The Cult of the Black Star
Christmas ends finally on January 6th with the arrival of the magicians. Then there is yesterday, a pause. Traditionally a time of drizzle, fog and other atmospheric densities.
And then there is today, when we mark both Mr. Jones’ birthday, and the bleak intimation of his death with the 2016 release of the album Blackstar. The album, and the day itself, simultaneously represents the ascendancy of Bowie’s solar ambition and its collapse into the sphere-shells of Time and Art.
It is a day for crying and laughing in the face of death, for noting strange patterns and synchronicities, for listening to the song and exploring its mysteries.
In contribution this year I offer two new ways to hear Blackstar. One is relatively well understood, the other more obscure and beguiling.
It of course being Elvis’ birthday too, this song tells us in plain language what the black star is, and is valuable for amplifying resonances across the ontic sphere (‘the domain of inspired imagination‘).
The movie it comes from, Don Siegel’s Flaming Star, points upwards at cometary influence and across the flat reflective skylands of the Texan prairie, where the postwar era’s most godlike man struggles to reconcile the dual nature of the life above with the life-on-Earth. Flaming Star is also the source of the Warhol-Presley gunslinger portraits, one of the most reproduced images in the history of America.
Zero the Hero and the Witch’s Spell
Less well explored is this musical template for Blackstar, stumbling forward with a well-fried smile from the green and innocent fields of Britain’s long sixties. Gong were one of Bowie’s favourite bands of this period, the handful of seasons where he was able to develop a voice and persona of his own, distinctive yet flexible enough to take forward into the decade he would command.
I could swear that I saw it up in the sky
On the eve but I never knew they could fly
Zero the Hero and the Witch’s Spell is an uncomprehending, lightside forerunner of Blackstar that, while lacking the menace and fatalism of its creaking, aged brother, nevertheless shares remarkable tonal and structural similarities.
Listen to the bass track in the middle sections, and tell yourself if you can that Blackstar‘s avant jazz-inflected sax isn’t directly channeling Diddy Badweed‘s spiralling, abyssal tones.