David Bowie released his 26th album, Blackstar, last week, but not before debuting an eerie, avant-garde video for the song “Lazarus.” In one segment, Bowie is seen scribbling furiously in a notebook with exaggerated hand gestures. What was the inspiration for the image? According to Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, it was him.
On his program, Fallon compared Bowie’s concentrated writing technique to his own, during his “Thank You Notes” bit. He then showed an alleged freeze-frame shot of Bowie holding up the notebook, with the words, “For Jimmy—Help Me,” with a scribbled drawing.
Fallon then agreed to “help,” by putting in a plug for Blackstar, perhaps revealing the host’s complaint was, not surprisingly, all in jest. You can watch Fallon grumble over Bowie “stealing” Fallon’s “signature” move in the Tonight Show clip below.
It was a monumental week for Fallon paying tribute to his musical icons. People reported that on Thursday Fallon appeared onstage in New York with Billy Joel, singing a classic Rolling Stones number, “Start Me Up.” This was after Joel appeared on The Tonight Show and suggested they jam while Joel was performing at Madison Square Garden.
Bowie, meanwhile, has gotten high praise from critics for Blackstar. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Leah Greenblatt gave the album an A-, noting that Bowie stands apart from other rock icons of his age. The singer turned 69 on January 8, the date of the album’s release.
“[Blackstar] is the kind of album that works beautifully as a physical experience – an all-senses headphone surrender to the sound of an artist who is older and almost definitely wiser but still fantastically, singularly himself.”
The Atlantic, meanwhile, questioned the layered meanings behind the songs while admitting knowing what the album was really about might cause it to lose some mystique. The magazine noted Bowie no longer does interviews, meaning fans who might want a treatise about Blackstar’s origins—or if indeed Bowie stole Fallon’s writing technique—might be out of luck.
The release of Blackstar marks three years since the surprise release of the single, “Where Are We Now?” the first new Bowie music in more than a decade. That single was followed in March of that year by a complete album, The Next Day.
Sitting on my balcony, watching the sky wake up and listening to this new gift from David Bowie. Hello 2016. pic.twitter.com/iCeZkOxeKe
— Jonathan Cruz (@jcruz29) January 1, 2016
Rolling Stone reported in November, 2015, that the roots of Blackstar go back to the Spring of 2014, when Bowie caught a jazz band performing at New York’s 55 Bar. Bowie went there on the recommendation of a friend, and the rock star came and went without speaking to the musicians. They received an email 10 days later suggesting a collaboration—specifically the quartet’s saxophonist, Donny McCaslin, and drummer, Mark Guiliana.
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) January 8, 2016
That work was for just the song, “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” released on Bowie’s career retrospective, Nothing Has Changed. It was in January 2015 that the jazz musicians began working on Blackstar, this time including the entire quartet.
Guiliana told Rolling Stone that Bowie was in fine vocal form while recording, helping to dispel rumors the singer is in poor health. He has not performed live since 2006.
“He’d just go from zero to 60 once we walked out of the control room and into the studio. And his vocal performances were always just stunning, amazing.”
In her review for The Guardian, Kitty Empire notes that Blackstar is the first Bowie album without a picture of the man himself on the cover. She calls this latest outing “more urgent, contemporary and elliptical,” than The Next Day. Empire’s Guardian colleague, Alexis Petridis, said listeners to Blackstar are “struck by the sense of Bowie at his most commanding, twisting a genre to suit his own ends.”
Blackstar is available now and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon airs weeknights on NBC.
[Photos by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images Entertainment (left); Mike Stobe/Getty Images Sport (right)]