The designer of David Bowie‘s ‘Blackstar’ artwork has opened up about conversation’s he had with the late icon about the meaning of his final album, and the potential of playing live again before his death.
Last week, NME attended a talk at the V&A to celebrate David Bowie’s birthday, where Barnbrook spoke about how their collaboration on the ‘Blackstar’ sleeve, the meaning of the logo, the album and the songs – and whether or not he’d consider returning to the stage.
“I met him in New York and we listened to the album together,” Barnbrook told NME. “It’s quite a stressful thing – having David Bowie setting next to you when you’re listening to his new album. He was actually quite nervous about me hearing it. This is possibly one of the most accomplished musicians of the 20th and 21st Century was still worried about his artistic output.”
He continued: “He very much kept away from the absolute definition of things. He wasn’t interested in explaining songs directly. I didn’t know he was ill when I met him that June. He was so full of energy and so positive. I asked him as I always did ‘are you going to do a tour?’ The first he said, which was ridiculous was ‘I’m not much of a performer, you know?’ I said ‘I beg to differ to differ, David! But this album is quite intimate – you could do a few small shows’ – then he said ‘oh, maybe I could’. So, you never know – maybe he was going to do something with ‘Blackstar’.”
Barnbrook added: “The way we interpret the songs now, is completely different to the way that I did at the time. We discussed it and it seemed to more about where the world was going and the wider, darker sociological and psychological feeling. We did discuss the meaning of the ‘Blackstar’ in many different ways – and one of them was how we all take back to the source of creation, which is the big bang. I don’t know if that’s what was on his mind.”
Bowie had appeared to retire from touring after suffering a heart attack on the tour for ‘Reality’ in 2004. Since then, he made a number of selected and rare live appearances with the likes of Arcade Fire, Dave Gilmour and Alecia Keys.
Barnbrook also spoke about the many ‘secrets’ hidden within the ‘Blackstar’ album artwork. When asked if Bowie asked him to fill the artwork with secrets and messages, Barnbrook replied: “No, he didn’t – he didn’t know about some of them.”
The musical icon died after a battle with cancer on 10 January 2016, just two days after he celebrated his 69th birthday and released what would become his final album, ‘Blackstar’.
- Read more: RIP David Bowie – the NME obituary
While Gary Oldman led a tribute gig to his friend with a slew of past collaborators and special guests backed by his old live band in Bowie’s native Brixton this weekend, another star-studded tribute gig then took to New York.
Meanwhile, fans also gathered to remember Bowie in his native Brixton on the anniversary of his deat . See video footage of the vigil below.