I believe that what waits for us at the end of the world is not cataclysm, but instead, the world’s most amazing concert.
Neil Gaiman once wrote about the Tavern at the End of the World, a “free zone” where travelers from all realms could eventually wind up. It’s quite antithetical to the Christian belief that the world will end as it says in Revelations, with all its implications of a Ridley Scott-directed battle underscored by Harry Gregson-Williams and Hans Zimmer.
When I first heard this version of “Wake Up,” I was so struck by the passion with which the singers—led by Win Butler and David Bowie—cried out, that I believed for a moment that the end of the world would not be marked by fire and brimstone after all…or perhaps it would, but that we would be watching it all from far above, singing and pumping our fists in exultation at the end of suffering, the end of the karmic cycle and at the generations of goodness and brotherhood we as humans (nay, as Terrans at that point) cultivated and experienced over several lifetimes—how we would drink and exchange eternally retold love stories, loss stories, war stories and our comings of age and wisdom. And between sets, our best and brightest (Shakespeare, Galileo, Bach, Aristotle…) would get a chance to walk across the stage, take a bow, say a few (brief) words and wave to their friends whom they haven’t seen in so long.
Bowie and I don’t seem to get along at face value. I own none of his CDs, I might have buried a copy of Labyrinth somewhere in storage and I can’t say I go back to his music like an old friend. But every now and then something comes up that brings back a love and respect for his contribution to music, like the absolutely moving version of “Space Oddity” as performed and recorded in space by Chris Hadfield. This version of “Wake Up” just happens to blow the studio recording out of the water, so much so that I actually believed I didn’t like it [the album recording] for a long time.
And yet, I cannot for the life of me put my finger on what it is that Bowie adds to the performance. This isn’t to say I don’t like him here; rather, that what he adds is, much like his entire persona, so understated that it’s best left alone and given the honorary label of “magical.” In the studio, the mantra “Wake up!” seems a pleasant suggestion; performed live, it comes across more like a desperate life-or-death cry from the muses on high. When the bridge occurs around 4:40, the physical shift of the performers is just unrehearsed and rushed enough that the performance becomes much more than just the voices and sounds coming from the artists—the song goes from “music” to “experience.” When the full band chimes back in, it’s like they all lean forward into the bridging tones to usher in the end of the song—and that…is much like how I’d imagine I’d want the end of the world to come.
Music like this illustrates the absolute beauty of the world we came into, and it’s this music that would have me on my feet as the curtain at the end of life starts to fall, shouting, “Encore, encore! Let’s do it all again!”