Sunday, January 17, 2016
Ziggy Stardust has blasted off to the unknown; the Thin White Duke has faded into a wisp of smoke. And while I haven't been a consistent fan of his work, I've had my moments. The tapestry has been torn, nonetheless.
I spent my teen years with Bowie and his various alter-egos subconsciously romping in the background. A fascinating individual, he was outrageous and pushing at the boundaries- take gender preference for example-was he gay, bi or simply metrosexual? Does it matter? It did add to his mystic. It was rumored he had an affair with Mick Jagger, but he ended up marrying the gorgeous Somalian fashion model Iman. Bowie himself was no slouch in the fashion department, bringing elegance to Music and Pop culture. I've always like Bowie's exponential experimentation with jazz and the saxophone, which he uses not so much sonically, but rather to express an occult, mysterious lack of dis-ease and Darkness in a situation. ( I have to wonder how much of this was influenced by his half-brother, a saxophonist suffering from schizophrenia who eventually committed suicide by walking in front of a train in 1985.) David Bowie had a relationship with the Shadow Self I could never quite pin down. Truly, it was like he actually was from another planet.
His last album, Blackstar, and in particular the video of the title song has created the kind of cacophony and controversy he is known for-like the story that went around the internet for a few days that 700 Club talking head Southern Baptist Rev. Pat Robertson stated, "... Some poor punk singer called forth a demon, but on the way the demon heard David Bowie rehearsing for a gig, and decided to take him back, just for kicks...As a matter of fact, there's probably a room full of demons somewhere in Hell right now, and they've probably got Bowie performing his greatest hits while slowly roasting on a skewer or something...". Now, as so much as I have a visceral dislike for most televangelists, and the Rev.Robertson in particular, the story about what he said after hearing about Bowie's death is blatantly not true. Yes, it sounds remarkably like the type of nasty, mean-spirited, vitriol Robertson spews forth like so much pea soup on occasion...but he didn't say it. And Goddess help me, I never thought I'd ever be defending the jerk, but fair is fair. He didn't do it, but I have a feeling the opportunity still awaits him.
Bowie is so much the stuff of myths and legends, so much so that it has been inferred that he used coded references to magician Aleister Crowley in his work. “My overriding interest was in Kabbalah and Crowleyism. That whole dark and rather fearsome never–world of the wrong side of the brain.”, wrote Sean Egan in Bowie on Bowie: Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie. Often- through his various personas- Bowie communicated messages considered to be of occult significance. The inner sleeve of the CD version of Space Oddity shows him in quasi- Egyptian/ Spaceman regalia, in a pose that echoes that of a famous photo of Crowley in his magician's robes. Bowie had a more than passing interest in Egyptian mythology, and it showed in his choice of costuming and personas. Ziggy Stardust (from Space Oddity) is an androgynous messenger sent by 'The Infinites' to announce the arrival of the alien Starmen. He does this by becoming a rock star literally fed and kept alive by his devoted fans. When the aliens do arrive, they dismember Ziggy, taking on his essence in order to become literal beings. If you know your mythology, it's easy to frame Ziggy as a sacrificial dying god. His androgynous nature confirms this as he represents the balance of all opposing forces; he is Androgyne personified,wearing the seal of spiritual illumination upon his forehead. If you have listened closely to Bowie's catalog over the years you will notice the theme of the descent from the heavens ( and hell, too) weaves through his songs. There is a pointed reference in Station to Station with the lyrics, "Here we are with one magical moment from Kether to Malkuth." Pretty straight up and hard to miss, right? From the highest (Kether) to the lowest (Malkuth)-the descent from heaven to earth once again, and if that wasn't enough, the album cover photo shows Bowie in one of his Ziggy costumes making a line drawing of what is unmistakably the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
Nearly five decades later we have Blackstar, which opens upon juxtaposed scenes of an obviously long deceased astronaut ( Could this be the tragically lost Major Tom of Space Oddity?); a remarkably beautiful but surreal horizon dominated by the Blackstar (What to me appears to be a fully eclipsed sun complete with corona which I believe to possibly be an allusion to the Midnight Sun of alchemy, or to Bowie's life being eclipsed?) and a planet in near darkness (Is this the light of the Divine shining in the Darkness of Men?); a shadowy, candlelit image of a Mediterranean-style villa called Orman (which is a Norse word for 'snake', if I recall correctly); and Bowie's latest character, the blind Button Eyes, narrating/singing,"On the day of execution/On the day of execution/Only women kneel and smile." The scene cuts to a woman walking silently but assuredly to the dusty corpse of the astronaut (who seems to have made himself comfortable, resigned to his fate). As she lifts the visor and reverently gazes upon the jewel-encrusted skull (decorated in a style we see most often used for holy persons) we see she is a devout worshiper there to retrieve a holy relic and indeed we later see her holding the skull in veneration while the headless skeleton of the astronaut slowly floats off into space as it is drawn up to the Blackstar. "At the center of it all...your eyes" sings Button Eyes, who is now accompanied by some quite obviously frightened villagers who twitch and shake convulsively in a manner that strikes me as being symbolic of being over-taken over by a force wholly beyond their control. It is reminiscent of the shaking of Parkinson's Disease patients with just a touch of Sufi ecstatic dance. Lightening flashes in the sky over a scene of destruction and desolation ( the type so often depicted in space sifi genre), we see a glimpse of the lone candle burning in the dark, Button Eyes and the villagers reacting to the approach of the woman carrying the relic (which is now enshrined in a glass box). Cut to the next scene of a circle of women
( Priestesses? Witches?) gathering in what appears to be the casting of a magickal circle, echoing the convulsing dance of the others, and then depart, only to assemble later to perform what strikes me as a stylized version of the Great Rite. Bowie is next seen ( no longer as Button Eyes) as an Elder High Priest grasping a worn book, the now familiar Blackstar emblem emblazoned on it's cover. He raises the book up and shows it to an unseen audience (perhaps us, the viewers, who have become a part of this passion play). He lifts it not as much in reverence rather as a signal of ... Recognition? Readiness? Surrender? Perhaps all of that? The Elder High Priest intones an incantation as he lowers the book, but his eyes continue to search the skies. His expression is most striking to me since learning of Bowie's death: Is he looking through the Veil to the Otherside?
He is next seen in a dramatically lit attic, it's roof line cathedral-like and sings, "Something happened on the day he died, Spirit rose up...Somebody took his place and bravely cried,' I'm a Blackstar...' and then," How many times does an angel fall?" The narrative continues in this direction, with the phrase 'I'm a Blackstar' repeating in call-and-response, a mantra transcending what becomes a descriptive, if odd, explanation of the nature of the character Bowie the Enigma has now assumed. It is as if he becomes a Trickster, as he dances about, even thumbing his nose at one point. In it he employs both the archaic Polari and fictional Nadsat ( the language from A Clockwork Orange). There are also some lasciviously writhing scarecrows thrown in for good measure among the mysteriously jittery villagers (what's a little crucifixion without a sexual element? Crowley would be proud, and oh, here's a random thought that just popped into my head: if Orman is actually Norse for 'snake', there is a veiled reference to the Kundalini of sex magic. Crowley, wherever he is, is probably laughing his ass off by now.). Adding to the cast of obscura is some sort of vague monstrosity that destroys the scarecrows; a skull that may possibly belong to the lost Major Tom ( human who becomes divine, like The Man Who Fell to Earth), and oh, did I mention that the woman who found it had a tail?
( Signifying the devolution of humankind?) And finally, the re-occurring line, " At the center of it all" What? The Occult? Thelema? Depravity? Transformation from human to Divine? Or simply the understanding of personal vision?
Maybe we will never fully know-and perhaps that's exactly as Bowie intended. Perhaps,showman that he was- David Bowie's Blackstar was meant to keep us guessing so that his name continued to be spoken, and thus, he truly could obtain a type of immortality.