"'Blackstar," from David Bowie's album Blackstar

David Bowie (David Robert Jones), English, 1947–2015
"Blackstar," from David Bowie's album Blackstar
Published on November 19, 2015

© 2015 ISO Records, under exclusive license to Columbia Records, a Division of Sony Music Entertainment

Several months before his death in January 2015, David Bowie, a musical innovator and major figure in popular culture, released a ten-minute video, directed by Johan Renck, for “Blackstar,” the first single and title track on his final studio album. The music from the album and the videos that accompany it show the artist, who had been recently diagnosed with cancer, contemplating his own mortality with music, lyrics, and imagery.

Central to the opening sequence of “Blackstar” is a total solar eclipse that Bowie, known for his astute use of imagery and stagecraft, artfully used to set a mysterious, dark, and ominous tone. In Renaissance art, the eclipse was used in Crucifixion scenes to symbolize the unparalleled darkness and anguish described in the Gospel of Luke. This religious association is punctuated later in Bowie’s video, when three bodies are seen hanging from crosses. Beneath the eclipse one sees the lifeless body of an astronaut in a bleak planetary landscape devoid of vegetation. The total solar eclipse is motionless except for the glowing plasma of the corona.

When the camera focuses on the eclipse, the lyrics “at the center of it all, at the center of it all, your eyes” are first heard. The center of it all is the full totality of the eclipse, with its symbolic allusion to death, which could also be read as the iris of an eye, vision, and something more.