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The Guardian JANUARY 22, 2016 - by Jude Rogers
THE FINAL MYSTERIES OF DAVID BOWIE'S BLACKSTAR: ELVIS, CROWLEY AND "THE VILLA OF ORMEN"
The singer's last album has been picked over for its meaning, but that hasn't stopped obsessed fans delving ever deeper for true enlightenment.
Nearly a fortnight after we were told "Look up here, I'm in heaven", we're still obsessing over David Bowie's death. Pop detectives have been finding more cryptic clues about his demise from his last album, Blackstar, as well as discovering a tumblr that the man himself may have written. Here's our handy, Illuminati-grade guide to the biggest work of death-art ever to hit the internet, to stop you swirling down a rabbit-hole of Bowie-sized proportions.
1 THAT ALBUM TITLE
Yes, it's a name for a cancer lesion, although one usually associated with breast cancer, so its meaning in outer-space terminology is likely to have been far more significant for the Starman. As well as being the name of a "hidden planet" that the apocalyptically inclined think will crash into the Earth ("Guys! He knew it was coming!") and another name for Saturn ("He won a Saturn acting award once!"), it's also the term for the transitional state between a collapsed star and a singularity (a state of infinite value) in physics - which makes sense if Bowie is placing himself as the collapsed star, and the singularity the state he will enter after his death.
Maybe Bowie was also winking at his good friend, Mos Def, who had a collective with the same name, plus Black Star is the name of a little-known Elvis song that has being doing the rounds. It's about death. "When a man sees his black star," Presley sings, "he knows his time... has come." Bowie was a known Presley nut, telling Q in 1997 that "he was a major hero of mine. And I was probably stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as him actually meant something." Which leads us on to...
2 BLACKSTAR'S RELEASE DATE AND COVER ART
Yes, Bowie shared his birthday with Presley, but January 8, 2016 was also the inception date of the replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner - and Bowie was a huge fan of the film. On Salon.com, a reader says Bowie paraphrased a well-known line from Batty's final monologue on a note sent to the funeral of his schizophrenic half-brother, Terry Burns: "All these moments will be lost, like tears washed away by the rain." (Mentions of porn stars and wandering stars in the title track also reflect the film's characters.)
Blackstar was the first Bowie album not to feature his image on the cover, perhaps because he knew he would die soon. Furthermore, the vinyl release's black star is die-cut - i.e. it features his absence. The graphic alphabet on the bottom of the cover is also rumoured to be a cipher alphabet, spelling Bowie, while @mattround on Twitter has an even wilder theory: "Bowie's final album's name isn't just an Elvis reference. The Unicode black star character ★ is U+2605. May 26 is Mick Ronson's birthday."
3 THE LYRICS AND VIDEOS FOR BLACKSTAR AND LAZARUS
The song Blackstar begins in "the villa of Ormen". This is also the name of a tumblr set up on November 20, 2015, a day after the song's video was released, which last featured a post on December 10. This timescale suggests that it could have been created by fans, were it not for some posts that hint towards images from the Lazarus video, released six weeks later: a woman emerging from the right-hand side of a wardrobe (Bowie ends the Lazarus video going back into it on the left, like he's entering a coffin), plus a skull on a desk.
Ormen is also a village in Norway, the country where Bowie's old girlfriend, Hermione Farthingale, went in 1969 to appear in the film Song Of Norway about the composer Edvard Grieg - and from the musical play by someone going by the name Milton Lazarus. Bowie wore a T-shirt bearing the film's name in the video to 2013's similarly reflective Where We Are Now?. Others think Bowie is playing with language: one Reddit poster says "in the villa of Ormen" sounds like "the revealer of all men", ie death.
Ormen also means serpent in Norwegian, a creature mentioned in the writings of the occultist Aleister Crowley, with whom Bowie was obsessed in the 1970s. This isn't as spurious as it sounds: in Blackstar, the lyric "at the centre of it all", reflects a famous line in a Crowley ritual called the Star Sapphire. Also, the black and silver outfit Bowie wears in the Lazarus video is like one he wears on the sleeve of Station To Station, in which he is drawing a Crowley-inspired Tree Of Life. "The Station To Station track itself... is the nearest album to a magick treatise that I've written," Bowie said, again to Q, in 1997. "I've never read a review that really sussed it. It's an extremely dark album." Something warmer to finish, though: the smiley-face badge on the astronaut's jacket in the Blackstar video is the face of Gerty, the robot companion in Bowie's son Duncan Jones' film, Moon, a lovely last message from father to son.
4 OTHER LYRICS ON THE ALBUM
First released as a single in late 2014 - as we know now, after Bowie's cancer diagnosis - Sue (In A Season Of Crime) features the line: "The clinic called / The X-ray's fine/ I brought you home." The album track Dollar Days (again a nod to Mos Def's Dollar Day, perhaps) also has a telling lyric: "Don't believe for just one second I'm forgetting you / I'm trying to / I'm dying to." Or "dying too?" The title of the final track, I Can't Give Everything Away, also now sounds deliberately playful - I'm giving you so many clues, but I'm not telling you the whole story, dammit - and it also samples the harmonica solo from A New Career In A New Town as it kicks. A new career in a new town for Bowie indeed, online, in the stars, everywhere, always.