David Bowie One Year On: Blackstar Rising

INTRODUCTION: Anniversaries are often significant, painful milestones for the grieving, especially the first anniversary following the death of someone special. As I wrote last year when Bowie died, I was broadsided—shocked even—by the intensity of my grief. Once again on January 10th—the first anniversary of his death—I felt a profound sadness at his loss, a melancholy creeping in and suffusing my day, prompting this prose poem, Blackstar Rising.


Bowie circa mid-1990s. Photo Mayayoshi Sukita.

In the poem I refer to the fact that Bowie was an avid reader and was known to carry a suitcase of books with him during his tours. By one estimate he ended up with a library of some 45,000 books. This is one reason for his brilliance—reversing the principle of ‘garbage in, garbage out,’ it’s ‘brilliance in, brilliance out.’ And it’s one reason why so many current celebrities seem to create such paper-thin work: they clearly don’t read much. All part of the general ‘dumbing down’ that’s occurred over the past several decades. It’s a shame Bowie had no interest in writing his autobiography, but then you get a pretty good idea of his thinking by listening to his interviews over the years. Most celebrity interviews are vacuous at worst, merely entertaining at best. Not so with Bowie. His wide-ranging interests—as I write, “from Crowley to Nietzsche, Blake to Jeff Beck, English music hall to Broadway”—would have made any interviewer’s job a rare treat. (Another example would be Jeff Martin of The Tea Party, whom I interviewed for this blog in 2011: https://chameleonfire1.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/jeff-martin-the-erudite-rock-star/)

Modern celebrities would do well to learn by Bowie’s example, not just in the importance of a wide and deep reading habit, but also in his handling of fame with such gentlemanly grace, “speaking softly in Oxford shoes.” To his credit, he avoided the cockfighting arena of social media, something the President-elect of the United States could learn from. But then, for all his cultivation of media images of himself, Bowie doesn’t seem to have been much of a narcissist. For him, it was all theatre—a total immersion in art. It’s as he says in the newly released BBC documentary The Last Five Years (before the lawyers got it removed from YouTube), “You get into this so you can express yourself as a way of discovering how you relate to the society you live in.” (Not an exact quote.) What began in the ’60s as an adolescent urge for fame had clearly matured into a realization of his real motive—the artist’s unstoppable urge to create. Despite the offhand callousness of youth and the excess of the Seventies, Bowie had the grace to age well. He seemed as much committed to becoming a better person as a better artist. By all accounts he’d come a long way from the days of firing the Spiders from Mars on the final night of a tour with no prior warning. “Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been,” he said later in life.

And like a slow-motion supernova, radiating as much light as the Sun during a brief lifespan, David Bowie shone brilliantly before collapsing like a Blackstar to mortality.

Blackstar Rising

Sean Arthur Joyce

Our Jean Genie, our Rebel Rebel, our Major Tom, our Aladdin Sane, our Thin White Duke. Andromedan[1] astronaut, marooned alien, rock star boy. Outside chance in a million whose pen struck stardust. Dragging your suitcase library from Station to Station.

Wild-Eyed Boy, Wild as the Wind. Walking the streets of Supermen, demigods and half-wits. Speaking softly in Oxford shoes. From Crowley to Nietzsche, Blake to Jeff Beck, English music hall to Broadway. You strike fire from ashes, turn junkyard mutts to Diamond Dogs.

Brixton shapeshifter, flame-haired Coyote, heart too weak to resist love. O you who loved All the Madmen crammed in their German Expressionist garrets. O you, who loved the fey boys straining on their chairs for a better look at Ziggy.

And all the silver screen refugees you paroled for a day. Rule Britannia and all its bastard empires permanently out of bounds. The Man Who Sold the World a gravedigger on Wall Street. Ashes to Ashes you will never be—

Blackstar rising—the event of event horizon. Memory of moisture in the blood-dust of Mars and always, always Loving the Alien. Man of many masks—in the end you became transparent, clear as arctic air. A leaf pulling nourishment from the sun, lungs thinning to smoke.

You saw the Beast for what it was, early on, and named it Fame—that scruffy Lucifer “crouching in its overalls,” fixing us in its hypnotic stare. Beelzebub who puts a world under its spell, mistaking the ‘selfie’ for the soul.

Master of Alchemy, Heathen priest, exile from Tir ná Nog.[2] The Cracked Actor rewriting his lines: “Forget that I’m sixty cause you just got paid.” Picture of Dorian Gray—beautiful to the last, exquisitely laboured breath of song. Your heart mothwings faltering on a windowpane.

No Ché Guevara slumped over a smoking barrel in a Detroit hovel could bribe Time, “whose trick is you and me,” endlessly born and dying, born and dying. This—a life lived—your only lesson, Fantastic Voyageur. To burn and burn and burn to the last scrap of wick.

© 2017 Sean Arthur Joyce

[1] According to Wikipedia, “The Andromeda Galaxy… is a spiral galaxy approximately 780 kiloparsecs (2.5 million light-years) from Earth. It is the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way and was often referred to as the Great Andromeda Nebula in older texts.”

[2] Tir ná Nog is the mythological Land of Eternal Youth of Irish mythological lore.

About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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