A question I think we’ve all thought about at some point goes something like:
“Would you rather know about the date of your death, or the cause of your death?”
And I think we’ll all have different answers to this… Personally? I don’t think I’d choose either—as is a common belief around here, sometimes it’s best got just let things happen…
I do fear that, if I knew either for certain, I would obsess so much with the prospect that I wouldn’t have any time or calm left for myself-!
But that question brings me to David Bowie once again, because, as the story goes, he apparently knew the answer the both!
According to his longtime pianist and friend Mike Garson (he’s amazing by the way—look at his channel here!), Bowie consulted with a psychic in the 70s who informed him that he would die at the age of 69 or 70, and from the moment he heard this, he believed and accepted it, soldiering on under the idea that he would only have about 40 years of life left.
By 2014, aged 67, he received something all of us dread: a cancer diagnosis.
And yet he pushed on, releasing one last goodbye album, Blackstar, on his 69th birthday in 2016, passing away just two days later.
Now as reported, he knew his diagnosis was terminal and ended treatment by late 2015, so if he still had that psychic’s message in mind, then you can argue he knew both answers to the earlier question…
I honestly wonder how he felt during those months…? Just to know that the prediction of some random psychic almost 50 years ago was unfortunately pretty-accurate?
But he wasn’t known as an innovator and a reinventor without merit—and he turned his impending death into his final piece of art, a last farewell gesture that’s really made me appreciate his career from start to the present!
Perhaps it’s my age speaking, but were I to be in that position, I think I would be too consumed by fear to really plow on as well as he did—but just like other industry legends like Queen’s Freddie Mercury, it was like his life was one grand spectacle right up to the end; an ending that he took into his own hands and turned into one of 2016’s greatest records!
I might talk about my personal thoughts on Blackstar in the future, but the thing is, Bowie’s death was really not the end of his career-!
Just one year later, on what would’ve been his 70th birthday, his estate released an EP: No Plan, consisting of some of his last-recorded songs that didn’t make it into the prior album.
I honestly love the three deep cuts in this record—but today I wanted to show you the title track specifically-!
No Plan – David Bowie, 2017
No Plan has a lot of hallmarks of Bowie’s post-2003 releases, with everything from cryptic lyrics, to an avant-garde jazzy presentation, it’s a style that I feel only someone like him could not just dabble with, but completely embody!
This music video has a lot of cute-little callbacks to past Bowie too, like the store being named after his The Man Who Fell to Earth role, the street being named after a place he resided in in London, the rocket launch from Space Oddity, and even the bluebird he sings about in Lazarus, but I think the most effective visual element of the song isn’t even any of these.
From the moment the first bystander comes to the store’s windowfront, the camera freezes on his face for a moment, and as the crowd grows larger and larger, it does the same for most of them—and almost everyone here appears to be of a different ethnicity, a different age, everything! Like a neat nod from the video’s director towards how internationally-loved his music is, and writing this as someone in a region Bowie rarely ever visited, I think that’s quite the fitting imagery!
I say that all without even touching on the lyrics, and they’re definitely open to a lot of interpretatio, but if I had to make a comparison… it’s as if this song, and the rest of the EP, are like the closing credits of Bowie’s career: less a final goodbye like Blackstar and more of a look on the future and past that he was running out of time to think about.
Right when it starts, we’re met with two contradictory lines:
“Here, there’s no music here. I’m lost in streams of sound.”
Does he mean to say that the sound around him is just meaningless noise now? That the music has gone? Or is he saying that “music” and “noise” have become interchangeable?
For me, the line feels like him guessing at what happens after his passing: that he may go someplace where he’ll never hear his music again, or that he may end up as somebody who doesn’t see music the same way he did—given his spirituality changed as much as his genres over the years, it does make me wonder what he believed he’d experience after this life…
But I think this opening line gives us a hint at the tone he follows with for the rest of the song:
Here, am I nowhere now? No plan Wherever I may go Just where, just there I am
For me, his lyrics evoke a sense of timelessness: once he’s gone, he’s both nowhere and nowhen, and he doesn’t quite have a plan for that.
I think the somber mood of the whole song paints a much more vulnerable image of Bowie in his last weeks compared to what we heard in Blackstar, but of course, it’s anyone’s guess as to which image represents how he truly felt: the defiant artist eager to be liberated from this world, or the everyday man who wishes for just a little more time?
Realistically, the answer’s probably somewhere in-between, and the second half of the song does a good job alternating between these two archetypes!
All the things that are my life My moods, my beliefs My desires, me alone Nothing to regret This is no place, but here I am
Moods, beliefs, desires… Just like his timelessness in this song, to me there’s also a sense of impending transcendence: like he’s ready to let go of everything you’d consider “material” because he knows none of that ever truly was him.
On the topic of my question earlier, his simple line about having no regrets puts him in a good balance between the two scenarios: he’s still just a guy in the end, but someone who not only wants to leave free of regrets, but also announce his peace with his life in a grand statement!
A pretty simple but cryptic line closes off the song:
This is not quite yet
What is “this”? is the first question that comes into my mind…
Is he talking about death here?
I mentioned earlier that the song to me has a timeless tone to it—and I feel like this closing line reinforces that.
If I asked you where you’d place death on a timeline… well, none of us would say “right now”, only a few of us would probably say “later”, and anything specific like “tomorrow” or “next month”… would have to take some really tragic circumstances （ ｉ _ ｉ ）
I think the best most of us could really answer is just as Bowie sings: “Not quite yet”.
Like it’s on a dimension a simple timeline can’t really capture.
And that right there is the power of No Plan for me: it says so much through saying so little!
Even though Bowie may be gone, one of his most powerful vocal deliveries of the 2010s shines through on, what I believe anyways, to be one of his most vulnerable Blackstar-era tracks.
Just like the rest of them though, through brilliant lyrics and masterful production, Bowie has made certain that his work will seize a life of its own separate from him.
Immortality-by-proxy, I suppose you could say (*´∀`)♪
Now here’s the thing about discussing Bowie and spirituality—there’s one song of his back from the 70s that I feel really deserves more attention-!
One song that, intentionally or not, perfectly captures the image of somebody struggling not with impending death, but instead with the means of confronting that fate that they thought they had.
So I hope to see you here again on Friday, when I’ll discuss with you what that song is!
Until then, stay safe, and all love to you~! ♪(*^^)o∀*∀o(^^*)♪