In one posthumous night, David Bowie managed to rack up four times as many Grammy Awards as he’d previously garnered in the entirety of his career. Sunday night, the late singer was awarded in all four categories in which he’d been nominated — alternative album and best engineered album, for Blackstar, plus best rock performance and rock song, for the title track — and that’s not counting a fifth category, best recording package, which went to the album’s graphic designer.
For fans, that sweep almost — almost — made up not only for the snubs of the previous 45-plus years, but for the fact that Bowie was also passed over this year in the top album of the year category.
“I was very surprised to learn that he’d only won one Grammy, for a video — that was shocking to me,” said saxophonist Donny McCaslin, the jazz band leader Bowie brought in to help lead the sessions for Blackstar. “I just feel this is such a deep record, regardless of my involvement in it, and I’m just so happy for his family and his fans. We’re fans too, so this is really cool.”
Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, sent a tweet of himself holding his then-robust father in his arms, saying, “So proud of you dad! Would hold you up forever.”
It’s not among the proudest parts of the Grammys’ legacy that Bowie’s sole prior “regular” Grammy was in 1985 for the Julien Temple-directed 20-minute music video “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean,” promoting a single from the Tonight album — ironically. one of his least critically well-regarded recordings. He didn’t receive a single nomination until Let’s Dance was put in the running for album of the year in 1984 — which was also the last time he ever got nominated in a major category. This year’s wins came for his 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th. nominations He did pick up a lifetime achievement award in 2006, two years after he retired from touring.
Backstage, McCaslin contradicted the popular notion that Bowie planned Blackstar as a swan song, confirming recent reports from insiders that he didn’t know he was dying when the album was recorded. After overdubs wrapped up in May of 2015, and even into the fall, “David was writing new music, and we were going to go back into the studio in January (2016) and start recording new music,” said McCaslin.
With Bowie going four-for-four at the Grammys Sunday night — and the Blackstar project itself going five-for-five — fans feel grateful for the love, but can’t help but wonder: if the Grammy committees had let it slide through with a nomination in the top category, might it have gone a satisfying six-for-six?
McCaslin certainly wonders that. “It was unfortunate,” he said backstage, “because just listening to the quality of what he did with lyrical content and the musicality of the performances, it’s very clear to me that he should have been nominated in a couple of those major categories. I know that on a certain level art can be subjective. But as somebody who’s devoted my life to becoming the best musician and best artist I can be, I recognize that (greatness) in his work on Blackstar.”
Is it possible that Bowie might still win one or two more? McCaslin was asked if there were any leftovers from the Blackstar sessions that might yet come out… besides the three that subsequently appeared on the Lazarus theatrical cast album and were recently released as a separate Bowie EP. “I don’t know if he finished the vocals, and I don’t know how far along they got in the production process,” he said, “but I can think of two (unreleased) songs that I thought were tremendous songs.”