Saturday, February 6, 2016

F Cancer, Shoutout to Boosie. And Bowie.

The prospect of immortality looms heavily over us all. Some of us live in fear of it, others embrace it. However we ultimately feel about it, death is necessary to appreciate life. That's something we usually say to comfort the bereaved, but cliches become cliches for a reason: there's a lot of truth in them. Death is not distinct from life, it is the logical next step on life's journey. It is the continuation of a cycle. 

Dealing with illness and death is usually a private affair, but social media has made it so every death becomes a contest to see who can mourn harder. This becomes obnoxious, but people need to grieve in their own way, and if that helps, by all means. Even when it comes to celebrities. Some people get upset when fans dare to mourn a celebrity they never actually met, but I think mourning a celebrity's death is natural. Certain artists or athletes or entertainers may have made an impact on your life, even if it's simply making a song or an album or a movie you enjoyed. When an artist dies, fans feel a loss, and that feeling is real.

So when the outpouring of support came after David Bowie's death, I wasn't surprised or bothered. I'm not the biggest Bowie fan, I like some songs and movies he's made (Labyrinth is an all time classic) but more than anything I always appreciated his art and him as an artist. 

Like everyone else, I listened to a lot of his most popular songs when the news broke that he succumbed to cancer. Eventually I came across the video for Lazarus, one of the last songs and videos he made. 

I was floored.

Bowie's eccentricities are well known. He's out there, and this video is no different. But holy shit, this song and video are powerful. It's literally a man on his death bed, contemplating his life and eventual transcendence to another plane of existence.

It's heartbreaking yet hopeful. This is a man who knows he is going to die and wants to do it on his own terms. As an artist, he wants to share that experience. He has taken his fans on all types of journeys throughout his career and he has allowed them to tag along on this, the final journey.

The melancholia is almost overwhelming. The horns pull your heart out of your chest, his voice (still strong but with a touch of frailty) and lyrics throw your still beating heart against a wall.

Look up here man I'm in danger. 
I've got nothing left to lose. 
This way or no way, 
you know I'll be free, 
just like that bluebird, 
now ain't that just like me, 
oh I'll be free...

It's an artist's goodbye, yet now that he is dead, it feels like a message from beyond the grave. The video is haunting: a beautifully strange depiction of a dying man floating above his bed; he spins in the air and falls back down; a ghost(?) lady underneath the bed reaches for him; his sickly body spasms while he writes something, possibly the lyrics to this song; and finally, he disappears into a giant armoire. It's spooky and weird and a perfect ending to an incredible career. This was a man who battled cancer for over a year and then fully embraced death, at peace with the full life he lived.

Boosie Badazz aka Lil Boosie, is an artist who has not embraced his mortality. He is not ready to die, and in a recent song, simply titled, "Cancer," he details his recent battle with kidney cancer, expressing the sadness and outright fear he feels.

Boosie has been a hero in Baton Rouge for over a decade. He was recently released from jail on a drug charge (after being found not guilty on a murder charge that would have sent him to death row) and within a year or so, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Life has a cruel sense of humor.

Much like Lazarus, the video features the artist on a bed with white sheets. Both videos feature representations of the supernatural: Lazarus has the ghost lady, Cancer prominently features a bible. Unlike Lazarus, there are no metaphors here. No mask, no floating, no bluebird; just Boosie in the hospital, with his family and his somehow still fresh Boosie fade.

The lyrics are as straight forward as the title. Boosie is known for keeping it real, a term that has become a mostly meaningless phrase in rap, yet there's no better way to describe his style. Blunt, direct and honest raps about his own reality. His fear and anger and sadness are all on the surface, as tangible as the giant gold Jesus piece he wears over his hospital scrubs.

The opening lines tell you everything you need to know about the song and about how Boosie approaches his art:

Coldest words I ever heard was
"Torrence Hatch, I'm sorry. You got cancer."
Just beat death, turned into "now I got cancer?"

His greatest asset is his voice, with which he is able to emote raw passion better than most rappers or actors. The slow, minimal beat allows his piercing, pain-filled voice to take center stage, and the hurt behind his words is intensified by that high pitched, nasally delivery.

Throughout the song, he examines how the cancer diagnosis has affected his psyche and his family. He talks about his three aunts that died from cancer. He calls cancer "this pussy ass disease." He asks how long he'll live once his kidney is removed. The chorus is simply asking God for answers. Listening to the song feels exactly like watching a close friend or family member dealing with a cancer diagnosis. 

Two great artists, dealing with death and cancer through their music in very different ways. Bowie knows he will die and wants to assure us (and maybe himself) that it's all right to let go; Boosie is unsure and fearful of his fate, but he wants us to know he won't give up yet.

And this is how Young Thug shows his support.

Their different approaches to death are emblematic of their different approaches to their music. Bowie makes art outside of his personal self. He becomes a character in his music and it's hard to know the real Bowie. It is all facade, all spectacle. This feels like one of his most personal songs, yet it still doesn't really examine personal emotions. The song is full of metaphor so we can apply it to him but also to life and death in general.

On the other hand, Boosie is an open book. He puts himself and his life into every verse. In Cancer, we hear and feel every single emotion Boosie is experiencing. It is very personal, and like only great artists can do, he somehow makes his personal experience universal. We are all connected to the human experience; when someone can so openly and vividly express their own experience, it draws us in.

These two songs are very somber obviously, but there is an underlying hopefulness. Boosie is not willing to let go of his life yet, and Bowie is aware his life is coming to an end and he accepts it. The openness, the frailty mixed with the strength, lets us see these legendary artists as humans who suffer just like the rest of us. We all face death one day, and watching these men do it so gracefully is inspirational. Sometimes we need to fight it, and at some point, we need to let go.

That's life. It's beautiful. So it goes. Etc.

Peace and love.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.  

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