I kept fighting off a morbid, nagging thought last week as I listened to David Bowie's 25th studio album, Blackstar, on a loop.
The title track's mournful middle section and lyrics raised the first suspicion: "Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a meter then stepped aside."
Then there were the closing words of "Lazarus," lyrics that imagine a peaceful afterlife: "Just like that bluebird/Oh, I'll be free/Ain't that just like me?"
What if this record is Bowie's way of saying goodbye?
While working on the review of Blackstar before its release last Friday, I tried as any pop-music optimist might to interpret the lyrics of the title track and other songs in ways that silenced my lingering fears about Bowie. I even included in the piece a wishful suggestion that he was writing about creative death and rebirth rather than physical demise.
Like many of Bowie's followers, I was simply hesitant to think of the musical giant as mortal. No matter what styles he folded into his endlessly adventurous music over the decades or how he chose to present his works visually, Bowie never seemed totally human. Before the news of his death broke early Monday morning, I couldn't very easily conceive of him going away forever. I'd quieted my inner voice on the matter last week, again and again.
Yet the suspicions turned out to be closer to the truth than I could have imagined. The eerie forethought wasn't unique to me, either -- fans and critics who listened to Blackstar or watched one of its stunning videos certainly picked up on the strong themes of mortality and legacy.
According to longtime producer Tony Visconti, the album is indeed an artful goodbye from the legend to his fans and the world at large. Bowie died Sunday after an unreported battle with cancer.
The singer, who hadn't performed live or done significant interviews in the last decade, had become one of the most private legends in rock 'n' roll. For all we knew last week, he was in perfect health, especially considering how vibrant his voice still sounded despite his lyrical focus.
Blackstar is a brilliant record. It wraps up David Bowie's musical story in as meaningful a fashion as possible.
That's what hit me the hardest and impressed me the most in the wake of his death -- he let his art say everything he wanted said. For him, that was enough.
It doesn't mean we're ready to say goodbye. Bowie will be forever relevant. From the provocative early masterpieces to the haunting goodbye record, his music is immortal.