo (it takes a minute to get through 16 bars—there are reservoirs of space between each hit of Mark Guiliana’s snare drum), and it’s harmonically bare—the verse dazedly moves from the home chord of A minor (“look up here, I’m in”) out to the VI chord, F major (“heaven”) and slowly back home again. There’s more turbulence in the bridge, which jolts from C major (“I was”) through E-flat major (“looking for your”) to land on D major (“ass”). A possible inspiration, at least for mood and tone, was the Cure’s “The Big Hand” (“it traces back to the Cure and New Order,” bassist Tim Lefebvre said of his opening bassline).

In the verse, the vocal line is confined to a five-note range, mostly keeping to the root notes of chords, with closing phrases dragged across bars (“see-een,” “loo-oose,” “be-low”). Bowie (and Hall) change their phrasing in the bridge: more declamatory phrases that sink a third to expire (“then I used up all-my-money“). They stick with this phrasing when the chords resume the verse’s Am/F pairing, which conveys Newton’s growing frustration at being stuck in limbo, and creates a structural tension—is this still a bridge? is it a new verse? an outro? The song winds down, unresolved; it feels like it’s been expiring for a long time.

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The Lazarus performance, on stage and in its cast recording, is meant for Newton to bring the audience into his state of mind, so Michael Hall quickly gets into the song. The intro is shorter, the bridge is the dramatic peak (complete with backing singers), and the song soon packs off so as to cut to a scene with Elly and her husband.

In the studio, the Donny McCaslin group began by replicating lines from Bowie’s studio demo, with McCaslin playing what were originally Bowie saxophone parts in the verse. But Bowie wanted the song to linger more, to open up, build. “I remember that we played a really nice first take—everyone played very musically, but politely,” Mark Guiliana said. “David said something like, ‘Great, but now let’s really do it.’ He was always pushing us. The version on the record is the next take, where we are all taking a few more chances.”

Compare the Lazarus version’s quick-sweep keyboard intro to the long, brooding opening of the Blackstar take: a chordal bass run by Lefebvre, improvised early in the “Lazarus” session. “The intro didn’t exist on his demo, but after the first take we kept playing, and Tim started playing this beautiful line with the pick, which David liked and thought it would make for a nice intro,” Guiliana said. “He was very much in the moment crafting the music.

For the opening Lefebvre plays a run of eighth notes on his E string, moving up the neck, playing such high notes at first (at the 19th fret) that many have thought it’s a guitar line. It began as an embellishment during the first take’s outro. “I’m a big fan of this band Fink, and their guitar parts are like that, where they move roots around,” he said. “So I did it at the beginning, too, and it became the thing. Anybody that’s heard my playing had heard me do that five billion times…I just improvised the high stuff.”

There was a raw element needed—a clanging, distorted guitar to abrade the verses and outro. Though Ben Monder was on hand for guitar overdubs later in the Blackstar sessions, Bowie played these lines. As Nicholas Pegg discovered, Bowie used the Fender Stratocaster that Marc Bolan had given him in 1977, weeks before Bolan’s death. The power chords—three sliding stops down the neck—at first stand alone, tearing through the opening verse; the scars that can’t be seen but heard well enough. Later they close ranks with McCaslin’s saxophone.

Stage (2)

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Bowie’s “Lazarus” builds as it closes, with McCaslin’s roaring saxophone (at times colored with overdubs McCaslin recorded months later) urged on by Guiliana’s drums and Lefebvre’s rolling bassline. But compared to some of his wilder moments on Blackstar, McCaslin seems controlled, precise, slightly held in check.

Then a show in London, in November 2016. McCaslin starts by announcing “Lazarus” with its three-chord banner, plays the verse melody somberly, then in a higher register. By the bridge, he slowly lifts into the song, begins boring and twisting through it while Guiliana detonates around him. Five minutes in, he’s pushing out, whirling in the air, with higher and higher phrases, holding and choking off notes: the song offers endless territories for him to move into.

In February 2017, in New York, he played with Gail Ann Dorsey. She captures the song with her first line—it’s as if Bowie had turned out to have written it for her: the way she sings “I was living like a king” with cold dignity. McCaslin follows, counter-weaves. She finishes singing and sits down on the stage, letting McCaslin take her place in the relay. There’s no warmup—he tears into his solo, running up and down scales, boiling and rolling while Dorsey nods along in time, her eyes closed. It’s a seance where the spirit doesn’t need to talk, where the living happily do the work.

Screen

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I just thought of it as the Biblical tale of Lazarus rising from the bed. In hindsight, he obviously saw it as the tale of a person in his last nights,” said Johan Renck, who directed the “Lazarus” video.

Shot in November 2015, it’s Bowie’s last public image, and it’s easy to view the video as Lefebvre once described it: “the references to his own mortality, the symbolism in the ‘Lazarus’ video, it’s all spelled out. And he went out in a ball of flames.”

“Lazarus” was meant to be distributed—it was as if Bowie was selecting heirs, passing on estates, shifting properties around. So it was Michael C. Hall’s song, too—the song through which Hall introduced Newton on stage. Hall was the one who first played “Lazarus” to an audience beyond the confines of the NY Theater Workshop, singing it on the Late Show in December 2015. It was McCaslin’s song, though it took him time to fully find his way in. It was Dorsey’s song—when she sang it that night at the Cutting Room, it was as if it had been waiting for her all along, and now she’d finally gotten there. There will be more inheritors to come.

But the video is Bowie’s copyright tag—he makes “Lazarus” impossible for the song ever to fully escape his orbit. A jovial not so fast, loves. He plays two roles (beggarman and resurrectee), both seen in Renck’s earlier “Blackstar” video, and the symbolism is clear, isn’t it? “Jones”: the dying mortal, reaching out to heaven, his wasted body being tugged away from his hospital bed. “Bowie”: the impish trickster daemon, still at work, still plotting, wearing his Station to Station jumpsuit, scoffing at how dully serious death is. Jones sings the mournful verses, while Bowie gets the bridge lines, which derails the song’s doom-and-gloom sensibility with some score settling:

Then I used up all my money!
I was looking for your ass!

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So British, the wit, like a guilt thing, making sure it’s not coming across as too serious or pretentious—and yet that enhances the humanity of it,” Renck said. The video even ends with “Bowie” going back into the closet.

But “Button Eyes,” as Bowie and Renck called the terminal character, was as much of a viciously ironic performance. This is “Dying Bowie” for the tabloids to use, with his Late David Lynch hair and wild gesticulations; a man seemingly older than the planet. It’s how a young person may regard someone old—how do they keep at it, the olds, with so much weight and tear on them? It’s his burlesque of Jacques Brel’s “Old Folks,” a song he’d raided as a young man, for “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” (“you live so far away, when you’ve lived too long”) and “Sons of the Silent Age” (“the old don’t die, they just put down their heads and go to sleep one day”).

It’s a mockery of death, a pantomime, a refusal to take it seriously, for why should we? “Old age, calm, expanded, broad with the haughty breath of the universe,” as Walt Whitman wrote (did he ever meet Emma Lazarus? did they pass on the street?) “Old age, flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death.”

And meantime the grinning trickster Bowie is a slave to work: frantically writing, settling the accounts, trying to keep the balls in the air. New titles, names, chord changes. Another play—maybe 1984 at last! 2. Outside: Infection! Should write Brian. More albums. A small residency with McCaslin somewhere in New York—it’ll start at a comfortable hour, we’ll be in bed by 11. More, always more.

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When he was 26, Bowie had sung a curse on time. Time as an addled bureaucrat, pacing in the wings like a stage manager. A bad playwright. A wanker, a puppet dancer. Time took the insults in stride. He was back now, watching Bowie work at the candle’s end with the rest of us. Time’s sympathetic but really, we should be on by now.

Stage (3)

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At first, the cast and crew of Lazarus didn’t know whether Bowie would make the opening night, on 7 December 2015. His health was still a secret kept among Walsh, director Ivo van Hove, and a few others. But he was there. At the end of the performance, Bowie “went around to everyone in the the theater…he wanted to celebrate the stage managers and the doormen—he thanked everyone,” Walsh said. When Bowie left through the front door, out onto East 4th St., Walsh “knew that was going to be the last time I would see him.”

Michael Cunningham said he was there as well. He’d spied a notice at the NY Theater Workshop for Lazarus. “Realizing that David had gone ahead with another writer was a little like running into a lover from the deep past, on the arm of his new lover, and finding that you ceased to miss him so long ago that you felt nothing but happiness for him,” Cunningham wrote.

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A month or two earlier, Bowie’s at an early run-through performance of Lazarus. The bandleader Henry Hey asks for his thoughts. “Is everything OK? Would you like anything else?”

“Yes,” Bowie says. “I think I’d like a sing.”

A keyboard intro, a call to attention on the snare. David Bowie sings before an audience for the last time in his life. The performance is the memory of a dozen or so actors, a dozen or so musicians; some lighting techs, a stage manager or two.

He closes his accounts with “Lazarus.” A New Yorker at death. Pop poet of the downtrodden. Beggar in heaven, twice-dead man, outlaw. Exiled alien, living on Twinkies and gin. Old Button Eyes.

Look up here, Bowie begins, finding his foothold in the song, the musicians there to back him up. I’m in heaven…

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The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road.”

Recorded: 3 January 2015 (backing tracks), Magic Shop, NYC; 23-24 April, 7 May 2015 (vocals, overdubs), Human Worldwide, NYC. First release: 18 December 2015, digital single (UK #45, US #40). Lazarus version: first performed 18 November 2015; cast recording made on 11 January 2016. First release: 21 October 2016, Lazarus.

Photos/illus: Gustav Dore, Resurrection of Lazarus; MC Hall on stage at the New York Theater Workshop, 2015 (Sara Krulwich, NYT); Tevis, first edition of Man Who Fell to Earth; Woodcut illustration of Luke 16:19-31 by Jacob Locher, used by Silvan Otmar of Augsburg (d. 1540); Resurrection of Lazarus, unknown painter, Athens, 12th-13th C; portrait of Emma Lazarus, unknown painter; Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh, 1996 (Corcadorca Theatre Company); transcription of Tim Lefebvre’s bassline during the saxophone solo on “Lazarus” by Brian Woten; stills and GIFs from the “Lazarus” video (Renck); Bowie at rehearsals (Jan Versweyveld); the cast & creators take a bow, 7 December 2015.

Sources: Cunningham, GQ, January 2017; Walsh, quotes primarily from a conversation filmed at the Dublin Bowie Festival, 10 January 2017, and an interview with the Daily Telegraph (24 October 2016); McCaslin, New Yorker Radio Hour; Guiliana, Modern Drummer; Lefebvre: No Treble, Pedals and Effects; Renck: The Guardian. Also essential resources: Paul Trynka’s piece in Mojo (“Final Curtain,” December 2016) and the latest edition of Nicholas Pegg’s Complete David Bowie.

Some lines of this piece originally appeared in a review that I wrote for Slate on 8 December 2015. Thanks to Alex Reed for the Cure suggestion and to Rahawa Haile and Nikola Tamindzic, Lazarus companions.

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86 Responses to Lazarus

  1. Sam says:

    Welcome back Chris, can’t wait to digest this!

  2. Jaf says:

    Wonderful. And welcome back.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m at work, so I can’t lay my head down.

    January 2016 seems so long ago. At my age (56) the years are supposed to slip by because the experiences are now so often repeated they are literally unmemorable. Maybe it’s the current administration, my views on which is neither here nor there in a comment on this entry.

    Maybe it’s David Bowie not being here.

    I had a longer essay started, but I’ll just leave it at that. Thank you for another absorbing piece.

  4. Matthew says:

    Yes, welcome back.
    When I saw Lazarus in London MH wandered aimlessly about or lay down at the start, for me it created a tension which made this song all the more powerful.
    Still digesting Blackstar as an album but for me this is the standout track, easily in my top three DB songs. Maybe no.1

  5. Brabs says:

    Lovely piece full of thought and energy. I’m sure DB would agree but follow it up with what he said to Nick Pegg “it’s great but of course it’s all wrong”……

    • col1234 says:

      ha! of course.

    • alexandriadouillette says:

      Thank you for this; it’s rare for me to stumble upon new information, and this certainly made me feel a little lighter — after the feeling of loss, being lost back in Jan 2016, that I had been reminded of reading the article. He really was, wasn’t he. Not something, but he really existed, and wonderfully and silly so. (Probably my favourite side of him, oddly enough)

  6. wirestone says:

    I had taken the Cunningham article as fiction, given that GQ listed it as a story.

    • Sylvie Denis says:

      That’s what I thought after reading the first paragraphs, fiction. Very well written, but definitely fiction.

      • Jab says:

        Just because it’s called a “story” doesn’t mean it’s fiction. Stories can be made up or true. In my 20 years of reading GQ i don’t think i have ever seen a fictitious story published. Not sure why they would start now? Cunningham was in attendance at the Lazarus premier.

  7. Iain Tweedy says:

    Thanks and welcome back!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Dear Chris,
    I didn’t know whether you knew this, but David Jones enjoyed using Dream Theory as a source of inspiration for his Art and music(in fact, he liked the Dream Theory in Malaysia album). He once said that he had a dream about a true account of a girl who met the reclusive Howard Hughes the year he died. Reclusive Howard befriended the girl, who didn’t know about his past of his fear of germs. He told her interesting stories and was bemused at her child like curiosity about him. Howard in fact, was funding at the time a classified Research project with the Navy.The Navy officers running the project with Admiral Rickover invited Howard to come over to their ship. Howard actually overcame his phobia for a while and not only came over to view the ship , but he got on his motorcycle to take her home. When Howard died, the girl was interviewed by the FBI to help them identify Howard Hughes’ body.
    I see parallels in David’s dream about the reclusive plutocrat Howard Hughes and the reclusive plutocrat Mr. Newton who befriended Elly (and the Lost girl).
    PS. I just wanted to add, imho, David Bowie wanted us to know when he performed his Lazarus song for his rock film, that when he was vibrating/dancing to the jazz beat (that jazz band is soo good people in the audience actually vibrate/dance when that band performs) and singing wearing his jumpsuit, that he was still FULL OF STAR DUST :-).

  9. MrBelm says:

    Worth the wait. Love the Emma Lazarus joke.

  10. MrBelm says:

    I remember that Bowie was supposed to play Abraham Lincoln in Wilson’s Civil Wars: A Tree Is Best Measured When It Is Down

    http://dangerousminds.net/comments/starring_david_bowie_as_abraham_lincoln…._almost

  11. Phil Obbard says:

    Beautiful, Chris. Thank you. This piece gave me the same feeling as “The Last Tour” (checking now, that post was written in March 2015 – a different time & world).

  12. Anonymous says:

    Welcome back!
    Lots to digest here, but I’m intrigued by the Cunningham connection. I read his original piece and wondered whether it was a strange faction, rather than reportage. Elements of it seemed too fantastical – mariachi?!
    And his ‘Bowie’ came across as a Newton/Kurtz hybrid, rather than the regular downtown Dad who worked in ‘the Arts’. Did you get any guidance from Cunningham/Bowie ‘people’ or are you taking his piece at face value?

    • col1234 says:

      in re Cunningham: i put in a lot of caveats, as it might be entirely fiction. but there seem to be elements that are true—fans have pointed out he is apparently there at the premiere, as per photos. so grain of salt, but i think there is an underlying “true” story—a collaboration that maybe was just a conversation. i debated whether to not include it, figured it would be fun to play along if it was a gag—-bowie would approve.

  13. djonn says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.
    And I’d never made the connection between Jones/Button Eyes and Bowie/Trickster in the Lazarus video! Thank you for that revelation, though yes thinking about it now it is obvious, but again such a joy to be shown something new!

  14. Jukka says:

    Thank you! Will read this again and again the coming days, obviously. Some forgotten wounds opening already.

  15. Jukka says:

    I have been thinking a lot about the career spanning narrative of Bowie and what’s happening in the world at the moment. Couldn’t help thinking about Man Who Sold the World yesterday for example – Running Gun Blues and especially the cover drawing. Valentine’s Day. Boys Keep Swinging. Fashion. Big Brother.

    I mean, I know that the world slipping into this chaos has very little to do with the fact that David Jones is not here anymore. But it’s such a shame that the knowledge, maybe even wisdom, written so many times in his songs as well as in the pieces of other artists is continuously overlooked. So, I’m not comfortable at all when the tabloids stick with the button eyes. I’m just happy that Bowie didn’t have to see this disgrace with his own eyes.

  16. Floodsy says:

    Beautiful. Well done.

  17. Niall says:

    Chris, welcome back and thank you for this stunning entry..
    may I share a piece I wrote with you?
    Ps I’ve not commented before but I’m an avid follower 🙂

    “Music has given me over 40 years of extraordinary experiences. I can’t say that life’s pains or more tragic episodes have been diminished because of it but it’s allowed me so many moments of companionship when I’ve been lonely and a sublime means of communication when I wanted to touch people. It’s been both my doorway of perception and the house that I live in”.

    Bowie 1999

    A more perfect quote I don’t think I could have found to begin this difficult post. I have read and reread it because if you have been following this journey of mine for the last few months I needn’t have written anything but these words to sum up what Davids music has meant to me on my journey through this often difficult but since rewarding last forty years or so. You’ve no idea just how grateful I am that I discovered David when I did and the impact I’ve been open to allowing his music to have on my life. I simply couldn’t have picked a better role model (when you’ve lived a life devoid of role models) and I firmly believe I had been destined to meet him in 95. I’m grateful for that. I knew all was not right in 2013 with David, I could see it. His privacy and the loyalty of those around him ensures we won’t know what he went through health wise during his ten year break but the mood and tone and the clues that are so obvious now since his passing that are prevalent throughout The Next Day are basically gently breaking the news that the time is nigh. When Sue and ‘Tis A Pity came along I was wowed by their brilliance and a new direction from David led me to believe things were better than they were. Of course when Blackstar was announced I may have danced around the room! I had no idea of the impact this album was going to have not only on me but on the world of music lovers and Bowie fans alike.. The albums brilliance is ensured by the genius creative forces that were involved in its making, David chose wisely in choosing the personnel that would send him to the stars at his creative peak. I mean that. Everything about this album is simply mind blowing from the music, lyrics, production, mixing, quality, cover art, message and epitaph. It is simply perfection.

    Nothing prepared me for the shock. Nothing! I was simply floored. Melie came running downstairs. I was absolutely in bits. She thought I’d lost a family member she was genuinely concerned. I’d lost big , I’d lost my constant. Even though he was never there to talk to I hadn’t needed that, I had his music, that was enough! I hope through this endeavour you can understand that a little more. I got a terrible sense of foreboding after watching the Blackstar video . It contained references to so much of the life he’d lived but also those references were presented in the darkest possible way as though his experiences all led to this moment and he simply didn’t know what lay in store for him next . A skeletal Major Tom floating off into space had an impact in itself . Lazarus was released 3 weeks prior to the release of the album. It’s beauty was apparent from the first note however I chose not to watch the video when it was released 3 days before he died. I’m not sure why. The first time I saw it was the day the news broke. What a story lay in that few minutes!

    From the moment the film begins I was glad I hadn’t watched it. I’m sure I would have known! Then again when I watched his performance of Heroes during his heart attack I was aware of the situation while watching it and I could see it written all over him! Maybe it was awareness maybe not. The hand emerging from the wardrobe (coffin) is the hand of death and slowly death emerges to take him away. The camera pans the room to his hospital bed and the first thing you see is his old old hands, much older than his years! Then you see his face and he’s scared , the button eyes an attempt to hide the fear! The hand creeps up from under the bed and David begins to rise like his spirit but he becomes defiant.. it’s like he’s in a battle with death. Death is calling him from all over the room, his time has come. He defiantly appears in one of his iconic outfits from 1975 and has one last dance , death is calling, she is waiting. He has so much more to give!! He attempts to write , to show he’s strong , he has so much still to share. Death, go away! It won’t, it waits , always beckoning him. His time is truly up. He tells his story, beautifully. He can’t win though. He’s been beaten . The prophecy comes true. He dies at 69.
    Watching him shuffle backwards to join death in the wardrobe and the door closes on him is the hardest thing I’ve ever seen in relation to music in my life. What a way to end.

    The lyrics to Lazarus are so powerful. A life time of pain and fear that he refers to as scars. He’s had some really dark experiences and there were periods of his life when he was deeply disturbed . He’s always sang about regret and fear and pain. Here, he’s saying it. He has scars that we simply can’t imagine. He’s got drama that can’t be stolen! I understand!! It never leaves you, believe you. People never ever let you forget it. The most surprising of people too! Everybody knows him now. Something he strives for in early days but dismisses as time goes on. He rejected fame . He hated it! He’s in danger up there, is he petrified of judgement? It’s too late his life is flashing before his eyes. He can’t bring his phone with him, he’s got nobody to fall back on any more!! Nobody can help him now. He’s in a panic, obviously and understandably. His thoughts are whirling at the news that he’s not got long, not long at all. Was his mind always whirling though? Then he sums up his life story in one verse. He moved to New York, partied like a madman, thought he had conquered the world , lost everything, his money and his creativity for a bit until he found her, Iman. She saved his life! Now this is the end but he’ll be free. Free from everything, just like that bluebird, just like he’s always dreamed. 😪 he repeats it and repeats it. It’s like he’s telling us it will be ok. He’ll be free, is he trying to comfort those left behind? Yes, he is.

    This song can only be described as a luminous moment. It’s intense, brooding , intricate, hypnotic has a mesmerising beauty!! The synthesisers coupled with the saxophones and the bass and the drums and the stunning guitar work simply flow like no other . It’s passionate , honest , provoking , pulsating and it perfectly delivers an atmosphere of death and gratitude all in one spontaneous ball of magic. David just instructed the musicians to simply go for it and play from their hearts. This song was recorded from the second take…. Can you believe that???? The only addition made to the song was when Bowie was alone later he took out the Sunburst Fender Stratocaster that Marc Bolan gave him in 1977 days before he died… That guitar ending almost like kerrangs are played with that instrument that held a very important part in David’s heart. How poignant.

    So, David Bowie , with all of my heart and soul I thank you ❤️

    I hope this was ok to share Chris

  18. Niall says:

    Ps this was from a list of 100 Bowie songs that shaped my life which I did on my Facebook page. I’m sure I borrowed a bit of the last paragraph from somewhere but I can’t recall where from ..

  19. Anonymous says:

    Thank you! I honestly can`t listen to DBs songs sung by Michael C. Hall and I rather despise musicals, but after reading your review of Lazarus, I would have really liked to see the play. Thank you for your work and for giving us such an intimate insight into DBs world (which without you I/we would have never had). Thank YOU!!!

  20. mish says:

    Thanks you! I’ve been looking for something like this to delve into. One thing that has been bothering me, I’ve seen a few discussions regarding the wardrobe in the video, most were leaning towards it being a coffin. I’ve always thought of it more like going into a new dimension, like the book, the Lion the Witch & The Wardrobe, which abound with religious connotations. Any thoughts?

  21. Matt Hilliard-Forde says:

    A little teary-eyed. Thank you.

  22. BenJ says:

    Lovely. Beautiful piece. Makes a fool of me because I was convinced “Blackstar” would be the next entry, but I’ll get over it. 🙂

    The story of his guitar overdub on the track makes perfect sense. He wanted to put something more of himself into the song. And Bolan’s old guitar? That says volumes.

  23. Michael. says:

    Doesn’t anyone see the wardrobe as a closet? In the very early days, Bowie came out of the closet (to Michael Watts) and now, he’s going back into the closet.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Another splendid, moving, insightful essay. Thank you! A question for anyone here: is Bowie’s guitar playing lifted from his own demo (in which case he’s playing the guitar that Bolan gave to him at home)? I think that I recall Visconti noting this in an interview, but I could be mistaken. Finally, an observation: how I would love to hear Bowie’s home demos (other than what we have–i.e. Tis a Pity); since Henry Hey and Donny McCaslin each made their arrangements based upon the same Bowie demos, I’ve tried to figure out what might be in the demos by noting the many points of overlap in these otherwise very different renditions. My best guess is that of all the songs written for the play, “Lazarus” is the track that’s probably most like the demo.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Blimey! No really, astounding. Welcome back.

    The “problem” (not that it is one) with your blog is that it feels so extensive and complete that I find it incredibly hard to add anything. But…for the first time I do actually have something I want to add. I apologise if these thoughts are too mind numbingly obvious to make and lower the tone here, but as I said, your blog does raise the standards considerably.

    1. With the Michael Cunningham article I just can’t get away from the idea that he might be pulling a “Nat Tate” style Bowie prank. A fake history, possibly with DB’s okay? I’m not aware that anyone associated with DB has criticised the story or called it out as bullshit or disrespectful, which makes me think it’s been given the nod possibly.

    2. “The man fated to die twice.” This makes me think of the Martin Amis quote that “Writers lead a double life. And they die doubly, too. This is modern literature’s dirty little secret. Writers die twice: once when the body dies, and once when the talent dies.” DB has of course “died” many times but been reborn: His talent has allegedly died many times but has always been reborn, likewise his persona’s have died but been reborn. I suppose the obvious question is what has he/it died or is dying from this time and what is he/it being reborn into now. Delivered from retirement into a new burst of creativity? From this late era DB persona into a new character? From the human body to…who knows? Freedom, like the bluebird maybe?

    3. On DB entering the wardrobe at the end of the Lazarus video. It’s stating the obvious but wardrobes are where you hang your clothes. Or store your costumes. Is this Bowie literally hanging up this costume for the last time? Or is it David Jones hanging up the costume of “David Bowie” that he wore for his professional life? Just one more persona…just one of many books up on the shelf.

    4. You’ve already mentioned that it’s the STS costume he is wearing, so it invites the obvious question: Why this one? He wears it while drawing the Kabbala Tree Of Life in the album artwork. That tree now at an end or is it complete? That album he famously claimed that he couldn’t remember making. Not that we will ever forget him. Especially not after the stunt he soon pulls.

    5. On Time and Lazarus: If I recall correctly, Lazarus dies because Jesus is late to arrive to see him. He wasted time and as a result a man dies. I suppose bringing him back to life was the least he could do. DB in his final burst of life, resurrected by someone or something. “Time as an addled bureaucrat”. “More, always more”.

    Finally,

    6. You briefly mentioned the discarded attempt to resurrect Ziggy Stardust as a musical. I don’t know if you saw this but Hanif Kureishi confirmed in this article (paywall) that it did exist and he worked on it.
    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hed-ring-at-2am-talk-for-hours-then-vanish-7xzcrp36zwd

    Thanks,

    • col1234 says:

      i think some variant of what you say in #1—that it’s an “approved” fake (with some elements of truth mixed in it: Emma Lazarus, the fact that Cunningham’s SF story presages some of the Lazarus plotline)—could well be true

      • #1 Thought the same; I tried to date it with the mentioned hints in it, but it was hard; the V&A stuff wasn’t collected until 2010, right? If it’s real, I’d date it to 2007; I did some research, and apparently, Bowie was supposed / announce to perform at Highline Festival, but cancelled later… also, a heart attack puts you at higher risk for another one, maybe the surgery mentioned was for a bypass.

        #3 The closet originated from a joke of somebody on set, that David should go back in the closet, and he liked the idea very much: “Yeah, that’ll keep them all wondering, right?”.

        #5 The Lazarus Tale is more of a thing supposed to say “Jesus didn’t ressurect him, his faith was strong enough to prevent his death”, afaik.

  26. ric says:

    Excellent as always, the bar set ever higher. Odd coincidence, Emma Lazarus got a mention on BBC R4 last night , http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08tfyqj.

    On the Cure influence here, try ‘A Forest’ also.

    And is it my aging ears, or does anyone else hear ‘Me’ pronounced as ‘Vee’ on this?

  27. Ljsw says:

    I was reading these lines in Aubade by Phillip Larkin a while ago and all I could think of was the Lazarus video:

    “Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape
    It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know
    Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
    Yet can’t accept.”

    Possibly an allusion there from Bowie? There’s “nothing more terrible, nothing more true” than death?

  28. Mr Tagomi says:

    I really hope Cunningham’s thing is true. Bowie musing about a stockpile of unknown Dylan songs would seem to suggest a stockpile of his own would be discovered after his death.

  29. Deanna says:

    I don’t listen to Lazarus very often, it puts me in the particularly grey place I was in around the time of Blackstar’s release. I always find Januarys particularly depressing for no reason, but that one was especially rough. I had terrible anxiety, absolute waves of fear and panic that would come and go for no particular reason whatsoever. School was hard and I had spent the previous semester so utterly sleep deprived that I suppose it had finally caught up to me. Then Bowie died and it didn’t exactly make the month any better.

    I had seen the music video once before he died and didn’t intend on seeing it again for a very long time, but later that week I was sitting at my parents’ house, grumpy, sore, and unable to talk much–I had gotten my wisdom teeth out the day before. My parents were watching Much Music (a Canadian channel basically like MTV) show a chronological series of Bowie music videos. We got to Blackstar and one of my parents proclaimed it was a terrible song with a terrible video. Lazarus didn’t fare much better in their eyes, even with me struggling through gauze to explain how symbolic and beautiful it was. They had been Bowie fans in the 70s/80s, but couldn’t see his relevance any more. I was upset.

    I’m glad to be away from that month now.

    The dying Bowie thing is clever–for if some particularly nasty photographer was to get a secret shot of him at some point down the road when he may have been looking so frail, so sick, no news source would use it upon his death because that shot in bed is everything you’d ever want. He got to choose his own image.

  30. Karen Banwell says:

    Great article! Thanks for writing it. You really know your subject and your research is wide ranging and informative. I was especially interested in the section about Michael Cunningham’s article which really cannot have been the whole truth, can it? The main stumbling block is that mirroring of part of the MWFTE plot that neither Bowie nor Cunningham seem to notice. Have you tried to get Cunningham to confirm or deny? I have and was met with silence. I’m also interested in the ‘set list’ he chose to sing for the technicians and actors present at NYTW that night you mention. I wonder if he swore them to secrecy. Well done for your note that he went round everyone backstage afterwards on Dec 7th. This is the truth I think and nothing like his oft reported back stage ‘collapse’ after the show. Maybe he had a sit down for a few minutes. Karen

  31. BowieSymbols says:

    The “bluebird” inevitably makes me think of C. Bukowski’s poem:

    “there’s a bluebird in my heart that
    wants to get out
    but I’m too tough for him,
    I say, stay in there, I’m not going
    to let anybody see
    you.
    there’s a bluebird in my heart that
    wants to get out
    but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
    cigarette smoke
    and the whores and the bartenders
    and the grocery clerks
    never know that
    he’s
    in there.?

    (…)”

    I wonder if Newton’s “bluebird” couldn’t be Mary-Lou, the lover who left and never came back… Maybe she’s dead, free, and he’s longing to be like her…

    Thank you Chris, and welcome back… It’s hard for me to give any credit to Cunningham’s story… It doesn’t sound true at all, and I’m quite reassured to see that I’m not the only one to doubt!

    Yes, in Lazarus we see a man saying goodbye to his teenage daughter of course, but we also see a lonely man struggling to leave his past behind… It’s one of the things that stroke me when I read Lazarus script (I couldn’t see the play, unfortunately) ; it’s so not Bowie… Is it?

    • ric says:

      being less cultured, the bluebird that sprang to mind for me was the one the other Davy Jones hid ‘neath the wings of

      • Laurie Frost says:

        Being juvenile, I think of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” where “Blue birds fly
        And the dreams that you dreamed of
        Dreams really do come true ooh oh”

      • mish says:

        I don’t think David thought about these (you never know…), but for me, being childish I think of the lyric in Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, (Song of the South), and The Bluebird, the Shirley Temple move (one of my favorites). The mentioning of the bluebird really struck me, so much that when I got my tattoo the bluebird had to be the most important element.

    • mish says:

      Ric, Is the script available? I saw one from a guy that wrote it out after he listened to the play, but I never thought it to be too accurate. Any other sources?

      • col1234 says:

        there’s an authorized version of the script that’s been out for a while. you can get it on Amazon. It omits the Alan Cumming monologue from the NYC run, & likely a few other things were changed

  32. BowieSymbols says:

    By the way, since I had watched Duncan Jones’ Moon for the 2nd time not long before I read Lazarus, it appeared to me that Lazarus’s story looked like the “negative” of Moon … Moon deals with a human astronaut, stuck in a spaceship and longing to join his family on Earth ; almost till the end, he’s sure that he’ll manage to get back there but he then realizes that he’s just a clone, made for dying and being replaced by his exact copy. While Lazarus deals with an alien stuck on Earth, who misses his family too but is perfectly aware that he’ll never see them again, and that he can’t even die since he’s an immortal.

    In Moon too, the family is composed of a wife and a daughter (well in Lazarus a boy is mentioned too, but obviously it’s just made to fit with the original TWWFTE story). He sees them on a screen, while Newton can only see them in his head, but the feeling conveyed is the same: they’re out of reach.

  33. Laurie Frost says:

    If Bowie and Cunningham worked together on the Esquire piece, please, someone, confirm this. It couldn’t have been foreseen that it would appear a few days after all the Spicer, Conway et al. fake news nonsense, but that is what the piece seemed like to me. Nothing in it adds up. The first anniversary of Bowie’s death after his first posthumous birthday, first anniversary of his last day alive and his death and its announcement — surely I am not the only person whose emotions were too raw to not find that essay, which begins plausibly enough, but devolves into fantasy, annoying at best?

    I also cannot understand how anyone who saw him that fall would think he’d only recently learned he was dying. Compare the man in “The Next Day” video to the one at rehearsals. Two years is too short a time to lose perhaps 20 pounds unless a man is very sick. And while they are paprazzi pictures, those of Bowie arriving for first night are of a man who is jaundiced, who is close to liver failure. Yes, he is pink at the curtain call in theatrical lighting, and I am grateful for this last picture.

    • Laurie Frost says:

      By January 2017 there were hundreds of tributes to Bowie on line and with a very few exceptions, they were about the memoirist much more so than they were Bowie.

      And this, Chris, is why I have such respect for you. Day after day, year after year, you have paid tribute to Bowie’s impact on your life, not by taking the starring role but by reminding us of what Bowie has given.

      And I am betting Bowie read these posts too, touched by your graciousness. While Bowie lived was the time to show gratitude and to share with others what you had received. What a lovely gift – to him, to us.

  34. Simon Challis says:

    Marvellous

  35. jothy2017 says:

    Thank you very much for this new analysis . i was waiting for it! like many of us, i believe?

    few reactions( i apologize in advance for my very poor English) your article provoked.
    – i thought, when i read it, that Cunningham’s piece was a very good fiction: hilarious( the mariachis!), moving , very well written: a true tribute to Bowie.
    – the wardrobe: like mish, when i saw it( it was the first images we had as a preview from the video, it was not far from Xmas..), i thought at once at The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. even if at the time, i thought too ‘ not possible, too childish …” Came to my mind that the Lion resurrects, but more as a Jesus figure than as a Lazarus one . but,anyway, it made me think also of Bowie’s taste for children stories, nursery rhymes. Perhaps Bowie shows here that we need to believe, faith is a part of our fundamental needs. if it’s not God, it’s something else: historical progress, linearity of time. i thought he was speaking of this when he presented Heathen.

    i remembered too that Lazarus is related to an important Christian legend in south of France ( Saintes Maries de la Mer near Avignon)
    Lazarus resurrected, with his sisters( Martha and Mary), settled there. They are welcomed by Sara the Black who is a very important saint worshiped by Rroms( Gypsy) every year. There is a very large pilgrimage. The legend is an allegory of hospitality( as Martha already is in the gospel) and a syncretism of ancient Rrom cults, perhaps related to India. i suppose Bowie, as he was interested in history of Christianism, and its ” minorities”, maybe knew it. For me, it nevertheless matches his ” loving the alien” assertions.

    – Time: Lazarus, the musical and the video play a lot with time, as you mentioned it. The musical is a sort of loop, with Newton laying still on the stage, as if this scene took place after the last one of the musical.
    in the video, the ” current ” (aged ) Bowie performs a former character: the young singer with the layered suit as he was pictured on STS. he is seeing( as if it were a play, or a movie) another character, Button eyes, who is a recent one. maybe the former character is dreaming of death… but Button Eyes experience is very different from what he imagines. perhaps is it why the STS character is here a bit ridiculous, and moving. he recalls me this interview Bowie made ” with” his young self.

    There is maybe too a particular definition of time there ? the author is in the present( it’s Bowie the actor, the performer) but you can’t grasp him. he’s ” underneath”, always there but evanescent. You can only feel him though his active and artistic reconstruction of past , and his artistic projection in the future- even if it is the most painful one. like present time. time is not an arrow. it is related to our conscious and can be ” felt” through art.
    .

  36. Jo says:

    Gail Ann Dorsey’s version is just so good.

  37. s.t. says:

    Absolutely gorgeous, Chris. Thank you so much for this piece.

    I will comment a bit further when I get the chance.

  38. andy says:

    It is such a deeply satisfying and moving approach to the song, thank you. I don’t know if it makes any sense, but it has occurred to me that this personal „clanging and distorted guitar” might converse with the guitar sound in the Flaming Lips song „Is David Bowie Dying”.

  39. Chris Williams says:

    Am I correct in recalling several comparisons with “Slip Away” when “Lazarus” first came out? It feels a bit like “Starman” or “Rebel Rebel” popping up on their albums – the big, familiar hit, but continually rewarding. I love the bass at the end:

    The tears flowed as the band started it when I saw the play, I still return to the Lazarus cast album – especially “This Is Not America”, “Absolute Beginners” and “No Plan” which could be considered the original version. Let’s not forget that Bowie oversaw the music in the play and had an input into the arrangements and song choices; the play only features six hit singles, it could have been terrible!

  40. MC says:

    Thank you, Chris. Your piece on Where Are We Now? managed to explicate with great economy not only the intricacies of that song but the worldwide phenomenon it grew to be, soundtracking as it did DB’s miraculous return. This essay manages a similar feat. I’m sure I’m not the only listener for whom Lazarus, more than anything else on Blackstar, is inextricably associated with the fact of Bowie’s death. Those first chords never fail to conjure up that bleak January, as Deanna suggests. The song never fails to shake me to the core, especially when experienced in conjunction with that extraordinary video.

    Now I did manage to see it the day of DB’s 69th birthday, 2 days before he passed away. At the time, I was reminded of my wife’s reaction to his appearance in the Blackstar video. She felt he looked terribly ill. I dismissed the notion, but I couldn’t help noticing in the Lazarus clip how gaunt and aged he looked. I was thoroughly spooked, but part of the reason it cut so close to the bone on first viewing was because we had just had a death in the family, and a funeral to get to the next day, so I didn’t have space to contemplate the ominous vibe I got from the video. I can still remember my two main takeaways from that first viewing:

    A) I assumed Bowie was letting his age show in a very stark way as part of this scary new persona he had developed, the Button Eyes figure, all part and parcel of the extended meditation on aging and mortality the album promised to be.

    B) I heard the Cure in the song, and also Joy Division, so I thought Lazarus, coupled with the title track, suggested the album might be like an old man’s Closer, though one made by an artist NOT ACTUALLY ON THE VERGE OF DEATH, for whom this would not actually be a final statement, if you can believe that now.

    Of course, I was as stunned as everybody else when the terrible news came through, and Lazarus inevitably became the theme song for that period.

    Chris, you’ve done a typically staggering job knitting together all the tributaries that fed into the track (Biblical legends, Cunningham, Walsh, etc.) while still giving the song itself its due, Lazarus will obviously be remembered as one of the most crucial songs in the Bowie catalog; similarly, this piece must stand as one of the 4 or 5 best you’ve written for this blog, and that’s saying something.

    So it is hard to know what to add to what you’ve written, but I do have some last thoughts on possible influences. I can’t help wondering if the video for Johnny Cash’s Hurt was an inspiration, as a stark, end-of-life visual statement to the world. Also, the bluebird the speaker aspires to be (and was that not the song’s original title) inevitably makes me think of “I want to watch the bluebirds fly” from the Velvets’ Candy Says. This is turn has me wondering if Lazarus began life as a tribute to Lou Reed.

  41. TisAPity says:

    The sound aesthetics of the song remind me a lot of Diamond Dogs. The Sax, the nasty guitar, the decadence… Reminds me of Sweet Thing or We Are The Dead for example. What a song dear lord.

  42. Corinne Squire says:

    Thanks for this.

    As above, and as a lot of Bowienet people commented, the renewed heart difficulty that Cunningham alleges, coincided with Bowie pulling out of Highline. Plus Bowie compensated on the website by saying he had a big and exciting project on the way. And would Cunningham fictionalise serious illness? That would seem a step beyond Nat Tate.

    Emma Lazarus is of course in the Lazarus script book – and apparently Bowie was talking to Robert Fox about the refugee crisis during this time…

    I saw Lazarus in mid-December 2015 in NYC and felt it was very personally about death, but put that down to my own recent loss of close friends. I also remember someone telling me in autumn 2014 that Bowie was ill and had stomach pain. None of that reduces Lazarus to psychobiography.

    • Laurie Frost says:

      I don’t think Cunningham trivialized Bowie’s illness.

      My problem with this essay is just that–I considered from its title and first paragraphs that it was an essay that would tell us more about the play, or at least not be negative knowledge.

      I think Cunningham’s “The Hours” is superior to Wollf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” but these are both obviously novels, and a fictionalization of a fictionalization is different from what he wrote about his involvement with Bowie, unless you argue Bowie himself was a fictional character, and Cunningham is casting himself as a fictional unreliable narrator.

      Then it would be quite interesting experimentally.

      What seems revelatory, even the Emma Lazarus bit, is not. I read the screenplay from Nick Hearn Books in Dec. 2016. The Emma Lazarus poem appears following the play after the curtain draw.and a visible break in pagination. I haven’t found anyone to tell me if the poem is recited then or even appears in the program.

      Certainly immigration laws would trouble a non-resident or permanent alien (Bowie never took citizenship) married to a Somalian of Muslim parentage.

      The saddest part of the book with the screenplay is in the biography of Bowie. In the chronology there is a stretch of empty years.

      Cunningham’s last paragraph is lovely; “Ready? Are you hearing it, seeing it? Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. It should merely be what’s most beautiful to you, what’s most moving and true. It should be what you’re hoping for, every time a curtain rises.”

      It just doesn’t fulfill its billing: “Here, for the first time, is the story of their unfinished show—and what it’s like to work alongside a bona fide pop genius.”

      Perhaps it’s the GQ editors’ clickbait summary that spoiled the experience for me.

      • corinnesquire says:

        Thanks for this! I wasn’t saying Cunningham did trivialise illness; just that if fictional, the piece would indeed seem, to me, to do that.

  43. Mike Tomlinson says:

    “So pull up the sheets against the passing time”

    It was all there in the Lazarus video but I dismissed most of it at the time, despite thinking he looked unwell.
    Those last few seconds are still heartbreaking despite/because of the dark humour – David literally ‘shuffling off’.

    “So British, the wit, like a guilt thing, making sure it’s not coming across as too serious or pretentious—and yet that enhances the humanity of it,”

    Absolutely.

    Great piece, Chris. Thank you.

  44. Tyrell says:

    When I finished reading this entry I realized I had tears in my eyes. But, I suppose, that will be case with each following entry till the end.
    Altough Bowie is not regarged as a great lyricist, I think we all agree that in his best moments he was able to write very evocative lyrics which can stipulate the imagination of the listener and which can be intrepeted in many ways (depending on the character of the interpreter) and which all seem to have a valid meaning.
    Here, he managed to write a text which describes the situation of Thomas Jerome Newton in the musical, but at the same time can be interpreted as a description of the state of David Robert Jones at the time he was writing the lyrics of the song for the musical – and it can also be interpreted from the point of view of the dead David Bowie as a last message to the world.
    A man is standing on the top of a skycraper in New york, so devastated and lost that he is thinking about jumping after his cell phone which he already dropped down. After a short summarization of his life in the last verse the falling cell phone transform to a bluebird which is searching his way out from the skycrapers.
    After hearing the Lazarus version I was thinking about why he added the long outro to the album version. First I thought it describes the flight of the bluebird desperately on his way out of town but after 10.01.2016 it reminds me a soul leaving the body, the last guitar accords are the last beats of the heart.
    Compared to the Lazarus version the album version sounds like a funeral march.
    Musically the Am-F chords evokes the refrain of Uncle Floyd – but what a difference in mood! While in UF there is a resolution, here the melody is just lingering between the two chords in resignation.
    “transcription of Tim Lefebvre’s bassline during the saxophone solo on “Lazarus” by Brian Woten” – it is incredible what people like Brian can do. What a talent.
    Chris, if you are reading this: why it is that the older entries than the actual one can be commected only for a short period of time but mostly commenting is not possible for the

    • Tyrell says:

      …m?

      • col1234 says:

        i turned off comments for entries from over 2 or so years ago due to an obnoxious and stupid person popping up to rant over some Tin Machine entry. I’m done with those entries—they are part of the past, and I’m revising them for the book—and I just don’t want to deal with them at present.

      • BenJ says:

        That’s your call. It’s a shame one of the readers chose that as the hill he wanted to die on.

  45. Gareth Power says:

    Off-topic, but your nemesis “Brian Eno” has posted an interesting review of Station to Station by Lester Bangs. In case you’ve never seen it:

    http://www.moredarkthanshark.org/eno_int_creem-apr76b.html

  46. James Alex Gabriel Phillips says:

    Maybe not the right board for this question, but does anyone have any opinions on the dearth of truly interesting (ie: unheard original recordings) across the ‘recall portions’ of the box sets being released? I know that there’s already available stuff that’s not been included, things like Dodo for instance, so in all likelihood it’s an aesthetic choice but might there be something to the idea that the Bowie-Bonds agreement from years ago scuppers the possibility of newly released ‘vault’ tracks, so to speak. I don’t know if part of that agreement prohibited other old releases perhaps? Or do people feel that Bowie wanted to preserve a specific ‘set’ canon?

    • James Alex Gabriel Phillips says:

      And yes, I do think my desire for newly unearthed material is vulture like. I’ve found my reaction to the death to be a wholly selfish one, inconsiderate (largely) of the plight of those more directly effected by his life and passing. What about me? Why can’t I have more of what I want? It makes me feel uncomfortable with my person, my self absorption and churlish greed tempering more worthwhile responses. A human reaction perhaps, but not one I’m proud of.

    • col1234 says:

      it’s far more a Bowie aesthetic choice: he was never big on showing “rough drafts”. the bonds expired back in the mid 2000s—that’s utterly not a factor.

      these sets are meant as collections of officially-released material, with the very strange decision to write the Ryko outtakes (which have been around for nearly 30 years) out of history, except when they need a hook to sell a set (Who Can I Be Now). I imagine at some point there’ll be an outtakes set, and then perhaps some new stuff will be released. But who knows when that will be?

  47. Great write up as always. Great to have you back.

  48. Rebel Yell says:

    Lady Lazarus
    BY SYLVIA PLATH
    I have done it again.   
    One year in every ten   
    I manage it——

    A sort of walking miracle, my skin   
    Bright as a Nazi lampshade,   
    My right foot

    A paperweight,
    My face a featureless, fine   
    Jew linen.

    Peel off the napkin   
    O my enemy.   
    Do I terrify?——

    The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?   
    The sour breath
    Will vanish in a day.

    Soon, soon the flesh
    The grave cave ate will be   
    At home on me

    And I a smiling woman.   
    I am only thirty.
    And like the cat I have nine times to die.

    This is Number Three.   
    What a trash
    To annihilate each decade.

    What a million filaments.   
    The peanut-crunching crowd   
    Shoves in to see

    Them unwrap me hand and foot——
    The big strip tease.   
    Gentlemen, ladies

    These are my hands   
    My knees.
    I may be skin and bone,

    Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.   
    The first time it happened I was ten.   
    It was an accident.

    The second time I meant
    To last it out and not come back at all.   
    I rocked shut

    As a seashell.
    They had to call and call
    And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

    Dying
    Is an art, like everything else.   
    I do it exceptionally well.

    I do it so it feels like hell.   
    I do it so it feels real.
    I guess you could say I’ve a call.

    It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
    It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.   
    It’s the theatrical

    Comeback in broad day
    To the same place, the same face, the same brute   
    Amused shout:

    ‘A miracle!’
    That knocks me out.   
    There is a charge

    For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   
    For the hearing of my heart——
    It really goes.

    And there is a charge, a very large charge   
    For a word or a touch   
    Or a bit of blood

    Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   
    So, so, Herr Doktor.   
    So, Herr Enemy.

    I am your opus,
    I am your valuable,   
    The pure gold baby

    That melts to a shriek.   
    I turn and burn.
    Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

    Ash, ash—
    You poke and stir.
    Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

    A cake of soap,   
    A wedding ring,   
    A gold filling.

    Herr God, Herr Lucifer   
    Beware
    Beware.

    Out of the ash
    I rise with my red hair   
    And I eat men like air.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Great writeup!

    Lazarus is such a powerful piece of music, but whenever I listen to it I always get stuck on the line, “I was looking for your ass.” I never know what to make of this line, especially when lyrically the the rest of the song is pretty straightforward and direct, by Bowie standards. How does everyone read this line?

    • Laurie Frost says:

      Interesting question. I have also found it jarring. And it is right smack in the middle of the song. My best guess is to disrupt the ethereal mood with the earthy.

    • Matthew says:

      Is this a Bowie or Newton line? I tend towards the former although the previous one about money could be either. I agree it does jar though, quite deliberate I’m sure.
      (As an aside ‘ass’ in England means a donkey or a stupid person)

      • Laurie Frost says:

        An ass in the US is a fool, too. I think it is a Bowie line, and combined with the little dance steps in the video, a flashback to his days with MainMan producer Tony deDefries.

  50. Anonymous says:

    Didn’t really know where to post this but have just finished your excellent book,Colin.
    Had to actually go back and read the final Station to Station entry three times because it was so powerful.
    The point I wanted to make was that some of us are very new to this website and unfortunately cant post comments on many of the entries as they have been locked. Any way around this,or even if comments could be left open?

  51. Anonymous says:

    Didn’t really know where to post this but have just finished your excellent book,Colin.
    Had to actually go back and read the final Station to Station entry three times because it was so powerful.
    The point I wanted to make was that some of us are very new to this website and unfortunately cant post comments on many of the entries as they have been locked. Any way around this,or even if comments could be left open?

    • col1234 says:

      i may open old entries’ comments again: i close them sometimes when I get a crank who shows up to pick fights w/people’s comments from 2011 or so

  52. Anonymous says:

    Chris, i mean. Not Colin (damn phone)!

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