Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’ Was Supposed To Be Way Crazier And Wilder Than We Thought
This is one of the strangest and most intriguing stories about David Bowie, and we are used to a lot of oddities from this starman! In a long GQ article, novelist Michael Cunningham revealed that he once received a call from Bowie to ask him to collaborate into a yearlong musical involving aliens, poet Emma Lazarus, a mariachi band and a ‘stockpile of unknown, unrecorded Bob Dylan songs, which had been discovered after Dylan died’… What? Of course these songs would have been written by Bowie himself.
Cunningham, who had always been a fan and who couldn’t believe it was really Bowie on the phone, ended up collaborating with his idol on the musical for a year. The story would take place in the future, and there’s nothing surprising there, but the curious part was of course these fake Dylan songs. ‘Who could write a convincing fake Dylan song?’ writes Cunningham, ‘Well, okay, that would be David Bowie, if anyone, but who (including David Bowie) would want to? And how would the actual Bob Dylan feel about that?’
During a lunch meeting, David let him know that one of the other actors of the play would be poet Emma Lazarus, who wrote ‘The New Colossus’, the poem inscribed inside the base of the Statue of Liberty, that includes the lines ‘Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’… and mariachi music!
While Cunningham got to the task and started writing a book following Bowie’s ideas, the pop star began composing music:
‘David started coming up with brief passages of music, on a piano or synthesizer, when we were at his place,’ wrote the famous writer. ‘I’d never been in the presence of a talent like his, not at the first moments of composition, when he was just noodling around, trying things out. What he “tried out” was already, instantly, lush and complex and heartbreaking. I’m sorry I can’t reproduce it for you. It was never recorded.
The songs were undeniably beautiful but had what I can only call a dark buzz of underlayer. They had urgency. They were gorgeous and also, somehow, ever so slightly menacing.’
Tragically, Bowie got new heart troubles, he required surgery, and the project was put on hold and never revived.
Years later, Cunningham had the chance to attend Lazarus, an Off-Broadway production directed by the Belgian director Ivo van Hove, with Bowie’s music, and he also saw the popstar one last time as he died a month later. Obviously the final production was very different from what Bowie and he had started a few years ago, but Cunningham, far from being bitter and disappointed of the experience, explains how he feels about the whole experience in his beautiful and moving essay in GQ.
‘Knowing David, however briefly, taught me about how certain works of art—not to mention certain principles of physics, certain laws of nature, certain methods of healing—start out sounding implausible,’ he wrote while praising Bowie’s humanity and the beauty of unfinished projects. ‘Given those extravagant hopes, David’s and my crackpot project is probably better as a fantasy, unrealized. Some endeavors are not meant to be finished. Some of them reach their zenith before the final results are in.’
One sure is certain, if he knows where the name Lazarus comes from, it is certainly not what I thought when I watch this Bowie video… still these unreleased fake Dylan songs written by Bowie are the biggest mystery in the story.