David Bowie’s Last Shape Shift

David Bowie’s prolific and inventive recording career began over 50 years ago, and he achieved fame early on with the release of “Space Oddity” in 1969 (see our post from 2013).  Over the decades he was called a “shape shifter” for surprising us regularly with changes in look and musical style.  It is a bittersweet final chapter to his story that he passed away on the day he released “Blackstar”, with its full serving of new musical direction.  We won’t have the opportunity to hear Bowie expand and expound upon this new direction in interviews or performances, so let’s make sure to do a little examination of his last work on our own.

Blackstar was recorded with the backing of jazz musicians saxophonist Donny McCaslin, guitarist Ben Monder, drummer Mark Guiliana and keyboardist Jason Lindner.  Bassist Tim Lefebvre was on hand as well.  Bowie met McCaslin in 2014, and McCaslin, Monder and Guiliana played in the orchestra on Bowie’s 2014 single “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)”.  The track is in a straighter jazz vein than the more eclectic sounds the group created on “Blackstar”.

The songs from “Blackstar” getting the most early attention are its nearly 10-minute title track and “Lazarus”. Both are the subjects of elaborate videos, the latter taking on a special meaning in light of Bowie’s passing.  But the videos can frankly be a distraction from hearing the music, so let’s start with “Dollar Days” which has no video – but close your eyes for good measure.

Now that you’ve practiced listening with closed eyes, listen to “Lazarus” once that way, then take the last look at one of Rock and Roll’s geniuses he apparently intended us to take.

A Host of Space Oddities

Apparently astronauts aboard the International Space Station are given a bit of time to relax and pursue their hobbies.  Canadian ISS Commander Chris Hadfield used some of his to create this rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, complete with appropriately modified lyrics.   In case you’re not one of the 16 million people who have already seen this – enjoy.  By the way, YouTube is home to other videos by Hadfield with interesting and amusing glimpses into life on the ISS.

The first minute of dancer Franky Manzo’s video for “MJ’s Coursing” might be the only other use of space station footage in a music video. The rest of the video is, shall we say, more earthy.

Bowie originally wrote “Space Oddity” for “Love You Till Tuesday” – a film intended to introduce the once little-known British artist.  Below is a clip with the film version of the song. At about the two minute mark this clip features girls floating in outer space some 40 years before Franky.

We’ll end with the well known version of “Space Oddity”, Bowie’s first commercial hit.  It was originally released in 1969 around the time of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Looks like “tin can” might have been a metaphor for Bowie’s recording studio.