Thomas Wictor

David Bowie recreated the death of my father

David Bowie recreated the death of my father

One of the strangest things I’ve experienced in my life so far is the video for the David Bowie song “Lazarus.” It’s an exact duplication of my father’s death.

My father Edward died of osteosarcoma—bone cancer—on February 23, 2013. Edward was a complete mystery to me. After he died, I discovered that he had every reason to remain a mystery. He was a man of many secrets.

Reviewers are confused by the video for “Lazarus.” Bowie isn’t in a hospital; he’s in a hospice. The room is nearly identical to the one in which my father died, and Bowie’s actions are identical to those of my father. This was how my father spent his three days in hospice before he died.

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Edward kept his eyes squeezed shut the entire time. He clutched the sheets to his neck and hyperventilated. In the video for “Lazarus,” David Bowie has the same pink blanket as my father, and he wears bandages with buttons over his eyes. He’s blind, but so is everyone else.

These buttons essentially act like masks… Because we see so much through people’s eyes, these buttons hide the humanness of the people wearing them (if they’re even human at all), preventing us from really knowing a person.

Bowie often said in interviews that his fans mistook his characters—his masks—for the real man. Edward Wictor’s children mistook his characters—his masks—for the real man.

The lyrics of “Lazarus” are quite compelling.

Look up here, I’m in Heaven!
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen,
Everybody knows me now
Look up here, man, I’m in danger!
I’ve got nothing left to lose
I’m so high, it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cellphone down below
Ain’t that just like me?!
By the time I got to New York
I was living like a king
Then I used up all my money
I was looking for your ass
This way or no way
You know I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain’t that just like me?
Oh, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me?

We couldn’t see Edward’s scars, and after he died, we finally discovered who he was. We know him now.

Edward stood far above us, out of reach. He was always in danger, due to his hysterical insistence that he would never die. And he smashed his cellphone against the wall to make sure that nobody could ever contact him. A dropped cellphone can be picked up; a broken cellphone is useless.

Like me, David Bowie was a seeker who became a non-religious theist. The video for “Lazarus” is full of symbolism, beginning with the title. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ raised Lazarus of Bethany from the dead.

He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.

And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

David Bowie wasn’t afraid to die. He believed—as I do—that we’ll live again. It’s science: Energy can’t destroyed. That which animates us is indestructible and eternal. Our souls continue on.

But Bowie came to his final understanding after many false starts, as the video shows. He acknowledges that he’ll be separated from his wife Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid.

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This saddens him, of course. It’s normal to be upset at having to spend time apart from our loved ones.

When he says, “I used up all my money; I was looking for your ass,” he’s mourning his hedonism, grudges, and rage. He’s overcome with horror at how much of his life that he wasted.

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My father, on the other hand, was still as angry, resentful, and bitter at eighty-four as he was at seventeen.

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He never acknowledged mistakes, and he never let go of grievances, some of which went back seven decades.

Death and David Bowie

The figure emerging from the closet and going under the bed in the video for “Lazarus” is Death, not a younger version of Bowie.

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First Bowie levitates off the bed to try and escape Death.

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Then he puts on a costume to hide himself.

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This method of hiding from Death was created in World War I.

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It’s called “disruptive camouflage.” The goal is to break up your form.

Gripped by fear, Bowie tries to distract himself with meaningless busywork.

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After my father died, we learned that he’d known about his cancer for five years but refused to do anything about it. Instead, he inventoried.

Both my parents and their ancestors were pack rats, so we have almost two centuries’ worth of crap lying around in boxes. Every corner of my parents’ three houses and garages was stuffed with junk. My father began making lists of everything, as well as creating daily household budgets. For five years he inventoried and counted pennies.

Busywork won’t ward off Death.

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Suddenly Bowie has an epiphany.

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He’s going to die. Note the memento mori on the desk.

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But it’s not the end.

This way or no way
You know I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain’t that just like me?
Oh, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me?

“This way or no way.” In other words, understanding the process isn’t important; what matters is that we’ll be free of suffering and limitations. All will be well.

The bluebird symbolizes joyful renewal. Rebirth. Lazarus, come forth.

Yes, that bluebird is just like David Bowie. And the rest of us.

David Bowie dies

Bowie falls over dead.

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Then he springs back to life.

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Having realized that he’s only walking into a different room, Bowie is now ready to accept Death’s embrace.

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David Bowie becomes Death and leaves us behind.

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The only celebrity I wanted to meet? David Bowie

I spent ten years as a music journalist in Los Angeles. It cured me of being star struck. Still, I always wanted to meet David Bowie. And if I’d had the opportunity, I would’ve turned it down. His art was why I admired him. Pestering him in the flesh would’ve been inconsiderate.

My father was mad with terror when he died. The hospice workers said that he kept getting out of bed and trying to run. They had to sedate him heavily. I think he died of fright, because on the afternoon of his death, they told me that he could go on for weeks or months. His cancer was very slow growing, and he still had a lot of body mass and a strong heart. Yet he died seven hours later.

Not only does the hospice room in the video for “Lazarus” look exactly like the room in which Death came for my father, David Bowie looks exactly like Edward.

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My brother Tim and I wanted to make a short film about our father’s death. Now we don’t have to. David Bowie did it for us; his version is unsparing, but it’s also optimistic and entirely lacking in self-pity. It’s perfect.

Thank you, Mr. Bowie. Well done.

I’ve been a fan of David Bowie for forty-one years, and I knew my father for fifty-two years. Only yesterday I discovered that these two men were unearthly Dopplegängers, strangers and polar opposites yet somehow the same person.

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Or maybe a better way to put it is that they were simply two sides of the same human-condition coin.

If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.

—John 11: 9-10

Bowie chose the day, while my father preferred to walk in the night.

This is my favorite David Bowie song. I’ve always found it unaccountably moving.


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