A Beautiful Farewell to a Rock Chameleon - Remembering David Bowie's Last Album

"I've decided that my care must be of some value. I really want to use it. I would like my death to be as interesting as my life was and will be..."

David Bowie's last album Blackstar: history, recording, tracks, cover, facts

His influence and the striking images he gave to the world during his career, will never be forgotten. In 2016, the legendary rock chameleon (the nickname Bowie received in the music industry for his frequent and daring experiments with image and sound) did not. But he did manage to say goodbye to his fans. His last album "Blackstar." was an extraordinary farewell that redefined him as an artist.

Bowie was always the kind of man who liked to think things through ahead of time. So he knew what his farewell to the audience would be like even before in 1976at the age of about 30! Then he told the journalist:

"I've decided that my care must be of some value. I really want to use it. I would like my death to be as interesting as my life was and will be..."

Well, with "Blackstar."his final album, which was released on his birthday (just days before his death), Bowie succeeded in bringing this wonderful ambition

Secret Record

David Bowie
David Bowie

As with the album "The Next Day.", "Blackstar" was secretly recorded at the Magic Shop studio in New York City, and all artists and producers were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements. Many were unaware of Bowie's illness, although some may have witnessed his poor health. By the way: some theories were later advanced that the album title was the code for Bowie's cancer diagnosis. Although he died of liver cancer, "black star" is often used to describe a proliferative breast lesion that looks like a black star.

David Bowie
David Bowie

News of both Bowie's prolonged illness and the album itself were kept from the public. Therefore, when November 19, 2015 video for the title track was released, fans rushed to study both the song itself and the unusual ten-minute short film that accompanied it, looking for clues to understanding the great man and his next move...

The music video for "Blackstar." was surreal and mesmerizing, but most important was the music itself: it was immediately obvious that Bowie had returned to his uncompromising and innovative self. The first part of the song creates a rather ominous, claustrophobic scene with beats, dreary saxophone passages, layers of synths and mysterious lyrics... After four minutes, when the song is on the verge of breaking down, something beautiful happens - mesmerizing strings open a new part of theand Bowie sings the iconic verse with a renewed sound:

"Something happened the day he died.
The spirit rose and stepped aside
Someone took his place and shouted bravely:
"I'm a black star, I'm a black star!"

When Bowie's terrible secret was revealed to the world, his incurable disease, the lyrics of this song began inevitably to seem prophetic. It was the first sign that Bowie had indeed succeeded in turning his departure into something "very precious.

Charming compositions

David Bowie
David Bowie

The rest of the album did not disappoint, proving that despite 25 studio albums and more than five decades of his career, Bowie can still find new musical territory to conquer. While in the past he has flirted with jazz, for "Blackstar" he sought out the most exciting sound in contemporary American music... The album includes a total of 7 tracksThe album was recorded by Bowie, who recruited many talented musicians to record it.

Bowie first learned about the saxophonist Donnie McCaslini In the spring of 2014, when he worked with composer Maria Schneider on "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)." It was she who suggested he go and see the McCaslini Quartet perform, and Bowie was impressed enough to not only invite Donny to the recording session, but also to continue the working relationship within Blackstar.

Working with terrific young jazz musicians who had no real experience in traditional rock music structures, nor any respect for them, Bowie managed free yourself from the weight of your own influence, giving his newest work a tremendous vitality. This is most evident in the song "Tis a Pity She Was a Whore", in which Tim Lefebvre's insistent bass line and McCaslini's brass playing add a wild spice that Bowie was clearly delighted with.

As for producing, Bowie's longtime friend and associate, Tony Visconti, took on that responsibility. A month after David was gone, Visconti gave a speech in which he called "Blackstar" "David's farewell gift to his fans.".

A mystery that remains unsolved by Bowie himself

David Bowie
David Bowie

Cover of this great final album is as interesting as the sound of the tracks on it. A whole font was created for its design: in fact, the stars at the very bottom were meant to signify "BOWIE.". However, this is not the most mysterious part of the design... In 2017, the designer Jonathan Barnbrook told me that the album has secrets that even Bowie didn't know about!

"We agreed from the beginning that we wouldn't reveal all the cards. There are some things on the cover that weren't even discovered by Bowie himself! And no: he didn't ask for it. He honestly didn't know that there were some surprises in the design..."

Blackstar vinyl cover, a cluster of golden stars
Blackstar vinyl cover, a cluster of golden stars

What kind of surprises we are talking about, Jonathan did not say. Shortly after Bowie's passing, however, fans began to pay attention to the inside cover vinyl edition: some claimed that the album glowed bright blue when it was in the dark, while others found that under direct sunlight a cluster of golden stars appeared on the spread...


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