David Bowie released ? (Blackstar) just two days before his death, and since then, the album has taken on an immense weight of finality, of being an immortal legend’s last statement. Tony Visconti, Bowie’s longtime producer and friend, has indicated that Bowie intended it that way, saying, “His death was no different from his life — a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be.” And in retrospect, listening to the album’s eerie, expressive churn, it certainly feels that way.
But in a new interview with Rolling Stone, Visconti says that Bowie actually planned to make one more album. In the last few weeks of his life, he wrote and recorded demo versions of five new songs, and just a week before his death, he called Visconti via FaceTime to discuss recording a new LP. “At that late stage, he was planning the follow-up to Blackstar, and I was thrilled,” Visconti says. “And I thought, and he thought, that he’d have a few months, at least. Obviously, if he’s excited about doing his next album, he must’ve thought he had a few more months. So the end must’ve been very rapid. I’m not privy to it. I don’t know exactly, but he must’ve taken ill very quickly after that phone call.”
Visconti first learned that Bowie had cancer about a year ago, during the first recording sessions for Blackstar in New York. “He just came fresh from a chemo session, and he had no eyebrows, and he had no hair on his head, and there was no way he could keep it a secret from the band,” Visconti says. “But he told me privately, and I really got choked up when we sat face to face talking about it.” Although the chemo initially seemed successful and Bowie went into remission in the middle of 2015, the cancer suddenly returned in November, and he knew that it was terminal.
Blackstar was completed by that point, but even before then, Visconti realized that Bowie meant it to be a parting gift. “You canny bastard. You’re writing a farewell album,” Visconti told him, at which Bowie only laughed. “He was so brave and courageous. And his energy was still incredible for a man who had cancer. He never showed any fear. He was just all business about making the album.”
When Bowie died on Sunday, Visconti was on tour with Holy Holy, a Bowie tribute act that also includes former Spiders From Mars drummer Mick “Woody” Woodmansey. “We deliberated whether we should continue the tour because we were all knocked sideways,” Visconti tells Rolling Stone. “Monday was the worst day of my life. I gotta say. But we talked about it and said, ‘We’re musicians, this is what we do. David would like it.’ We played for the first time since his death last night to a very, very enthusiastic Toronto audience. There were people crying, but there were people smiling and clapping and jumping around. Listen, it was a wonderful experience to be able to acknowledge him, to celebrate his life.”
“There’s is no better way to work through grief except through music. Music is magic. It’s better than any pill to take, it’s better than any drug, and this music is some of the best music that’s ever been written,” Visconti told the crowd assembled at Toronto’s Opera House last night, as CBC News reports. “We’re going to celebrate the life of David Bowie.” The band then performed Bowie’s 1970 LP The Man Who Sold The World in its entirety before running through a number of other classics including “Five Years,” “All The Young Dudes,” “Changes,” and “Suffragette City.”
Bowie was privately cremated shortly after his death, The Guardian reports. In accordance with his wishes, there was no funeral or public service. Blackstar, which appears on course to dethrone Adele’s 25 and become Bowie’s first #1 album in America, is currently being celebrated on a huge digital billboard in NYC’s Times Square. In addition to the five new demos Bowie recorded in his final weeks, there are also five completed songs left over from the Blackstar sessions that have yet to be released, as Sasha Frere-Jones reports in a piece on the making of Blackstar for The Los Angeles Times.
Read the full Rolling Stone interview with Tony Visconti here.
UPDATE: David Bowie’s family released a statement on private funeral plans and wishes for respectful observance via his Facebook page. Read the statement in it’s entirety below:
The family of David Bowie is currently making arrangements for a private ceremony celebrating the memory of their beloved husband, father and friend.
They ask once again that their privacy be respected at this most sensitive of times.
We are overwhelmed by and grateful for the love and support shown throughout the world.
However, it is important to note that while the concerts and tributes planned for the coming weeks are all welcome, none are official memorials organized or endorsed by the family.
Just as each and every one of us found something unique in David’s music, we welcome everyone’s celebration of his life as they see fit.