Fewer still expected him to follow that up with Blackstar, an experimental set of jazz-inflected postrock designed to serve as his epitaph.
How he spent countless hours immersed in his occult library, or skywatching for UFOs, all the while painting, writing in his journals, studying dance or boxing and later, appearing in more films than most professional actors, until such time as it came to lay down another indelible classic.
Bowie and The Man Who Fell to Earth had such a powerful effect on Dick's emerging Gnostic awakening that they became major players in the first allegorical exegesis of his spiritual journey, Valis (the film within the novel was based on Dick's experience of seeing Earth for the first time and how it seemed to resonate so completely with his own inner turmoil).
He'd seen a new generation of artists getting rich off of his ideas and now he wanted to cash in. During the sessions for "Under Pressure", Queen sold Bowie on the benefits he could reap by dumping the moribund RCA for the ravenous EMI, who'd made plutocrats out of the glam foursome.
Oh, but the price to pay.
Signs that Bowie was as bored with his new role as his 70s fans were were confirmed by a long (for the time) post-Tonight silence punctuated only by a few weak soundtrack numbers.
He re-emerged in 1987 with Never Let Me Down, an album that tried too hard to recapture Let's Dance's formula and buried a lot of worthy songs in the histrionic production techniques of the time. He compounded the felony with the Glass Spider tour, a half-hearted return to the theatricality of the Diamond Dogs era, only without the zeitgeist and with 75% more cringe. Plus, Peter Frampton?
He then hooked up with Iggy's old rhythm section (the Sales brothers, as in Soupy) and new guitarist Reeves Gabrels for Tin Machine, but it looked and sounded like an overwrought midlife crisis. A reunion with Nile Rodgers seemed promising, but then his new record company went bankrupt as soon as Black Tie White Noise was released.
INTERLUDE: 'I've been interested in the Gnostics.'
"Now the archon who is weak has three names. The first name is Yaltabaoth, the second is Saklas, and the third is Samael. And he is impious in his arrogance which is in him. For he said, `I am God and there is no other God beside me,' for he is ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come..." --THE APOCRYPHON OF JOHN
"Opening his eyes he saw a vast quantity of matter without limit; and he became arrogant, saying, `It is I who am God, and there is none other apart from me.'
"When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And a voice came forth from above the realm of absolute power, saying, `You are mistaken, Samael' - which is, `god of the blind.'" --THE HYPOSTASIS OF THE ARCHONS.It wouldn't be until Bowie abandoned his grasping for the mainstream and got his freak back on that he'd rediscover his Bowieness. A soundtrack for the British indie film The Buddha of Suburbia got Eno's attention again and they took to the studio to record 1.Outside, a sprawling, deliciously-pretentious slab of 200-proof Bowie, replete with a ludicrous "concept" based on transgressive art, millennial angst and ritual murder.
The planned-for trilogy never materialized as Eno continued his career as megahit-making producer so Bowie returned with Earthling, where then-trendy dance music dribblings were grafted onto classic Bowie melodies. Luckily, most of the songs survive the procedure.
THE SECRET BOWIE
Bowie himself has always been cagey about his occult interests, preferring to keep an aura of uncertainty and mystery (much like his contemporary Jimmy Page, with whom he shares a birthday). All of this mystery and play will become very important shortly.
So were you involved in actual devil worship?
"Not devil worship, no, it was pure straighforward, old–fashioned magic."
The Aleister Crowley variety?
"No, I always thought Crowley was a charlatan. But there was a guy called [Arthur] Edward Waite who was terribly important to me at the time. And another called Dion Fortune who wrote a book called 'Psychic Self–Defence'. You had to run around the room getting bits of string and old crayons and draw funny things on the wall, and I took it all most seriously, ha ha ha ! I drew gateways into different dimensions, and I'm quite sure that , for myself, I really walked into other worlds. I drew things on walls and just walked trough them, and saw what was on the other side!"For those who don't know already, Waite is not only the man behind the definitive Tarot (as well as the author of The Pictorial Key to the Tarot), he also wrote a number of influential magical texts, many of which are still in print.
Less ambivalent is Bowie's obsession with UFOs, which dates back to his time as a UFO watcher in London and lurks throughout his entire recorded catalog, from 'Memory of a Free Festival' in 1969 to 'Born on a UFO' in 2013 and all points in between (possibly on the new album, I'm not sure yet). Such was Bowie's alien mystique that a whole corpus of legend surrounding Bowie, UFOs and ETs arose in the rumor mill:
"Extraterrestrials had been in the audience during his concerts at the Los Angeles Amphitheatre [in September 1974]. People had mistaken them for the Bowie clones he attracted. The silver pentagrams marked on their foreheads had been interpreted as attempts to imitate his own facial decoration. But he had distinguished his own. They were there and their eyes never left him. He had counted twenty. He was terrified they would come backstage. The time wasn't right. His act had still to be perfected, enhanced, taken to ultimate extremes. [Jeremy Reed: "Diamond Nebula", London 1994, p. 68]
He may do so in 1947, the year of Roswell and Kenneth Arnold, and may do so in London, a world capital filled with people calling out to the stars. He'd fill that host with powers far beyond those of ordinary humans and an insatiable need to experience as much of the world as possible, like what an international celebrity with a storming libido might do.
Either way, we have an incredible life to celebrate and the most impressive catalog in the pantheon of Rock. Bowie himself surely understood death was simply a movement from station to station, and I have a feeling his spirit may linger for a while among those he loved before boarding that 5:15....
POSTSCRIPT: THE FORESHADOWING
In 1999, Bowie released ...hours, which wasn't a great album but featured some very interesting artwork (like the Gnostic bit up there). It also used numbers as letters in the typography, a habit you may have noticed I've picked up.
"3 (Janus)- 10- 16"
The thing is though that the numerals used in his name in this rather ominous graphic here include 16 and 10, the year and date of his death. The three (which is reversed, like a Janus face) may even have a double meaning here in that the 3rd month (March) used to be the first month of the Roman calendar. Note also that the Rites of Janus- for whom January were named- were once held on March 1 (3/1).
Coincidence, right? I mean he had to use numbers instead of letters on the art here, it was foreordained, right?
Note: Reader Tony points out that Dead David has his hand over his liver...
Well, there's death imagery all over the album, including here on the cover....
And here on the CD, in which Bowie is posing in a 69 shape, the age of his death. That ersatz barcode is curious as well, since if you flip it and rotate it....
You have the 10 and 16 plus a 43.
4-3=1 in the simplest kind of arithmetic.
By the way, the first song on the album right after this would be called "Sunday."
That's a lot of coincidences there.
It may all seem bizarre, unless you know your Bowie, who loved to throw occult clues and riddles all over his work (the flaming dove, white stains, from Kether to Malkuth, Golden Dawn, etc, etc, etc).
For instance, see how he wrote his name in an ersatz Hebrew script on the album spine (for no apparent reason, mind you), almost begging for quasi-Kabbalistic interpretation of the art.
Coincidences? Decide for yourself. But I think if anyone could have foreseen his death 17 years out (even if unconsciously), it would be David Bowie.
Oh yeah, that's ambiguous
Maybe it's no accident that he released his final single 'Lazarus' (or "El Osiris") on the 17th of December.† The video was released January 7th (1/7) of this year.
One last puzzle for the initiated, perhaps...
POSTSCRIPT: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the weird Bowie/Secret Sun conjunction, when one of his music videos replayed a scene I detailed both here and in Nick Redfern's Men in Black book...
UPDATE: Joe Linsner reminds us of Bowie's "Never Get Old" from Reality. Note circumpunct graphic. See great commercial based on this song here. Make note of final gesture. The Mystery deepens, indeed.
† The single 'Seven' off ...hours was released 7.17.00, giving us that magic number again. A reissue had a bonus track '1917'.