The Heartbreaking Story Behind David Bowie’s “Lazarus”
David Bowie in an interview with Russell Harty, 1973 - aladdinsane9 / Youtube
It appears that David Bowie’s symbolically charged song “Lazarus” isn’t going to be left alone, despite its numerous reinterpretations and never-ending attempts at explanation. Others are weird, obvious clickbait; some of the attempts have been interesting.
David Bowie stopped his cancer treatments in October 2015 when he found out that the disease had spread too far to be cured. Around the same time, he went to a Brooklyn soundstage to make a video for his new song “Lazarus,” a single for his then-upcoming album, Blackstar. Bowie spent a day in a hospital bed with a bandage on his head, yelling “Look up here, I’m in heaven! I have scars that can’t be seen.”
Johan Renck, who directed the music video, remembers how sad the timing was. “David said: ‘I just want to make it a simple performance video’… I immediately said ‘the song is called “Lazarus,” you should be in the bed.’”
“To me, it had to do with the biblical aspect of it. It had nothing to do with him being ill,” he further added. For the now-terminally ill singer, the symbolism created a new significance.
Though Renck denied that the music video for “Lazarus” contains any references to the singer’s illness, in the days following Bowie’s death, fans and critics suggested the video was instilled with a variety of various symbols and moments that took on intriguing new connotations.
However, After Bowie’s death, the media asserted with clarity that the song’s title character was the biblical Lazarus from the New Testament, who is resurrected by Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John. Via Britannica: “This sickness will not end in death … No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”
Moreover, writer Michael Cunningham, who was hired by Bowie in 2013 to collaborate on a musical, Bowie developed attention to poet Emma Lazarus and her work, The New Colossus, and desired to include her as a protagonist.
It’s hard to pinpoint Bowie’s brilliance for the sake of his craft. But that’s the general wonderfulness of the singer; after all, he wouldn’t be the David Bowie that we know of today if it weren’t for his keen attention to detail and his sheer mysticism.