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Bowie, David

Category: Musician or composer

Bowie received a serious injury at school in 1962 when he was punched him in
the left eye during a fight over a girl. After a series of operations during a
four-month hospitalisation, his doctors determined that the damage could not
be fully repaired and Bowie was left with faulty depth perception and a
permanently dilated pupil.

David Robert Jones (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016), known professionally as David Bowie  was a British singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, arranger and painter. He was a figure in popular music for over four decades, and was considered by critics and other musicians as an innovator. 

Bowie also had a successful, but sporadic film career. His acting roles include the character in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Major Celliers in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), Jareth, the Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986), Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006), among other film and television appearances and cameos.

Mick Brown - The Telegraph Magazine December 14 1996
So who exactly is David Bowie? He is the father of a 25-year-old son, [Duncan Jones] by his first marriage [to Angie Bowie]. He is married to Iman, the former fashion model..... They have a home in Switzerland, where Bowie has lived since 1981, although he is as likely to be found working and travelling in New York, London, Paris and the Far East. (He has a passion for Indonesia).
You might describe him as all-purpose art-dilettante. He makes records; he acts …. he collects paintings … and paints himself; he designs wallpaper; he sits on the board of the art journal Modern Painters, for which he also writes art criticism.
Talking of Bowie’s work, Brian Eno, his sometime producer and close friend, describes him as ‘a wild intuitive, which is to say he works from his own excitement a great deal. He’s capable of really fast, brilliant tangents off into somewhere that you hadn’t suspected.’
The same might be said of his conversation. Bowie talks in great, voluble torrents, darting from one topic to the next, parenthesising and then parenthesising the parathenseses, as if he has too many ideas for one conversation.

Not bad for a lad from Brixton, South London.

Angie, David and Zowie [Duncan] in the Seventies

Bowie and spirituality

with wife Imam and baby Alexandria

David Bowie was an extraordinary man in spiritual terms.  Almost his entire output musically was driven by the spiritual.  He said in an interview with the New York Times that

Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always.” And “My interior life has always been one of trying to find a spiritual link”.

If he covered a song – such as ‘Wild is the Wind’, it was a spiritual and symbolic one.  He knew a great deal of the symbolism of spirituality and incorporated the symbols in his songs.  So he wrote of theatre, clowns and puppets, as well as the role of the fool:

But the film is a saddening bore
For she's lived it
ten times or more
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on……………

He knew about destiny and the Great Work

 

Word On A Wing 1976
Lord, I kneel and offer you
my word on a wing
And I'm trying hard to fit
among your scheme of things

My prayer flies
like a word on a wing
Does my prayer fit in
with your scheme of things?


In effect, right from the word go, Bowie saw himself as a messenger, a contributor to the Great Work.  And he was.  He introduced a great number of very key concepts – androgyny being just one of many.  If we look at some examples, we have the idea of the Intelligence hierarchy and the Ultimate Intelligence

Pallas Athena
God is on top of it all
That's all
We are we are we are

The album Hours is a reference to the spiritual path – the Four seasons and the Hours.  Here he is referring to ascension [the symbolic planets] which on the spiritual path lead to Annihilation

A city full of flowers
a city full of rain
I got seven days to live my life
or seven ways to die

Then we have the effects of Ecstasy and spiritual experience.  Bowie used space as a metaphor for the spiritual realm – spirit, beyond the body:

Dancing out in space
Something like religion
Dancing face to face
Something like a drowning
Dancing out in space

No-one here can see you
Dancing face to face
No-one here can beat you
Dancing out in space


The loneliness of the long distance runner

Film director Duncan Jones and his father David Bowie

What perhaps is never appreciated about Bowie is that he was actually lonely.  In an interview made in 2003 after his marriage to Imam,  he said

Well, one thing that's different is I don't have that sense of loneliness that I had before, which was very, very strong. It became a subtext for a lot of things I wrote”.

A long time elapsed between his break with Angie Bowie and his marriage to Imam during which time he had numerous affairs and casual relationships.  Because he was so interested in the occult he read, but he read people like Aleister Crowley whose knowledge of the spiritual path ended slightly before ‘midnight’. 

Crowley liked to believe he was a master of the occult, but his ego was too big for him ever to proceed that far.  He makes a great entertaining read, he is funny, he has some good ideas and he helped enormously to break down the sexual taboos that were hindering spiritual progress, but he is not one to base your life on.  Crowley embarked on numerous affairs with various women, some of whom were married to people he termed 'friends' – not one might think a very friendly act.  He also caused a considerable amount of pain to a few of these people.

Bowie was nothing like Crowley, he had a heart, a conscience, a soul.  In following Crowley, Bowie probably made a very big mistake:

Stay

This week dragged past me so slowly
The days fell on their knees
Maybe I'll take something to help me
Hope someone takes after me……….

Stay - that's what I meant to say …..
But what I never say is stay this time
I really meant to so bad this time
'Cause you can never really tell
When somebody wants something you want too


Bowie and drugs

with Imam, lonely no more

 Bowie’s drug taking is quite well known.  He did not use them to get inspiration, he used them as a prop and it didn’t work.  He hid behind personas – the sure sign of a fairly shy person and drugs appear to have been a prop for his shyness.  In  a sense he used them like some people use alcohol at parties.

 Drugs like LSD, for those with egos the size of a bus, memories the size of a tank and a will like a rhinocerous – ‘I may have my faults but being wrong is not one of them’ – are actually something of a boon.  Quick acting and effective they can – taken once- start the process and prize the door open just enough for you to get your foot in whilst you find better ways [of which there are numerous].  But Bowie had no need of drugs, full stop.

When he took them, his work went downhill rapidly.  We are lucky to have so many good albums where he wrote the songs without the aid of chemicals, even though he may have sullied them slightly by taking chemicals during their making.  Compare the 2003 live performances [off drugs]  of Loving the Alien with his 1984 recording [on drugs].  He would “later reflect that the production on the song undid the power of the lyric, and admitted the demo version had been better” [no drugs].

the mask

On the Reality Tour in 2003, when he performed a stripped down version with only Bowie on vocals and Gerry Leonard on guitar, Bowie remarked that this arrangement was perhaps "the way it should have always been done."[off drugs].

There was little sign of an ego that needed busting.  He played tribute to his rock heroes in his songs – Bob Dylan for example, to whom he paid tribute in “Song for Bob Dylan” on his 1971 album, “Hunky Dory.”  When Bowie first came to the United States, he sought out Lou Reed and his mentor, Andy Warhol; he sang about the latter in the tune “Andy Warhol”; he played Warhol in the 1996 film “Basquiat,” and he produced Lou Reed’s solo album, “Transformer.”  Many of the changes in his persona  were influenced by his friends, for example his change to ‘glam-rock’ was influenced by his long time friend Marc Bolan of T. Rex.  He was a friend of John Lennon  ‘I loved John. I remember asking him once what he thought of glam rock and he said. “It’s just fooking rock and roll with lipstick.” Which was very succinct, but not all that accurate. Ha, ha, ha.

In the late 1980s, Bowie reinvented himself as a member of the band Tin Machine, joining forces with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and the rhythm section of Tony and Hunt Sales, sons of Jewish comedian Soupy Sales. Just a member.

Essentially he was a nice guy

 

Mick Brown - The Telegraph Magazine December 14 1996
Bowie laughs readily. It’s the first thing you notice. That and his immediate warmth. There is no hint of diffidence or reserve, no hint of mystery. Quite the opposite, in fact: the warm handshake, the south London mateyness, the air of breezy candour – all conspire to effect that great social trick of leading you to believe after five minutes acquaintanceship that you’ve known Bowie all your life.

It is one of the saddest aspects of Bowie’s life, that he did not need drugs to write his music, but took them anyway. 

History says he stopped taking drugs in the 80s "To stay alive, as mundane a reason as that. I wasn't getting any joy out of my life, so I changed it. … I was destroying myself very rapidly." 

1980 Ashes to ashes
Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom's a junkie
Strung out in heaven's high
Hitting an all-time low

But it would seem that it wasn’t until he met Imam that he really got out of that hell hole.

Bowie and his personas

 

Bowie’s personas were parts of him.  He took the spiritual statement ‘know thyself’ to a sort of perfection by playing himself on stage. One assumes that since the objective is to both find each part of you and reintegrate them to a whole [the shamanic concept of the lost souls], then he was reintegrating by playing each character out to its final conclusion.

He also used each character to ‘expunge demons’.  In the 1976 Station to Station, there is just the hint that the ‘Personality’ he created to represent the drug taking womanising him, was a way to try to personify and thence remove the attributes that were stymying his spiritual growth:

Here are we, One magical movement, from Kether to Malkuth
There are you, You drive like a demon, from station to station
The return of the Thin White Duke
throwing darts in Lovers' eyes
The return of the Thin White Duke, making sure white stains

Making sure white stains………….

Bowie and religion

Imam with Alexandria

There are those who try to claim Bowie was a mystic Christian or a Kabbalist or a Buddhist, in the same vein that one looks for fellow football supporters – are you a  supporter of my club?  And all this shows is that those who claim he was a member of their ‘club’ haven’t got a spiritual bone in their bodies.  There is only one spiritual world.  Spiritually minded people simply take the mystic aspects and the work of mystic people – those who know and those who have seen. 

 The Secret Jewish History of David Bowie - Seth Rogovoy [from The Forward 2013.]
Madonna had nothing on David Bowie when she came out as a devotee of Kabbalah in 1998. British rock star Bowie, …. beat Madonna by 20 years or so when he sang about the sefirot, the mystical vessels of divine energy, in the title track of his 1976 album, “Station to Station.”…………..
Bowie’s immersion in Kabbalah was part of an overarching spiritual quest that took him from Tibetan Buddhism (he almost joined a monastery in the late 1960s, until his teacher told him that he’d make a better musician than monk) to Christian mysticism, and the occult.

And Bowie was no supporter of organised religion either

 “I feel more drawn to agnosticism or Buddhism (than Christianity). I'm probably an agnostic troubadour. It's in everything I write. … We are so suspicious of organized religion, both the morality of it and the question of whether the medieval hierarchy of the church actually functions in this era.”

Where did his inspiration come from?

It was not drugs.  In the early days he smoked cannabis, which in the days we are talking about was similar to having a large amount of wine, it appears ‘madness’ was in the family, in other words his talent was inherited:

Mick Brown - The Telegraph Magazine December 14 1996

Tony, a student friend of mine, idolised David Bowie. Back in the late Sixties, before the world at large even knew who Bowie was, Tony had even met him once or twice. Bowie was living in suburban Beckenham at the time – an aspirant pop singer, dabbling in mime, kabuki, the visual arts – running an arts project, and a couple of times Tony was invited back to Bowie’s home to hang out, smoke a joint or two and talk.

This was before Bowie recorded The Man Who Sold The World, the album that made his reputation. The Man Who Sold The World was notable for two things: its cover, which showed Bowie lounging on a chaise longue in a fetching silk dress, the first signal of the sexual ambiguity that would become his stock-in-trade; and its lyrics, which dealt explicitly with the thin line between sanity and madness, alluding to the history of schizophrenia in Bowie’s family and suggesting, as the song had it, that Bowie, too, ‘would rather stay here with all the madmen/For I’m quite content they’re all as sane as me’.


As it says , thee was a history of schizophrenia in Bowie’s family, and perhaps what should hearten everyone, who is in the same boat, that despite punishing himself he did not become schizophrenic.  He had spiritual experiences and there is a world of difference.

He may also have been left handed from the way his hair is parted in the early days.

Death

 

Bowie stopped touring after his 2003–04 Reality Tour, and last performed live at a charity event in 2006. On 8 January 2016, the date of Bowie's 69th birthday, his final studio album Blackstar was released; he died two days later.

Throughout his career, he sold an estimated 140 million records worldwide. In the UK, he was awarded nine Platinum album certifications, eleven Gold and eight Silver, and in the US, five Platinum and seven Gold certifications. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

God speed David.

Though I'm past
one hundred thousand miles
I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much
she knows

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit's dead,
there's something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you....

 

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