“Look up here, I’m in heaven / I’ve got scars that can’t be seen,” sings a frail, blindfolded David Bowie from a hospital bed in his video for “Lazarus,” released four days before his death on January 10. In this haunting farewell, a bedridden Bowie writhes as he levitates above his sheets, then dances backwards into a coffin-like wardrobe. “Look up here man, I’m in danger / I’ve got nothing left to lose,” he sings, dropping hints at the 18-month battle with cancer he kept hidden from the public.
Named for the biblical character whom Jesus restored to life four days after his death, “Lazarus” is off Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, released last week to coincide with his 69th birthday. With this hyperintentional timing, the artist performed his own death. “His death was no different from his life — a work of Art,” wrote Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti in a tribute. “He made ‘Blackstar’ for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”
It’s painful to think of this ghostly Bowie as the final earthly persona of a one-time Queen Bitch/Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane/Goblin King. But like many of even the saddest Bowie songs, “Lazarus” is tinged with a kind of aching joy. “Oh, I’ll be free / Just like that bluebird,” he sings as he shakes his hands at the heavens. “Oh, I’ll be free / Ain’t that just like me?”