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David Bowie faces the last taboo

Updated Monday 11th January 2016

David Bowie's later work showed him taking on the taboo of death with the vigour he'd used to break barriers of gender and identity, says Elizabeth Tilley.

Listening last night to Blackstar – David Bowie’s final album, released just three days before his death - I was struck by its beauty, but also its pace and freneticism. These tracks, like all those that preceded them, had something important to say, and time was of the essence. This is an artist who for decades has been at the forefront of debates about what it means to be human. Questions of identity; politics; love; gender; sexuality; family.

More recently his works touched upon questions of ageing, grief and loss.

Within a week of my mum’s death in January 2013, Bowie released his haunting single ‘Where are we now?’. It captured perfectly the sense of complete desolation that accompanies the passing of a loved one; but also those unanticipated feelings of hope, relief and freedom as suffering is finally brought to end. My sister and I listened to the track on repeat, and I have been re-listening to it today, reflecting on what it means for a society to lose such an important cultural icon.

Bowie inspired not only musicians and artists over the decades, but his presence has influenced our social history in ways we perhaps cannot yet fully understand.

I have always been struck by Bowie’s bravery, his refusal to be bound by the conventions of his time. Watching the video for Lazarus, it is clear he was prepared to push those boundaries until the very end. For a musician whose work has always been so consciously and brilliantly visual, it was a courageous move to be filmed in the midst of terminal illness.

Mortality is perhaps the final social taboo, and Bowie took it on. This is a sad day. But it is also an opportunity to reflect on David Bowie’s work, and his immense legacy.

 

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