Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bowie, Blackstar and the Stories Still Untold, Part One

Bowie first appeared on the world's radar with the album Man of Words/Man of Music, better known today as Space Oddity, the title of his first hit single. But he was also a man of secrets, particularly to do with his sexuality and with his involvement in the mystic arts. Bowie's mystique stems in large part from the controversies surrounding those issues and others besides. 

He also seemed to delight in planting arcane clues throughout his work as well as planting seeds of misdirection about the meaning of his songs and details of his biography. Or to put it more bluntly, Bowie was a self-confessed "liar."

A perfect example of this is 'The Bewlay Brothers', written for the Hunky Dory album. Bowie told his collaborators at the time that the song was "meaningless", an intentional windup of American fans who scoured rock lyrics for hidden meaning. 

But Bowie would later admit (in 1977, significantly) that the dark, vulnerable, profoundly-passionate song was in fact a painful account of his formative relationship with his mentally-ill half brother Terry ("Please come away/Just for the day," being a reference to Terry's frequent hospitalizations), a fact he couldn't confess to his macho, provincial bandmates, especially after referencing the issue on the previous album with "All the Madmen."*

The result of Bowie's oblique strategies is that many critics and journalists take his evasions and/or denials about his prodigious bisexuality and his involvement with the occult at face value.  

For instance, Bowie claims he "went straight" in the 80s and that his gay relationships were just youthful experimentation (a somewhat difficult claim to make when these relationships lasted into his 30s). As it stands, there's no evidence to contradict that, no lovers coming out of the woodwork and so on. And Bowie never had any interest in movement politics, even in the early 70s, being generally disdainful of radical politics.

Yet at the same time Bowie seemed to immerse himself ever deeper into gay (or gay-adjacent) culture (notably following his marriage to Iman, with whom he was initially paired up with by his hairdresser) with projects like The Buddha of Suburbia soundtrack, the Matthew Rolston-directed video for 'Miracle Goodnight', the influence of artist Ron Athey on 1.Outside, Bowie's collaboration with gay icons The Pet Shop Boys and Morrissey, just to name a few.** 

It had a salutary effect on his work for certain, but it leads one to wonder if commercial considerations and corporate pressure were behind his newfound identity (or public claims thereto) rather than a change of heart. When you're a publicly-traded stock, you need to be mindful of your public image.

Similarly, Bowie never stopped referencing mysticism and the occult in his work, even if obliquely, despite his denials and evasions in interviews. He'd become considerably less oblique when discussing his 1995 collaboration with Brian Eno, 1.Outside:
Oh, I've got the fondest hopes for the fin de siecle. I see it as a symbolic sacrificial rite. I see it as a deviance, a pagan wish to appease gods, so we can move on. There's a real spiritual starvation out there being filled by these mutations of what are barely remembered rites and rituals. To take the place of the void left by a non-authoritative church. We have this panic button telling us it's gonna be a colossal madness at the end of this century.

Which brings us to his final testament, the album Blackstar and the two videos that accompanied its release. A lot of people have asked my opinion of the videos for 'Blackstar' and 'Lazarus', seeing as how they are laden with cryptic imagery begging for interpretation. 

Of course, now we know that they were in fact referencing his own onrushing mortality, at least in large part. But concurrent with these was Bowie's work on a theatrical sequel to The Man Who Fell to Earth, which incorporated some of Bowie's songs as well, signaling to us that the Starman wasn't quite finished with the paranormal or the esoteric.

I think people are going to debate the meaning of these videos for a long time and that is probably the point. I think there's a lot of double meaning at work, again intentional. 

The dead astronaut has been cited as Major Tom, meaning Bowie himself, but there's the fact that he's encountered by this girl with a tail, leading us to wonder if Bowie is giving us an ancient astronaut double meaning as well. In other words, he's leaving us with some philosophizing as well as some self-mythologizing.

That impression is reinforced when we see the protohuman (or whatever) take the skull of the Astronaut to her village....

Which is reminiscent of the doorless surreal cityscapes from "Loving the Alien," some 30 years earlier. Alien-loving is exactly what seems to be depicted in "Blackstar."

The skull becomes an object of veneration, in much the same way we looked at here in the post John the Baptist in Space, leading me to wonder if Bowie read this blog. Again.

Just in case you didn't the reference, here's another Astronaut head being revered. The reverence of the John symbolism is significant in contradistinction to the grotesque scarecrows suggesting the scene at Calvary.

Bowie also has the headless body floating towards the occulted sun, reminding us that rite known as The Bornless One is actually The Rite of the Headless One in the Greek. 

I'm betting Bowie knew that.

The skull becomes the object of reverence for an all-female cult, highly suggestive of the all-female Bacchoi of Ancient Greece. I have no doubt this is intentional as well. 

Again, the priestess figure here... reminiscent of similarly enigmatic figures in "Loving the Alien." 

We also see this scenario with these half-naked men with this woman and Bowie preaching the gospel of the Blackstar. This is Bowie's last manifesto, his last pronouncement. I think you can draw the inference from this trio vis-a-vis Bowie's last confessions here, particularly the way we see them in the attic. If not, use your imagination.

So it's highly significant that the first scene in his final video is of a figure coming of the closet. We'll see exactly why this is so significant at the end.

Bowie depicts the final months of his life here, in his sick bed and hard at work while the spectre of Death nipped at his heels. A blogger notes that Bowie is enacting one of the degrees from the esoteric Rite of Memphis and Mizraim branch of Masonry, an important detail as we see how Bowie is dressed when not in his sick bed...

...he's dressed in the same outfit he wore in a widely-circulated photo taken from a CD release of Station to Station, which showed the singer drawing the Sephiroth, or the Tree of Life of Kabbalah. 

As Bowie goes back into the closet- now his sarcophagus instead- he is telling us he leaves this world as the same man he was back then. 

This is Bowie's final confession; the occultist and sexual outlaw-- possessed of superhuman powers of creativity and stamina-- never died, he simply went into the closet. With Death beckoning, he has no reason left to hide.

Or was there one last secret left to tell? Was there one last confession, one that brings us back to that famous photo from 1976, of a doomed love that inspired Bowie's music as late as 2013? A time when Bowie finally met his match? 

A relationship that's been expunged from the biographies by what can only be called a conspiracy? 

* Bowie would revisit the topic with the 1993 single 'Jump, They Say'.

 ** One also wonders if Bowie was sending signals to his fans when he shot the video for "I'm Afraid of Americans" in the West Village- Christopher Street, no less- the gay epicentre of New York City.

NOTE: Yeah, I've seen that Lori Maddox story. Do I believe it? Well, considering she seems to have overlooked a distinctive identifying characteristic of Bowie's in her various versions of the story, no, I don't.


  1. I suppose some that know me would expect I'd express disappointment in David Bowie for his claim to have "gone Straight" years ago, but I don't blame him for trying to protect himself, for putting his safety and livelihood above identity politics or whatevers. I think each adult does the best they can to survive, and with Bowie making those sly references and such, I'd say "Well Done". David Bowie also made a difference for LGBTs that I know, his actions, words, and symbolism helping people I know to learn about and accept themselves for themselves.

    Making a difference, leaving a mark, being remembered - Bravo, David Bowie. Bravo. :)

    I'm looking forwards to the next installment, clearly I need to take a closer look at Mr. Bowie's art and career.

    1. Bowie said himself that he had always been a "closet heterosexual" and that his identifying as gay/bisexual was more so to complete this "image" as an iconoclast and to shock the public at the time. If Bowie was a woman who claimed to have been experimenting in her youth and eventually married a man and had a family, no one would really bat an eye. I'm not sure why the LGBT community feel as if Bowie "betrayed" them, but they should get off their high horse. (It is also possible to appreciate and immerse yourself in "queer culture" while still being heterosexual, which best describes Bowie.)

  2. "A relationship that's been expunged from the biographies by what can only be called a conspiracy."

    If only you knew how close to the truth you are.

  3. Chris,

    If there is one word I would use to describe Mr. Jones/Bowie it would be "Alchemist", for his lifetime of seeking personal transformation.

    >He also seemed to delight in planting arcane clues throughout his work as well as planting seeds of misdirection about the meaning of his songs and details of his biography.

    Misdirection is a common trait of the Alchemist when he places his knowledge in print, where the uninitiated will see it. The Illuminated will recognize intentional error and dissonance - though, not necessarily know the true answer.

    >The skull becomes an object of veneration

    The skull is bejeweled. A friend has pointed out to me that "bodhisattvas are known to produce jewels from the remains of their bodies when cremated." Bowie may be dipping into his Buddhist studies with this image.

    As to the girl with the rat tail, I'm divided. She seems the only one to have a tail - all the women of the cult have no tails. Does this denote a supernatural being, much as human-animal hybrid images in ancient Egypt? She bears the skull in a reliquary, the casket for remains of a saint. Perhaps a divine emissary? We see the Black Sun when she is present - is that because she is a creature that can herself see it?

    Major Tom, if that is him (and I tend to think it is) may have traveled through time as well as space, perhaps even through dimensions. And to think, that he is the Ancient Alien! With Tom's dessicated corpse, Bowie seems to say that the physical form will not survive some journeys of enlightenment but the spirit endures. Does that put Major Tom in a cycle of rebirth that also covers a cycle of time, and does Lazarus represent his ultimate incarnation, breaking free?

    As for the trio, the pain of half-naked men and the woman, consider their posture. One man is standing upright, the other leaning into the woman. I think I know where you're going in Part II so I don't want to throw spoilers here. But I think they represent two people, not three, if you take my hint.

    1. Very good. An Alchemist is a great thing to be!I feel like that to. We work in isolation,and yet are all members of a great lodge

  4. The Hook has entered, I don't know how I've missed this blog all this time.

    Thank Rune Soup for the spotlight.

    I'll be on the feed.

  5. Alan Rickman was "Dr. Lazarus" in Galaxy Quest.

  6. Blown away by Bowie's self epitaph.

    "Something happened on the day he died
    Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
    Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
    (I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)"

    The imagery of Calvary is used but the icons on the crosses are stuffed with straw.

    Whatever the blackstar is, I don't think it is Bowie, it is the myth that remains. The man occults the spirit and then the myth covers the man.

    Or, I am being too literal.

  7. They don't call it "occultism" for nothing. I believe that in the Stars Are Out and Next Day there is some specific occult politics on play (powerful self ordained "spiritual mongers" messing with "the people"). With The Black Star and Lazarus there are another kind of politics regarding the public and the private.

    Maybe Death means going back to the closet after a temporal joyride. Like Lazarus in the cave.

  8. "When you're a publicly-traded stock, you need to be mindful of your public image."

    Man, this article is an oasis. So many out there are doing gematria on the names and 'liver cancer' and how 'Bowie isn't really dead' and how Scott Weiland is his son/not dead also - that the 'elites are preparing for disaster for this fall and this is part of the ritual' - I'm kinda tagging that part on but it's part of the misinnerstanding, for I take your breakdown to be far more accurate, though, those in the gematria camp also present credible/mind-blowing points, which, I think your interpretation is correct on an esoteric level, can't wait for part II, and I think, if the math bears out, the gematria camp is correct on a 'synchromatrix' level, which is a different dimension of fish.

    I'm a black star, I'm a black star!


  9. Secret Suns, Amid Night Suns and Blackstars. There really is an occultation at work. Concealing and revealing. I think, through careful dedication, Bowie was able to align himself with powerful forces - forces that bend reality around networks of meaning and poetic association.

  10. Whenever I hear the term Blackstar, I think of the story of the Black Knight Satellite, which was a supposedly a "real" artificial satellite as reported by the lamestream media back in the 1950's. A good summary is listed
    In the "The Black Knight from Space"
    the similarities with PKD's "Valis" are pointed out as well. VALIS,
    is the Vast Active Living Intelligence System,
    and PKD subsequently described a societal control mechanism dubbed the "Black Iron Prison." Also I think the UK band, Carcass did a better version of "Black Star" than Bowie, way back in 1996. No official video, but you can listen online here:
    "Black Star, Won't you Be My Guide?
    Shine On...."

  11. The two films—"promotional video" seems hardly worthy here, although of course few would see an "art film" of this kind—are so wonderfully loaded with beautiful & haunting visuals that do the rare act of *improving* the music, which in this case is already revolutionary in so many ways. (A very modern jazz group wailing away on a #1 record?!)

    The wardrobe exit struck me as representing the "final character" of Bowie, returning to "wardrobe" (as the costuming area of a theater or filmed production is called) from where he came so many years ago. The in/out-of-the-closet sexuality reference is surely appropriate, too. I read (in The Guardian, I believe) that the wardrobe exit was suggested on set by a crew member, and was not in the shooting script. On-set synchronicity is a deeply meaningful highlight of this type of art, as David Lynch explains in the story of the Origin of Bob, who was a crew member moving a wardrobe in Laura Palmer's room when he frightened another crew member, alerting Lynch to odd things going on up there. (And "Bob" seemed to have his hooks in the long-missing FBI agent that Bowie portrayed in "Fire Walk With Me.")

    The woman who retrieves the skull is a special type. She is the feminine artist/creator, post-gnosis. Her appearance is that of Frida Kahlo, now walking tall and free of the physical pain that plagued her on Earth, the Earth of Men. She wears a calm beatific smile, and the work of the actress there is mesmerizing. Compare: ... she still wears the clunky orthopedic shoes of the spinal patient, but those will be left outside the vodou circle as the women are practicing the "shuffle" barefoot on the dirt, as the African slaves did throughout North & South America. Lifting the feet was considered dancing by slaveholding whites, and was prohibited in worship. There is a moment when the women begin to levitate, in the video ...

    According to the director Johan Renck, her tail was a late idea from Bowie. It is, I think, a sly reference to the evolutionary path of Home Superior—a graceful link to our long strange heritage. It reminds me rather of those cloth-doll Christmas ornaments of mice dressed as humans, with the tail you use as the hook.

    The crucifixion scene reminds me of a similar scene in Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" video (which Kurt Cobain had conceived with Bowie's literary inspiration, William S. Burroughs, as the crucified Santa/Christ; Burroughs did decide to collaborate with Cobain on a recording, but turned down this particular role). I have a hunch there's something to this—Nirvana's successful cover version of "Man Who Sold the World" did much to erase the often less-inspired 1980s' Bowie and put the cultural emphasis back on his then-dusty 1970s masterpieces.

    There are many other threads worth following, and your essay here along with the thoughtful comments will send me along many of these paths in the coming weeks and months.

    I am hardly Bowie's Biggest Fan, it is perhaps worth saying. I loved his singles when I was a kid ("Young Americans," "Fame," etc.) and was led to his remarkable late '70s work by the people I trusted in such matters, and I have probably gone deepest since the YouTube era, when one can find all those incredible videos and stage performances. "The Next Day" I found ... uninspiring, I suppose. But when that "Blackstar" video hit the Internet a few months ago, I felt as if I was part of something altogether more real than most occult activities I've seen or tried in person. It left me both exhilarated & frightened, with emotions & resonance unexpected at my age and at this less-tumultuous time in my life. I did not know he was ill and did not intuit his fast-approaching death. And I’m happy we had two months to appreciate that work before his death.

  12. The more I bump into reflections about Blackstar/Lazarus and DB's last songs and their possible interpretations, the more I become aware that DB ultimately was just too much advanced/evolved from any point of view, too much learned, endowed with a mind too much wide at that point, to be understood any more by anybody. After some very long and deepen researches I've personally found out in those lyrics/images/sound so many references in literature, art, history, esotericism, pop culture, etc, that my memory can hardly retain half of them - many of which are even not mentioned here.
    I will end with a joke: to be DB's wife of 24 years you must be the most clever woman on earth, or the dumbest.