Bowie died on January 10th, 2016. My post from three days ago didn’t mention that, and, especially since I did a reflective post two days earlier on Bowie’s birthday, I didn’t use the occasion to commemorate the anniversary. I subsequently came across this footage of Bowie performing the Jacques Brel song, “My Death,” which he performed at various points throughout his career. An earlier and considerably different version of the song appears elsewhere in this blog, and according to Bowie, he performed the song earlier still, going back to the 60s. I think it’s safe to conclude that the song was important to Bowie. Back when I did the song-a-day tribute in 2016, I posted several Bowie songs about mortality and death. It’s a topic he contemplated from “Tired of My Life” (1970) through “Blackstar” (2016). Of artists I listen to regularly, none other contemplated mortality as much as Bowie. The topic is exotic for pop music, which tends to emphasize youth, love and excess-without-consequence. Not so with Bowie.
Since Bowie did not write this song, it would be a mistake to decipher the lyrics in terms of what meaning Bowie assigned to them. That’s a dangerous proposition even with songs Bowie did write, but for me, much of the lyrics to “My Death” sit between nonsensical and silly, but the memorable and repeated words are, “My death waits…” It was not an act of prophecy on Bowie’s part to proclaim that his death waited— we can all be pretty confident that same statement applies to us— its just that Bowie was unusual in the extent to which he acknowledged that fact.
One other note, Bowie makes what I think is a joke in saying that the song is an old “Burl Ives song,” before correcting himself and saying that the actual author of the song was Brel. I don’t know what’s funnier— the idea that Bowie named-dropped Burl Ives for inherent humor value, or the idea that Bowie actually made a mistake and, for some unfathomable reason has Burl Ives on his mind.