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THE STARS LOOK VERY DIFFERENT TODAY

“Look up here, I’m in heaven.”

It’s startling to listen to the words of the new song “Lazarus” now—what had seemed like his accustomed wistful irony a few hours earlier suddenly sounds eerie, a broadcast from the beyond. But of course he knew that he was on the way out as he murmured those lyrics into the microphone; he just didn’t burden us with the news. 

As others have remarked, David Bowie’s departure, mere days after the release of Blackstar, feels itself like a work of art: One more challenging creation, rife with intimations of mortality, and then curtain.

Why is this loss so huge? Why does this feel like the most significant exit since John Lennon was taken from us? One could go to the charts and tot up his many hits, his countless reinventions, his unerring ability to change the tides or at least swim gracefully against them. But there’s more.

Bowie was the patron saint of kids on the margins. Kids called faggot, weirdo, nerd. Kids kicked to the curb and told they were nothing. St. Ziggy took them under his angelic wing.

Beneath the artifice and hair dyed colors not found in nature, beneath the literary allusions and sci-fi junkie patois, was a font of compassion: “Oh, no, love, you’re not alone.” And in “Heroes,” the clinch of two lovers vaults over even the crushing force of history and ignorant armies clashing by night.

A staggering run of records—including Space Oddity, Hunky Dory, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Station to Station, Young Americans, the madly inventive Berlin trilogy of Low, Heroes and Lodger, and Scary Monsters—reinvented rock music and gave countless artists the courage to sing their own unconventional tune. As I scan the socials, I see shell-shocked testimony from every musician I know. They all owe him a debt. 

Whether owning the pop charts, as he did for a while in the ’80s, or exploring the outer reaches of the avant-garde, he never stopped trying to make something entirely new. And even as he saw the end of the road, the black star of oblivion, he used it as an occasion for yet more probing, uncompromising art. Lazarus or bust. There’s an example to live by. And die by.

Bowie is dead. Long live Bowie.

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