David Bowie’s “Lazarus” was originally partially about the poet Emma Lazarus. And Bob Dylan. And aliens. And mariachi bands.

At GQ, Michael Cunningham has an essay called

Stage Oddity: The Story of David Bowie’s Secret Final Project.  

In it, he writes of working on “a musical involving space aliens, mariachi bands, and an imaginary trove of unreleased songs by Bob Dylan.” These were all Bowie’s ideas.   Bowie also wanted the musical to be partly about the poet Emma Lazarus. As Cunningham writes,

he’d been thinking about popular artists who are not considered great artists, particularly the poet Emma Lazarus, who wrote “The New Colossus.” That’s the poem inscribed inside the base of the Statue of Liberty, the one that includes the lines “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

What, said David, are we to make of a poet taught in few universities, included in few anthologies, but whose work, nevertheless, is more familiar to more people than that of the most exalted and immortal writers?

The musical was eventually rewritten by another writer. The final product bears little resemblance to the original aside from it being about an alien.  At Forward, Seth Rogovoy says in “Was David Bowie’s Last Work About Bob Dylan and a Jewish Poet?” that in spite of this, within the title song “Lazarus,”

There is still, however, a hint of the song’s conceptual origins. Bowie sings, “By the time I got to New York, I was living like a king,” which contrasts starkly with Emma Lazarus’s “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Bowie also echoes that last phrase when he sings, “This way or no way / You know, I’ll be free.”

The New Colossus
Emma Lazarus 
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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