Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

David Bowie, our Lazarus and Apollo

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After receiving his prognosis, I can only wonder if Bowie sat alone in a quiet, dark room and listened for a long, dark time to Joy Division, that bitter salve for mortal dread and imminent collapse, that band that he himself inspired. “Lazarus” opens as if he had. Stark and high bass notes clip from “She’s Lost Control.” The drums are ghostly echoes of “The Day of the Lords.” But then Bowie’s telltale mournful horns warm this bleak landscape and he urges us to look up here, he’s in Heaven. He’s got invisible scars. It’s bad, really bad, but don’t worry. He’s got nothing left to lose. And everything that happens to him, ain’t that just like David Bowie?

Of course, it is. That’s why we are all devastated so.

It came like a shot in the ice clear dawn to me, the death of this Apollo. As I came bleary-eyed out of our bedroom, my wife, herself in shock, simply said, “Go read the internet.” Because that’s how massive was the news. Ashes to ashes, indeed.

David Bowie has been a constant since I started actively listening to music. I entered Bowie’s work with Let’s Dance in 1983 and worked through his 70s releases as I found myself increasingly alienated in rural Texas. By the end of adolescence, he was canon. The more I learned about what he was doing, this constant re-creation and observation of life, society, and celebrity (“and the papers want to know whose shirts you wear”), I realized his creative genius.

Only after his passing have I been startled to realize how I quietly let him express what I could not while growing up. From “Major Tom” through “Boys Keep Swinging” to “Ashes to Ashes” and later Low, David Bowie carried the weight for me. And how many other songs and personae of his carried us, those who dared not yet reveal our unconventional aspects?

I’ve never considered Bowie remarkable for theological analysis and I think he’d preferred that, too. But for me, Bowie is myth, he is Apollo, that god of light and music. There is precision and craft and inspiration. He is a beacon for creativity and that is why “Sound and Vision” often brings me to tears.

I will sit right down
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision
And I will sing
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision
Drifting into my solitude
Over my head

He’s alone in Berlin, empty and in a creative rut, trying to kick his coke habit. And he waits for inspiration to strike.

Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision?

Don’t you wonder? What is the mechanism of art and letters? What is creativity? Our Apollo is empty. He has nothing. His light has dimmed and he is surrounded by blue, blue, electric blue. That’s the color of his room. And he is waiting. How often are we waiting, this advent and eschatology of the creative spirit? This spirit that then paralyzes us in doubt and frustration. But not David Bowie. He found his sound and vision. He mastered it.

The radical boldness and sheer creativity of David Bowie will continue to inspire me and countless others. And in our acts of mournful and joyful remembrance and creativity and inspiration, we will continue to raise our Lazarus. Ain’t that just like him? Let’s dance. Under the moonlight, this serious moonlight.

Coda

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By Burke
Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

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