Here I Am, Not Quite Dying: An Analysis of the Esoteric Catalog of Musical Magus, David Bowie
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to listen to David Bowie. Though my father listened to all manner of punk, goth and progressive rock, the Buddha of suburbia was too esoteric for his Catholic tastes. I distinctly recall once sitting at the coffee table when, prompted, I am certain, by some commercial or television show, my father announced in reference to the song ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ something to the snide effect of, “You know, it’s like nobody actually listens to the lyrics of this song. It’s not a happy, fun song. It’s about the end of the human race. How horrible!”
And that, I’m sure, was more or less the last of Bowie which was discussed in the Sullivan house, except for more snotty commentary from time to time designed to elicit an imprint of disdain for the flamboyant rock star. Suffice to say, it didn’t work, and once on my own I began, by happenstance, to tiptoe into the many pages of Bowie’s glittering catalog. Like many ignorant youths, I began with a “Best Of” CD, listened to approximately five songs over and over again, and did not think overmuch about— well, any of it. I thought he was a good pop star. I thought his music was pretty fun, almost psychedelic and certainly with a sci-fi bent, but the sci-fi bent seemed to me to be a little kitschy. I wasn’t drawn into the allure of Ziggy Stardust and found the Thin White Duke to be a more compelling character archetype but couldn’t have named any of the albums associated with him. Suffice to say, I was not, in any way, shape, or form, near so appreciative of the king of modern music as I am today.
Last summer sometime, maybe around August or September, I spontaneously awoke with the lyrics, “I’m an alligator/ I’m a mama-papa coming for you,” jammed so tightly into my head that I was given no choice but to look them up, and it was then that I properly discovered the song ‘Moonage Daydream’ which I doubtless must have heard in passing the day prior. Promptly addicted, it became a significant part of my writing playlist, listened to every morning, a true gateway into the musical work of David Bowie which I still, then, failed to appreciate. On my morning walks, I’d bop along to it, letting the vibrations pick me up to where I needed to be for the day, growing increasingly excited by the idea of the Starman’s new album, Blackstar, then on the verge of release.
Of course, I don’t need to tell you the next twist in this little saga. I suppose I could mention the three hours I spent sitting in my living room, sobbing out the lyrics to ‘Space Oddity’ and rewatching the video for ‘Lazarus,’ but, much like any dying star, it was not the day of David Bowie’s death which had the most impact. What impacted me was four days later, when Last Podcast on the Left dedicated a show to David Bowie and the occult, the former being a subject about which I had been growing ever more feverishly passionate since roughly the emergence of ‘Moonage Daydream’ in my consciousness that summer morning, and the latter being a subject of increasing significance, as well. Taking this as the synchronicity it was, I found immediate, crystaline understanding in David Bowie’s final album, which has, along with the rest of his work, proved to me a great gateway into the ecstatic mystical experience available to human beings. What, after all, does a star do when it collapses, but blacken and burst and spread throughout the universe the contents of its cosmic seed, that planets in distant other systems circling other stars may one day have the elements of life within themselves. But the place to start with this particular star is not with its death; rather, to understand the message, one needs to look towards the genesis of its being, and to see the steps of its life as reflected in the fruits of its labors.
Though the true genius of Bowie’s work does not begin until The Man Who Sold The World, it was foreshadowed by ‘Space Oddity,’ a song which serves in and of itself as a symbol of a man who explores not just outer space, but inner space; this song is the launching pad of both David Jones’ career as David Bowie, and his psychic journey. Its lyrics, ostensibly about Major Tom, describe an astronaut who goes to space and chooses to stay there, to loose himself from the bonds of earth and, with the help of his ‘tin can’ of a vessel, float out across the universe in search of something more, something curative, something infinite. He eschews the earthly temptations of fame and love, and instead finds himself astonished to see how different the stars look from his new vantage point far above the world. In the manner of a gnostic philosopher or alchemist, he accepts that planet earth is blue—material living and the fleshly plane of being is imperfect and full of inherent suffering as much as joy. And though he feels the length his journey is already extreme, and though he knows he has so much further to go, he feels as if he has not moved at all; he has simply become, emerged temporally from the man he once was, and so, denying the logical and earthly voices of ground control, Major Tom bids his earthly wife farewell and lets his tin can take him where it will.
Where to start? As per usual, we see the immediate symbol of the unconscious which here represents itself as outer space. The vessel which Major Tom describes is David Jones, who was calling himself David Bowie, but had not yet discovered then who David Bowie was. This is demonstrated by the fact that his psycho-spiritual avatar is an explorer—he is seeking not just to explore the unconscious in the form of outer space, but to explore and learn who he himself is in his exploration of this space. Filled with tremendous dissatisfaction and possibly depression, Major Tom projects all of this upon his earthly life, and seeks to free himself of it, to simply leave it all behind by losing himself in what is both his work, and his psyche. The song ‘Space Oddity’ is a song which provides us with foreshadowing for the arc of Bowie’s career; and, as many have pointed out after seeing the video for ‘Blackstar,’ it seems that Bowie knew it very well, even if it only came to him years after its creation.
Following “Space Oddity,” we see the creation of The Man Who Sold The World, which results in the maintenance of the sensation introduced to the world by the initial hit single. Those who read Alchemical Devilry Part III will recognize the following section and are encouraged to skip ahead to Hunky Dory.
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD
In the corner of the morning in the past
I would sit and blame the master first and last
All the roads were straight and narrow
And the prayers were small and yellow
And the rumor spread that I was aging fast
Then I ran across a monster who was sleeping by a tree
And I looked and frowned and the monster was me
The first song, ‘The Width of a Circle,’ is the gateway by which we (and David Jones, the birth name of the performer in question) enter the unconscious. David opens the song with the bitter lamentation that, just as the protagonist of “Amazing Grace” was once blind, up to this point he has received no spiritual satisfaction or material reward for the intensity of his spiritual endeavors; indeed, he simply feels his life progressing without any actual progress— until he meets the Spirit Mercurius, so often found in relation to trees (similar, again, to Yesod) and realizes that the Spirit is also him. With the help of his guiding Self, David receives spiritual advice in the form of a literary recommendation from the Sulphuric principle (“So we asked a simple blackbird/ who was happy as could be/ but he laughed insane/ and quipped ‘Kalil Gibran’”), which is either the cause of or concurrent with his experience of the Spirit of God in every man. The song as a whole is long and so complete a psychedelic experience unto itself that one truly needs no acid to appreciate it, and could separate it from the rest of the album as a shining example of the Self and the Devil in music— indeed, its very title, “The Width of A Circle,” could be said to be a reference to the completed Self, to the transcendent function which David is trying to describe in this song, which so often represents itself in symbols of roundness and wholeness, like stones, gems, and circles. Eventually, the David of the song begins to absent his unconscious, ending his psychedelic experience/his dive into the abyss of mysticism to again dwell in consciousness, but in the process he has ‘smashed [his] soul and traded [his] mind’–that is to say, he has seen the diviso of the Self into the holy quaternity, and has, as a result, finally successfully traded the left-brained ego of David Jones for the right-brained nous of David Bowie. We are then treated to something which, so far as I can tell, most people miss: the acknowledgment that the song you have listened to is a magic spell.
And the moral of this magic spell
Negotiates my hide
When God did take my logic for a ride
The coda, then, goes on to describe, presumably, the event mentioned in the final stanza of the previous section— Bowie being ‘laid by the young bordello who was vaguely half-asleep’ for which his ‘reputation swept back home in drag’. This young bordello, also the androgynous Spirit Mercurius, proves to be the guardian, of sorts, to the unconscious— much as David met him beneath a tree at the song’s beginning and as a result stumbled into a tremendous journey into the depths of his mind, in the second part of the song the Spirit Mercurius has ceased to reflect David and instead presents itself very clearly in the form of the chthonic archetype of the Devil. We see repeatedly throughout the course of the coda three elements: the heiros gamos, or sacred union, of David’s ego and the masculine Devil; the intense desire of David’s ego to pursue this union and plunge further into the unconscious; and the programmed condemnation of society’s many voices forming a chorus of doubters advising our protagonist to go back and repent.
He struck the ground a cavern appeared
And I smelt the burning pit of fear
We crashed a thousand yards below
I said do it again, do it again
(Turn around, go back)
His nebulous body swayed above
His tongue swollen with devil’s love
The snake and I, a venom high
I said do it again, do it again
(Turn around, go back)
He refers to the Devil as a “spitting sentry, horned and tailed” for whom he has been waiting— that guardian of the gateway of the unconscious, the Devil, is not just a guard of its entrance, but a guide. Just as he proves guardian and guide for Bowie’s psyche, then, and yours and mine, he will also prove guardian and guide to the album— we have met him at the entrance, and he will follow us throughout each song, and, we will have the sense, not quite leave us when all is said and done.
“All The Mad Men” picks up where “The Width of A Circle” leaves off— that is, with Bowie fresh from his experience with his psyche and struggling with whether he had ought to integrate his vision or rationalize it away, like Ivan Bezdomny. He is confronted with the many mystics, philosophers and magicians of the past who have been condemned for their ideas and die in obscurity and illness despite the truth of their words; he faces a society where the saints are forced to linger underground. But David is no saint— rather, he is a singer, and so though he is himself heavy and imperfect, mad by the standards of society, he will rise up and risk his very life to pass the message of the unconscious from mind to mind. He sees the sanity, the altered perspective of those deemed ‘mad’, and sees that it is only insanity insofar as society is concerned—and he would rather be fulfilled among the mad men, talking to his wall with his foot (both a phallic object and that which we shod with shoes, or the symbolic foundation of our principles) than perish bleakly among the sad men. Note, also the song ends with the phrase “Zane, zane, zane, Ouvre le chien” which means ‘open the dog’ in French— Faust’s Mephistopheles emerges from the image of the black poodle. The song which follows, “Black Country Rock,” is of a similar vein; now that David Bowie has decided to make friends with the Devil and reside among history’s mad men, he invites you to follow him along by listening to his rock music, imbued as it is with the power of the ‘black country,’ the unconscious; you can rest up there, you might find ‘it’ (presumably the stone, the answer, God, etc.) there, and although some say the view is crazy, you may adopt another point of view— but if it’s too hazy, too unclear and uncertain for you, you can leave David Bowie and his friend, the Devil, just as you found them, and they’ll let you go perfectly fondly. Black Country Rock could also be considered a literal rock, that is, a stone, because his music is the platform by which he converses with the Devil and explores the unconscious.
The next song on the album, the fourth and final on the first side of the record, “After All,” is a song which consists of the advice which the Devil gives Bowie as they sit together upon Black Country Rock. “Please trip them gently, they don’t like to fall,” pleads the Devil to Bowie, doubtless giving Bowie the advice that he is better off being subtle about the transmission of his messages. But as we know from Hermetic wisdom, “As above, so below; as within, so without.” And so this song serves a peculiar dual purpose: it is the Devil’s advise to Bowie, while simultaneously consisting of Bowie’s advice to the audience.
“After All,” then, presumes that you, the listener, have implicitly agreed to linger in black country’s rock, since you’re still listening to the album. Thus, it functions as a plea to the enlightened listener, whose enthusiastic response to realizing the nature of the unconscious and the transcendent function might be to run about trying to shake awake his friends and spread the message of the psyche. This is, however, not recommended; Bowie advises a gentle awakening with the remembrance that we are all the same, all equally small and all equally unworthy of casting judgment or perpetuating anger. It is commonly the feeling of fundamentalist Christians, atheists, and all others who condemn the arts, alchemy, and the occult, that there is some “secret society” to which they are not being invited—hundreds of thousands, millions of people across the globe believe in absurd conspiracy theories which are obviously nothing more than the symbols of the neuroses of those who believe in them, things like ‘Project Monarch’ being nothing more than a gross misinterpretation of the efforts of the unconscious to awaken into consciousness. Reaching into his Nietzsche, Bowie tells us that “man is an obstacle, the saddest of clowns.” Let us remember that Prometheus must be freed from his rock— the Spirit must be purified from matter. The idea “man is an obstacle” is not a negativistic, anti-humanist view as some would misinterpret it; rather, it is an obstacle in the sense of a wall which must be scaled. We could not have the ecstatic experience of the freeing of the Spirit without the matter which enchains it.
“Live your rebirth, and do what you will. Forget what I’ve said, please bear me no ill.” The final line of the song is, once more, a plea, from the Devil to Bowie, and from Bowie to the listener, referencing the work of Crowley: the plea to realize that rebirth is possible in life, and to consider that one had ought to have a little sympathy for the devil, for lack of a better term. That man had ought to do what he will— and that does not mean “man had ought to do whatever he pleases,” but rather, man had ought to make his true, often unconscious will, awaken and manifest.
Because we must admit that the unconscious is as dark as it is light, if not far more darkness than all that, we are then faced with the wartime song, “Running Gun Blues.” The Vietnam War was a bleak time in Western history, and provides the background upon which Bowie’s shadow runs rampant in a way it will not again until the emergence of the fascistic, third-circuit Thin White Duke. For now, though, David’s latent fascination with mass murder and genocide peers through the veil of the song, and serves, doubly, as a metaphor— he is killing his egos/perceptions of reality one by one, and those of the careful listeners, as well. Much as the journals of his schizophrenic half-brother provided some of the external imagery for this triumph of an album, so did the then-ongoing war— that does not make the album about schizophrenia any more than this song is really about war.
The following song marks the end to the internal war/massacre, ended by an omniscient supercomputer, the “Saviour Machine” of the song’s title, named Prayer by its creators. Prayer’s answer to war, to the chaos and violence of the unconscious, is to establish laws and make order of the universe. This is a concept I will elucidate in a further essay, which I refer to as The Observer, but which, called Tao, Kia, The Holy Spirit, Indra, or a multitude of other things, has taken many forms over the centuries but is formless. The Observer is of intense importance in an understanding of the psyche and the universe. It is that which is ‘I’ as opposed to ‘Me’. If you have experienced The Observer, have awakened it within you, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It is The Observer whose observations cause the creation of the world. It is The Observer which is the non-temporal, non-spatial experience of 8th Circuit consciousness when set free from its earthly bonds; and it is The Observer who takes the role of the Savior Machine in David Bowie’s song, becoming both the first and last archon, Michael and Ialdaboath, whose observations order the world and cast into it souls.
I need you flying, and I’ll show that dying
Is living beyond reason, sacred dimension of time
I perceive every sign, I can steal every mind
This is as much an important lesson about the nature of The Observer as it comes into the minds of those humans who awake and become Super-men, and death as a whole. This album is a trip, and the trip is beginning to end— the ego-death is recovering and reality is again becoming ordered, and we emerge having had imparted to us a profound lesson, a tremendous experience. But those of us who have read Dr. Timothy Leary’s book The Psychedelic Experience, or had one ourselves, will remember that a sexual phantasmagoria or feeling is often accompanied in the come-down— the viewer of the magic theater must be reborn, and to be reborn we must pass again through the Yab-Yum, that elaborate net of male/female couplings which produce us, which form the foundation of or fleshly being. Thus, the next song on the album, “She Shook Me Cold,” is a King Crimson-esque chronicle of an intense sexual experience had by Bowie, but its true meaning is of that of his experience with his anima, who we will meet again in her gentle, Great Mother/androgyne aspect several albums later in the song “Lady Stardust”. For now, however, the anima appears as a sort of witch or succubus (let us recall Woland’s courtier, Hella), an insatiable nymphomaniac who demands of Bowie all his creative being and potential—she seeks to devour him, and he loves it. She sucks his dormant will back to life, awakening him; like the sun, and so many images of the self, and a woman who would be aptly named Lady Stardust, she has golden hair. This man who has broken so many hearts has never experienced anything like this, like his anima, like his unconscious. It is his true love, and he will search for its manifestation everywhere. The psychedelic experience has riveted him, the music has officially claimed him, and with his third album, he has crossed the barrier from ‘singer’ to ‘artist’.
The second to last song, then, is the title track, and the clearest allusion to the nature of the over all piece. I think it would suffice to simply copy and paste the lyrics to the song, but that would be lazy of me.
We passed upon the stair
We spoke of was and when
Although I wasn’t there
He said I was his friend
Which came as some surprise
I spoke into his eyes
I thought you died alone
A long long time ago
Nearing the end of his mystical experience, whether drug or music-induced, Bowie meets the Devil once again, upon the stair, that which man uses to ascend and descend. Based on its placement in the album, it is easy enough to presume that this represents the Devil meeting him again on his return from his experience, but, as with the title track, it could just as easily be representative of Bowie’s over all experience. Either way, as in “The Width Of A Circle,” where the Spirit Mercurius gave way to the Devil, it is the Devil who meets Bowie again, approaching not as his Self, but as his guiding friend. All occultists who have or will have this experience, this recognition of the Devil’s friendliness, will regard it with some profound surprise and questioning, and will of course wonder to themselves if this archetype has not been condemned for good reason. The skeptical philosopher may say to themselves that the story of Prometheus, of Loki, of the Dragon, is all a bunch of outmoded nonsense which man has outgrown— but the Devil disagrees. The archetype will never die. “Oh no,” he says, “not me. I’ve never lost control. You’re face to face with the man who sold the world.”
When Bowie has reached the end of his conversation with the Devil, they shake hands, either as a sign of good faith, or, far more likely based upon the title of the song, they make a deal. It is important at this juncture to remember a point I reminded you of in the previous paragraph: that is, the Spirit Mercurius is simultaneously the Devil and the highest Bowie—the Black Star, if you will. What we have been privy to in the course of this album is Bowie first experiencing with clarity his idealized vision of himself, the highest form of his potential which lay in wait within his DNA and psyche and circumstance, to which he will be guided by the Devil, the unconscious, with which he makes the deal. The Spirit Mercurius is that which guides, and the final result— the Man Who Sold The World is both the Devil, and the non-existent David Bowie, a character inhabited by David Jones until his death in 2016. The album’s final song, then, “The Supermen,” is simultaneously an attempt by Bowie to understand the work of Nietzsche and the mythos of the Thule Society, and an attempt to fully encapsulate the theme of the overall work: that all men are Super-men, all men have within them giants chained to life. As all who have experienced the transcendent function, The Observer, the philospher’s Stone, etc., can attest, one is given a feeling of immortality, and Bowie describes this with the line “no death for the perfect man.” From that 8th Circuit, that high mountain of Keter, all men think with “uni-mind” and there is no room for the distinct experience of feeling or emotion because all are present simultaneously. Because of this, those indistinct spirits dwelling within it would give anything at all for a chance at the experience of death, if it meant they could but live. “The Superman” is far from Bowie’s best song, but it is an encouraging one in light of his recent passing.
What, then, of “Black Star”, and his untimely death? Well, I would fast-forward the conversation two albums, to Bowie’s second and arguably more linear allegory, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. In the to-be-finished article we will discuss the themes of the album in depth, but for now I will summarize by pointing out that Ziggy Stardust is essentially a messiah figure and, like many a messiah figure, he suffers a death/rebirth experience. The final song on the album, titled “Rock and Roll Suicide,” is ostensibly about Ziggy being torn apart onstage by the clamoring fans begging him for his help in “Suffragette City”; the lyrics, however, are pertinent to Bowie, himself. Just as The Man Who Sold The World is the manner in which David Jones tapped into the true David Bowie, this fifth album is the manner in which David Bowie taps into Ziggy Stardust. He is operating at a very deep psychological level in the writing of this work; the writer writing about a writer writing, as we saw in The Master and Margarita, expressing itself in a slightly more subtle way, but with the same level of power. Thus, when, in “Rock and Roll Suicide”, the first lyrics we hear are
Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
The wall to wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
Ohhh, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide
we are forced to ask ourselves, is not every smoker who dies of cancer a suicide, truly? Is not the rock and roller’s surest form of suicide through drugs like tobacco, or worse? Bowie, like so many artists, succumbed to the treachery of time in tandem with vice— he predicted it, released it in the manner of a sigil which was lost in the unconscious, where it fomented. Much as Bulgakov predicted throughout the course of his life the manner of his death, so too did Bowie, with the otherwise beautifully uplifting “Rock and Roll Suicide”, presage with the talent of his pen the nature of his very demise. The question is but that of synchronicity, or causation—and whether or not there is any difference between the two.
It is after that second spiritual triumph, then, that Bowie, at once more sure of his creative voice and less sure of himself as a person, released Hunky Dory. Unquestionably as or more full of esoteric themes than its predecessor, we see in this album the struggle of the new David Bowie to both adapt to his new self, and to understand the knowledge he is collecting. Full of themes which point to his fascination with esoteric Nazism, transformation and transition, the album’s title alone provides the kind of glib, defensive response a schizoid personality might give when asked how they are doing while actively having spiritual hallucinations. “How are you, mate? Looking a little green around the gills.”
“Oh, me? I’m hunky dory.”
Opening with “Changes,” Hunky Dory was released in 1971 and is simply packed full with esoteric themes—specifically, it is packed with the esoteric themes of a newly awakened magician who is feeling quite overwhelmed, in a sense, with all that is before him. This opening number chronicles the struggle of the self-actualizing man, and the reflected struggle of an evolving society; what we are observing is the struggle of David Jones to transform himself into David Bowie.
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test
The struggle of every human being is to accept the nature of life and death as a constant condition of change, and it is doubly the struggle of the conscious human being. This is particularly true of magicians. Practitioners of what is referred to as ‘chaos magic’ often like to use rituals of specific types to invoke various deities, spirits or characters and imbue themselves with their power, and of course this is what is, essentially, the process of individuation— that connection to one’s highest self, one’s greatest potential, which is harnessed and used to embody and live the life of that highest self. But it requires a great deal of self-belief, and can be such a slow and frustrating process that few are truly capable of it. When Crowley and others write of the process of summoning one’s Holy Guardian Angel, and describe that much of the ritual must occur in isolation, with very strict adherence to a particular schedule of prayer and fasting and so forth, what we are seeing is but one of many methods for isolatory psychic reformatting. The introverted man who cannot find solace in the mass of, well, Mass, must look within himself and accept the instability of change as the only true stability, as the nature of man and life.
Bowie’s struggles with himself as an awakened man become readily apparent in this album, far moreso than they were in The Man Who Sold The World, which, though rife with occult themes, was more focused in its intention. This particular album is the symptom of a young artist who is still trying to establish himself, and, more than that, accept what he has already begun to establish. As anyone fascinated with the occult, he has seen the ties to a certain fascistic regime which, in 1971, was still incredibly fresh in social consciousness, and that and other moral issues pervade his meditations. The song Oh! You Pretty Things is little more than a love song to the idea of a Prometheian master race marked not by race or genetics but heightened consciousness; far from the misanthropic melody some would misunderstand it to be, it is instead a compassionate call, a hand extended, to all those awakened people who feel acutely alone in their understanding of life. The line “homo sapiens have outgrown their use” may be distasteful to some, but it really points to the understanding that the human body—or, as Terence McKenna called it, ‘the monkey body’—is a sort of scaffolding for the soul, for consciousness; it is the chariot in the vision of Ezekiel, among other things. This is not a dismissal of man, but a celebration of man and the consciousness for which he is a sort of seed.
Following, we are treated to the eight-line poem whose lyrics are below:
The tactful cactus by your window
Surveys the prairie of your room
The mobile spins to its collision
Clara puts her head between her paws
They’ve opened shops down West side
Will all the cacti find a home
But the key to the city
Is in the sun that pins
The branches to the sky
I have briefly touched on before the symbolic significance of the inner City in my Alchemical Devilry Series, and I think that is where I will leave it for the moment, because it is a thing which is best experienced firsthand to be understood. I will point out to you however that the key to the city is, in Bowie’s mind, the sun that pins the branches of the cacti to the sky— the cactus here is a replacement for the philosophical tree, in a sense, and is in and of itself representative of the fleshly body crucified to matter, its branches being pinned to the sky. But the very sun which pins the branches—the very consciousness which is both the cause and observer of this crucifixion—is also the key to the City. These are all very classic symbols which spontaneously arise in alchemy, art and religion, and in my personal experience, they begin to arise with greater urgency and frequency after one has begun an initiation into spiritual practices.
Next, we have ‘Life on Mars’. A tour de force of a song written for a friend, this particular song is likely the most resonant on the album, and certainly the most powerfully lyrically. Though it was written for his friend, there is clearly a greater, more intuitive force at work than Bowie; responsible for the writing of the lyrics, he was not responsible for their creation, if you understand me, any more than I am responsible for the creation of this very essay. Understanding and appreciating this song requires that we take a mild byway back to a previously mentioned phenomenon I have termed ‘The Observer’.
What The Observer is, really, is the logical extrapolation of pure consciousness. Pure, disembodied consciousness is infinite and endless—it is a stream of consciousness in which humans swim, a stream of consciousness which comes into and animates humans in the way the water making up our bodies contributes to our muscles, bodily fluids, etc. The Observer, the Dao, the Holy Spirit, pure consciousness, is something which is impossible to grasp, truly, without having experienced it, and when one experiences it it is an easy thing to misinterpret. It is that which requires a flip of perspective to encounter, and this flip of perspective is realized often through the psychedelic experience, through isolation, meditation, deprivation, thought experiments, and psychosis. It is not something commonly accepted as an idea in Western civilization and so, when it is experienced by a Westerner who is unable to contextualize it, it causes the feeling of being watched, of sinister paranoia and a judgmental God. This Observer, as previously mentioned, is the sort of camera by which human beings are able to make conscious record of their personal narrative; without the Observer, there would be no one to observe human beings, for even though human beings would observe one another in a passive way, they would not have a means by which to become conscious, and so no one would really be observing. It is consciousness which distinguishes man from animal in varying degrees, and the unconscious man is so much an animal that one can see nothing of the light for all the ape in him. Likewise, pure consciousness is unrecognizable as that which was rooted in an ape; but of course, if one had never before seen a tree, and never before seen dirt, and came upon the two separately, one could not possibly guess what one had to do with the other.
It is important to understand that, due to the nature of The Observer, it is non-temporal. The Observer is, essentially, an articulated experience of Leary’s 8th circuit, and described in the tree of life as Chokmah. The ultimate and simplest way to experience this, however, is to think of The Observer as the ‘I’ to your ‘me’; the consciousness to your ego. In order to properly model the idea that I am trying to get across to you, I would like for you to think of a videogame: specifically, a fighting game, like, say, Street Fighter, or Soul Caliber.
The typical format of these games is thus: a tournament has been announced for some esoteric reason, and all the characters, for all their individual reasons, are fighting in the tournament usually in hopes of saving or destroying the world, or acquiring some artifact, or whatever. The reason is immaterial. The format is not. In these games, the player is typically given 10+ characters to choose from, assuming they are not also given the option to make their own; the player may select one character at a time and embody that character from the beginning of the tournament to the end—assuming, of course, that they do not become frustrated and quit early, or lack the skills to finish the tournament.
So, say I am playing Street Fighter, select Chun-Li, and take her from the beginning of the tournament to the end. From Chun-Li’s perspective, she is the main character, and also the eventual victor of the tournament if I take her through the entire game. Of course, a fighting game cannot really be said to have a ‘main’ character in most cases— there is sometimes a title character, whose victory represents the ‘true’ or ‘ideal’ ending, but more often there is simply a series of endings which varies based on the character chosen, or one particular ending which is more or less the same with slight alterations based on who the player has picked. So, when I play Chun-Li in a single player Street Fighter game, I have actively observed two narratives: my narrative, as the player guiding Chun-Li through her struggles, and Chun-Li’s narrative, where she is solely responsible for her victories and she herself is the ultimate winner. However, I know better than her: equipped with meta-knowledge, I know that Chun-Li is not the ultimate victor always, although when she is the main character, the character being observed, she is, under ideal conditions, assuming I do not quit early. I know this because, after I have completed the game with Chun-Li, I have the option of playing through the game as, say, Blanca. This creates two new narratives: a narrative where Blanca is the ultimate victor, and my narrative as the player who guided Blanca to the victory. Then I have the opportunity to select Guile, then Ken, or Ryu, or whosoever pleases me.
From the characters’ perspective, the tournament is not occurring again and again: the tournament is occurring once. They do not know better. Like us in our own universe, with our perception of linear time, bound to our egos, Chun-Li and Blanca and everyone else are under the impression that this particular iteration of the contest is a once in a lifetime event, just the way the day you lived yesterday seems to you a day you will never live again. In a way, you won’t; in a way, you will. When one considers the nature of time as an illusory thing, a model by which we experience reality in the sense of language or mathematics, one understands that all time is concurrent; all moments are eternal. When we are told by priests that we send ourselves to hell by our actions, when we are told by Buddhists we are living out our karma, what we are really being made to unconsciously understand is that we are indelible in this reality. Just as the past cannot be altered by man, nor can the future be altered by man; instead, man brings into relief a future already determined. Chun-Li’s victory is pre-determined in the code of the game, as is her failure: the status depends, ever, on the player’s choice to observe her through to the end. The same player can also enjoy the victory of Blanca or whosoever one could possibly pick in the game, but the interesting point is that to all of these characters, the multi-faceted experience of the tournament is concurrent, and, though eternal, it is still linear, and though it contains all possibilities, they experience only one possibility when they are played by the player, who can restart again and again after each loss, leading to the understanding that a character played by a player to the end of the game, regardless of number of pauses, losses, deaths, or alternate endings, can only experience victory. What type of victory this is, and whether or not this even looks like a victory to the character, is sometimes dependent on the choices made by the player; it can never really be said that the character makes a choice, if they are given the option. Likewise, these characters live again and again in us, again and again in their tournament, regardless of who we are choosing to play— for the tournament cannot exist without all the characters attending, no matter who is under the direct control of the player. In this instance, the player is non-temporal, capable of observing the characters in a linear fashion while nonetheless being able to gradually observe all of the characters, doing so from a manner which seems from their perspective to be but a single instant. The life we experiencing is indelible, in a sense, and though we are responsible for its creation, we are also ultimately at the mercy of something outside of ourselves. As the characters of a fighting game are at the mercy of first the code of the game they inhabit and then the choice of the player to play them, so too are we in monkey bodies at the mercy first of the karma of our actions and then the choice of the Observer to observe them.
The symbol is not perfect, because the player is not like the Observer—the player cannot literally be multiple characters at once. However, there is an apt metaphor in the nature of the non-player characters as being controlled by the computer; one who has not experienced the Observer is often not functioning outside of low psychological circuits. The experience of the Dao, of the Observer, and the recognition of the eternity of changing matter is commonly what elevates the mentality to a higher circuit function; the experience of the Observer is a powerful thing, and the very perspective of the Observer is that which is being recorded in ‘Life on Mars’.
From the opening line, we are being treated to a story on par with the creation of Sophia’s demiurge, Eve’s eating of the apple, Susanoo being cast to earth, etc. It is comparable also with Ishtar’s descent from the mountain to Earth, and her encounter there with Enki, and if that sounds absurd, let’s look at the lyrics.
It’s a god-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling, “No!”
And her daddy has told her to go
But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen
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
Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?
Beautiful! You can hear the sound of the music in your head just reading the words. The girl with the mousy hair has been hooked to the silver screen by what is occasionally referred to as the archetype of the Chthonic Father, to the protestations of the tender Great Mother archetype. He has put her into a kind of dream-state and as a result she has been separated from her ‘friend’, that entity which comes under so many names—anima, animus, Holy Guardian Angel, Nous, perhaps Logos—and which appears as the lost twin or separated half in a great many fables across a great many cultures. However, our girl with the mousy hair is rather too awake in her sunken dream, and she has become jaded by her acute awareness of the repetitive nature of reality, the eternal nature of change, the perpetual destruction and recreation of the universe. This is due to her seat with such a clear view—as a result, she is bored, but still, for the sake of the Observer, casts her gaze out across the banal tribulations of primitive humankind, no different themselves from apes, and she wonders to herself if they will ever understand the nature of this thing in which they engage themselves. Simple enough, really. Less simple is the next verse.
It’s on America’s tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns
People love to try to analyze this song and usually come to the conclusion that it’s about the status of modern entertainment, and, of course, it is; others point out that it is possibly about a love affair; but, as we have previously discussed, all things have many levels of interpretation. Bowie himself called it a love song in 1981, and it is indeed that. It is the love story of a girl and her ‘friend’, the Logos. As we have previously discussed, the closer one comes to the point with the Logos, the more unintelligible its words can seem; the more abstract it becomes, the more blurred its lines and nature, and the closer we come to the experience of a kind of schizophrenic word salad if we take its meaning from a purely external sense. When one realizes, however, that the above verse is the Logos chastising the culture of the world in which our mousy girl observes for him, things unfold in some clarity. Like a country wearing a crown of thorns crafted by itself, America is tortured by its own consumerism, and the artists have prostituted themselves—the Logos has no pure outlet, and instead views only hordes of animals. He, likewise, is dissatisfied with what he sees, dissatisfied with the manner in which Man respects only himself, only his industry and his artificial nations and cultures without respect for the technical genius of the bestselling show in which he is in—the technical genius which our mousey girl observes for the Logos.
But the film is a saddening bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It’s about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on [chorus]
The above stanza is proof enough that the second verse is from the perspective of the Logos; he is the one who has written the film, written it ten times or more, in fact, and is writing it again, whereas our mousey girl is simply the one who lives it, although of course if there was not a mousey girl to live it, the Logos (or, perhaps, the demiurge, the unpurified, Black Sulphur to the Logos’ purified Red Sulphur) would not have any point in writing, for who would he have to use as a camera’s lens to focus on caveman fighting in the dance hall? The Logos needs a human who loves it, who embraces it, who observes for it. This song is indeed a love song, a love song between humanity and the Logos, humanity in this case being represented by a girl because, as previously mentioned, the ego is inherently feminine in nature, and matter is inherently feminine, as well. I would actually argue that this song would be better as a duet, with the first verse sung by a woman and the second verse sung by a man; that is just my opinion, however. Bowie embodied both the masculine and the feminine so beautifully that he was just the person to be responsible for the creation of such a tremendous piece. And the title of the song, itself? Naught but a reference to the search for God, to the lifelong task of the discovery of the Observer within the self, of the Logos within the heart of man— the discovery of life on Mars.
Likewise, the next song, ‘Kooks’, is a sort of plea from both the Logos and Nous, which, as discussed in a previous essay, are equivalent to Sulphur and Mercurius; written by Bowie for his newborn son, it functions at the same time as a charming tune of encouragement for the Salt of the Earth in times of hardship and doubt. It is also a pastiche of the work of Neil Young, pastiches of other musicians being a notable hallmark of this album, where Bowie is still yet finding his voice and himself. ‘Quicksand’ is a lamentation about this very subject, the struggles of maintaining a sense of himself amid a shifting identity brought on by identification with his musical persona and his work with the occult. Like all prophets, he denies his position as a prophet, and emphasizes that everyone is just as capable of achieving the kind of realization he has achieved. ‘Fill Your Heart’ is a more lighthearted response to the heaviness of ‘Quicksand’, a sort of curative to the isolation which comes with occult studies, and emphasizes mental control and living in the present. It also puts emphasis on love as a curative, which is a theme he will explore again later. ‘Andy Warhol’ and ‘A Song For Bob Dylan’ both pay tribute to Bowie’s influences and allow him to demonstrate the nature of the artist as helpless in the hands of his art. Particularly evident in the latter, the theme is explored now not by the Logos, but by Bowie’s experience with his anima, the eventual Lady Stardust who appeared in witch form at the end of The Man Who Sold The World, and who will also appear to us in the song ‘Queen Bitch’. For now, in ‘A Song For Bob Dylan’, she sneaks in through a door left open by Bowie’s need to parody Dylan’s typical musical style.
Ah, here she comes
Here she comes, here she comes again
The same old painted lady
From the brow of the superbrain
She’ll scratch this world to pieces
As she comes on like a friend
Couple of songs from your old scrapbook
Could send her home again
It’s a fairly self-evident chorus when one takes it to be in reference to Bowie’s anima, who we have already noticed previously functions as the force which demands/extracts creativity from Bowie, whether or not he wants it. Here she comes again, we are told, the same lady from the brow of the ‘superbrain’, like Athena from the mind of Zeus. Like many an anima, she comes on like a friend but with treacherous and destructive potential, and must be sated with creative production, in this case, music.
‘Queen Bitch’ is the next song, then, and the anima is still hanging on in its lyrics, a song which was, incidentally, written in tribute to Lou Reed. She is still vicious, but also glamorous and sensual, and Bowie is shown as a conflicted character more or less at her mercy—perhaps not even at that, as it is possible he is enviously seeing her entertaining herself with another. His impious, unchaste anima is a sexual dynamo, positively terrifying, truly; and she makes no qualms about demanding what she wants from Bowie, which is doubtless at least partly the cause of his immense creative output until his death.
This brings us to the final track on the album, ‘The Bewlay Brothers’, a song which Bowie alternately claimed to be nonsense or to be inspired by his schizophrenic half-brother. As I have discussed previously, there is no such thing as something meaningless, and that is especially true of written output, and that is especially true of written output from David Bowie. The theme of brothers and twins runs rampant in mythology and is of tremendous significance to the psyche: ignoring hundreds upon thousands of fairy tales, I will point to tales such as Cain and Abel and Castor and Pollux, and the theological train of thought practiced by some schools which view Christ and the Devil as brothers.
The difficulty with interpreting the song ‘The Bewlay Brothers’ comes in that it reads like a dream, like a series of vague impressions—it does not tell a linear story so much as serve as a vignette which gives us an idea about these two brothers, the introverted and extroverted aspects of the Self. Because of this, interpreters are better served by understanding the natures of the individual symbols presented and how they function together, and this requires some study. Described as moon boys with brass teeth and barking wings, among other things, the brothers described in the song reflect one another— our stone narrator is the brother that still lives, while his dead wax brother has taken on a Protean aspect and thus could be anyone, even you, the listener. Though the song is not about anything conscious, it is rife with unconscious meaning, no matter how unintentional. It is a fitting ending to an album written by a man still trying to find his exact artistic voice, still trying to determine how to present himself, and realizing that the manner in which he had ought to present himself is in a resolutely changeable fashion. Indeed, though David Jones has only just begun to realize his new identity as David Bowie, the very next album will see yet another stark change—the new David Bowie relents himself to the newer, anointed interstellar artist, Ziggy Stardust, that life we’ve found on Mars.
THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS
If I am being honest with myself, this album is the real reason for this article, because it represents a pinnacle of incredibly deceptive mystical music. You will never hear a more listenable expression of the universal truth of the psyche, nor one more hidden in plain sight. You will also never see a more superb example of the moment of self-actualization. Though Bowie was of course already well on his way to a kind of eternal fame, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars seals it. It is the work of a man who has simply decided to be the greatest rock star of all time, and it shows. The concept of the album is moderately well-known, in that people generally know it is about a strange space-Messiah who comes to Earth in the final five years of its existence and is eventually killed as a result, but I find a surprising dearth of information about some of the more important spiritual and psychological themes found within.
‘Five Years’ is the opener of the album, and gives us an immediate apocalyptic vision of a world doomed to destruction in five years’ time. It is important to consider first and foremost that the symbolic meaning of the apocalypse is, to Man, akin to the death/rebirth cycle of the Christ archetype. I have previously gone into brief discussion of the symbolism of the Biblical Revelations apocalypse and might recommend a glance at that for context, but as far as this particular apocalypse is concerned, it is the very same sort of deal: David Bowie is in need of change, is ready to self-actualize, and so the condition of his Earth is treacherous. That is to say, the dominant principle of consciousness is dying, and may not be replaced at all replaced. As a result, our narrator, who represents the inner David Bowie of David Jones, who is actually doing the writing, feels desperate to pack his life full of all the experiences he can. The proximity to death accentuates life in a vivid way, the way the nigrido is the initiation of the alchemical process, and we are shown not only a beautiful communion of mankind as Bowie desperately begins seeking to connect to the people around him, and along with it is the appropriate counterbalance of violence. Notably, a woman Bowie’s age is shown attacking children, and must be pulled off by a black man; the unconscious is, in the form of a witch, attacking the transcendent function represented by the children and might very well be responsible for their deaths if not for the intervention of the shadow. The scene which unfolds across the city is one of chaos, and amid the chaos, the narrator is shown as being aware that he is in a song, lending him a meta-fictional gnosis. The song ends on a note of hopeless pain, and Bowie’s acute feeling of loss in the face of mortality, the price of being human; but all is not lost, for as we are to see in the next song, there is something coming to the rescue.
‘Soul Love’ is, I think, one of the most unappreciated songs in history, simply in terms of sheer good vibrations. Though it does not tell a particular story in and of itself, it begins with a stark but beautiful image; a grieving mother loves a headstone in place of her deceased son, who has, evidently, martyred himself. Brought to mind is both the previous mention of the threatened transcendent function and the many iterations of the weeping mother and dead or threatened son present through mythology—Mary and Christ are but one example which includes Isis and Horus, Frigg and Baldur, etc. A vague (necrophiliac) variation on the incest theme which represents the union of the conscious and unconscious, this mother/son mourning motif is often the required starting point for a miracle of resurrection. It is also worth noting that the fact that the son is already dead is another reference to a dominant function of consciousness which has outlived its usefulness and must be restored to life. The martyred son of ‘Soul Love’ has died for the Word, that which interprets for the soul of the ego the meaning of the world around it.
Stone love – she kneels before the grave
A brave son – who gave his life
to save the slogans
That hovers between the headstone and her eyes
For they penetrate her grieving
This stone love is called such because it is an old love, a dead love, and though it is eternal in the sense of a stone, it is also unliving in the manner of a statue. It is love as a mere word, rather than a sensation or experience. It is a dead principle which must be renewed. Meanwhile, we are shown the new love of new lovers who stay up all night talking, exchanging words of love, having the intimate and subjective experience of new love, that spectacular time in which love blossoms up fresh out of never-experienced words and ways of being. Then we are treated to the chorus, which assures us that
Love is careless in its choosing
Sweeping over cross a baby
Love descends on those defenceless
Idiot love will spark the fusion
Inspirations have I none
Just to touch the flaming dove
All I have is my love of love
And love is not loving
This is because the true nature of Love is something which is far and beyond human comprehension; it arrives in many guises, in ways which do not look like love, but ways which are love. The kind of Love being described in this song is Logos, Love being a sort of mask Logos wears, Love being the vehicle of Logos in the way Logos is the vehicle of Nous, yet also the same as Nous, and a part of Nous. We are reminded by the chorus of Shakespeare’s proposition that “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind/ Therefore is winged cupid painted blind.” Likewise, Love is careless in its choosing and will, in whomever it takes up residence, spark a fusion of elements—the individuation process, the albedo, the coming together of the white and the red, the combination of opposites. Our narrator then emphasizes that in his life and music, and, indeed, in his interactions with loved ones, he has no inspirations—he has only the intense desire to form a union with the flaming dove, the Holy Spirit, and is strictly devoted to the Logos. Indeed, having been shown the love of opposites as represented in the living mother and dead son, and the love of equality in the new lovers on equal footing, we are then shown in this catalogue of love that most sublime love—divine love, eternal love, true soul love.
Soul love – the priest that tastes the word and
Told of love – and how my God on high is
All love – though reaching up my loneliness
By the blindness that surrounds him
Indeed, this last and most powerful example requires little explanation; it is little more than the encounter of a pious man with the Logos, the Word, in its purest form, and his resulting resolution. I would argue, however, that this is not a literal priest, necessarily— rather, it is the character of Bowie, who, like many of us who know we live a mortal existence, turns to God for help, and God, then, descends upon him. Unlike many of us, however, we know the exact second the Logos descends upon our narrator, and it is with the opening lyrics of ‘Moonage Daydream’.
I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you
I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you
Keep your mouth shut, you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird
And I’m busting up my brains for the words
What lyrics! Some of the greatest ever written, in fact, and yet they were written, fascinatingly, by pure happenstance: obsessed by William S. Burroughs’ cut-up technique, itself created in an effort to try to overcome what Burroughs described as the word virus, David Jones cut up the text of his old journals and ended up by coincidence producing the lyrics of ‘Moonage Daydream’, which reads (and plays) like a conversation between the Logos and the man whose body it has come to inhabit—a conversation between the Observer and the ego playing host. Like so many things straight from the mouth of the Logos, the initial verse seems to be complete nonsense word salad, but its meaning becomes apparent with careful study and understanding.
“I’m an alligator, I’m a mam-papa coming for you.” The first-circuit, pre-consciousness dragon of the unconscious is associated with reptiles of all kinds—and, more than that, it is closely tied to the yab-yum, that tapestry of sexual interactions of male and female, in that it is at once sexless and all-sexed, male and female, mother and father. It goes on to insist, “I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you,” indicating its keen awareness—and its desire to be up-front with Bowie—of the fact that it does not originate from Bowie, or from Jones, but from something else entirely, and is indeed likely eternal, but it will condescend to live the life of a rock ‘n’ roller now that it has come into Bowie. This right-brained Logos then bids the left-brained monkey ego of Jones/Bowie to shut up and listen, and assures him it will write his music for him. David, then, responds to the promises of the Logos with a plea:
Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream oh yeah
Now that he has received the attention of the Observer, Bowie pleads with it not to leave, but rather to keep its eye on him and stay close to him—to guide him through this moonage daydream of existence. Its response is simple— “If you want me to stay,” it seems to say, “then give me something to keep me interested. Let me know you love me, and together we’ll ascend.”
Don’t fake it baby, lay the real thing on me
The church of man, love, is such a holy place to be
Make me baby, make me know you really care
Make me jump into the air
The Logos’ words to Bowie, that the ‘church of man is such a holy place to be,’ is an incredibly powerful way of thinking for anyone new to working with occult symbolism—the body is a temple, and within it is the Lord, and, in the right light, the song ‘Moonage Daydream’ is enough to remind the most jaded magician of just how good the vibrations of living can be, and it also, with its bursting, refreshing transition from the supple groove of ‘Soul Love’, is deeply reminiscent of the feeling of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the ego, and how sudden and shocking it can be. Shaken, then, from the babble of the ecstatic glossolalia of the Logos, we arrive at a song which seems perfectly linear, even if it happens to be about an alien—really, ‘Starman’ is the most meta-aware song on the album, and functions on more levels than could be counted. That is because, not only does ‘Starman’ tell the story of David Bowie, now with the keen understanding imparted to him by the Logos, and his sudden understanding of the symbols of the art which he consumes pointing him to a starman in the sky—it is simultaneously the story of you, the listener of the album, who is listening to the work of David Bowie and realizing over time that his music is not just the standard boiler plate pop of the radio, but instead something imbued with profound cosmic implications.
Didn’t know what time it was and the lights were low
I leaned back on my radio
Some cat was layin’ down some rock ‘n’ roll ‘lotta soul, he said
Then the loud sound did seem to fade
Came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase
That weren’t no D.J. that was hazy cosmic jive
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie
Of course in the universe of the album this reference is to a literal alien, but in our universe, aliens are little more than one of many ways to interpret the experience of the archetypes upon the human psyche; we see, then, that in the universe of the work, David Bowie, possessed by the Logos, now understands the message in the music around him—namely, that there is a higher self waiting in the depths of the unconscious, outer space being a tremendous symbol of it, and the ‘Starman’, a being of light, being representative in some ways of consciousness, in some ways of the higher self, in other ways of that which initiates the process of existence as well as that which guides and ends it. It is a figure of consciousness in the sense of Christ—and it produces the most incredibly danceable damned track of all time, if I do say so myself. Think of it as the light of Sol, as an actual Starman, as Christ, as whatever you want—in the end, we all do want to boogie.
Following our main character’s revelation in “Starman” after the descent of the Spirit upon him, he is faced with a similar revelation to the one David Jones faced in The Man Who Sold The World’s “After All”. Indeed, much as “After All” consists of the advice of the Devil to Bowie, “It Ain’t Easy” consists of the advice of the Logos to Bowie.
When you climb to the top of the mountain
Look out over the sea
Think about the places perhaps, where a young man could be
Then you jump back down to the rooftops
Look out over the town
Think about all of the strange things circulating round
It ain’t easy, it ain’t easy
It ain’t easy to get to heaven when you’re going down
The image of the mountain is associated often with reaching a peak of wisdom, of understanding— certain mountains also carry connotations of the great mother archetype, as when Ishtar descends to observe the creation of the palm tree. Naturally from the top of this mountain we are able to look out over the sea of the unconscious and think about where we might find our renewed Self, personified often as the child archetype. Returning, then, from the ascent of wisdom and returning to the rooftops of Man, assessing there the town, and thinking of all the chaos, our narrator, guided by the Logos which is now with him, meditates on what we all know—how hard it is to achieve a place of peace, to achieve Heaven, Nirvana, whatsoever one might be pleased to call it, when one is full of the blackness of fear and misunderstanding. Halfway through the song we are blatantly told, “With the help of the good Lord we can all pull through,” because evidently David decided it was time to openly dabble with religious music and see who was paying attention. I’m really not sure that anybody was, to be frank. Hopefully you were, or are now, because the Logos has some advice for Bowie, and Bowie in turn has some advice for the listener.
Keep me satisfied
I’ve got the love of a hoochie koochie woman
She calling from inside
She’s a-calling from inside
Trying to get to you
All the woman really wants you can give her something too
Who wants to be satisfied, one wonders—David’s persistent and demanding anima, who appears time and again as a witch, a bitch, and now a ‘hoochie koochie woman’ calling from inside? Or the Logos, perhaps, who has previously demanded that he be kept interested, who contains the woman as much as Bowie contains the woman. The Logos alerts Bowie to the fact that the woman is calling from inside himself, is trying to get to him, and wants something from him—the same thing she has been shown wanting in the past, doubtless, and that is every ounce of creativity Bowie has. As mentioned, however, this is advice to you, too— the woman is in you, too, and all she really wants is something you can give her, too. Where to go, then, but within? Bowie goes within and imagines himself watching a show, then, and meets a new figure—the androgynous, eponymous Lady Stardust, who is a male animated by the anima, the symbol of Bowie’s incoming albedo, the combination of the inner man and woman, who presents himself as the ultimate rock and roll star, for whom femme fatales emerge from the shadows, for whom boys stand on their chairs. Like a hermaphroditic combination of Logos and anima, Lady Stardust sings songs of ‘darkness and dismay’, purging Bowie of his nigrido, but it is of course a love he cannot obey because the figures are not existent in the material world, either as the Great Mother or Chthonic Father or a combination thereof. So it is clearly an inner stage on which he is viewing this, and this experience proves the inspiration and the decision to finally realize what Bowie knows for certain he is meant for, both in this world and the world of the album: being a rock ‘n’ roll star of the highest order. The song ‘Star’ is that moment of realization that all magicians have—that they have always been a magician, that all people are unknowing magicians, and that to be anything at all they need only make the decision to be that thing, and then be it.
So inviting – so enticing to play the part
I could play the wild mutation
as a rock & roll star
I could do with the money
I’m so wiped out with things as they are
I’d send my photograph to my honey – and I’d c’mon like
a regular superstar
So, having made his decision to truly self-actualize and having made an agreement with the Logos, he is then, like in many fairy tales and religious works, gifted with a group of followers, or apostles: a band called The Spiders From Mars, given him by Lady Stardust, acquired, likely, in the manners which one usually acquires apostles: through hard work, and miracles, while all the while our in-universe David Bowie, who has probably by this point changed his name to Ziggy Stardust, plays show after show for the sake of no one but the anima who watches him play every night. It is by his dedicated nightly playing that the Spiders from Mars are attracted and assemble themselves. They see that Ziggy Stardust is a messiah, and wish to follow him.
Well she’s a tongue twisting storm, she will come to the show tonight
Praying to the light machine
She wants my honey not my money she’s a funky-thigh collector
Layin’ on ‘lectric dreams
Come on, come on, we’ve really got a good thing going
Well come on, well come on, if you think we’re gonna make it
You better hang on to yourself
We can’t dance, we don’t talk much, we just ball and play
But then we move like tigers on Vaseline
Well the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar
You’re the blessed, we’re the spiders from Mars
However, it is important to remember that the symbol of Mars holds for Bowie particular significance, the same significance most would hold for Earth— he is a man who feels alien, who relates thoroughly with the idea of the alien, and so he feels then a distinct affinity for the planet Mars. The Spiders from Mars, then, are a reference to the nature of these characters as being particularly derived from within. Similarly, the symbolism of their comparison to spiders should not be overlooked; spiders are holy animals, though chthonic and poisonous, for they possess eight eyes and eight legs, like little representatives of the ogdoad. The Spiders From Mars are representatives of our messiah figure. They are external, yes, but also within, in the way the Apostles of Christ at once bear witness to Christ but are also symbols of facets of a greater whole, and also symbols of those men who would find Christ within themselves and bend at his service. And, like those who would bear witness to Christ, they function as our narrators for the greatest song on the album— ‘Ziggy Stardust.’
Like all messiahs, Ziggy Stardust goes up on the cross so we don’t have to—specifically, so David Bowie doesn’t have to. David Jones can see how, all too easily, he could go up on the cross as Bowie, and this prescient notion would prove nearly true as he began to get more heavily involved in both drugs and the occult. The magician’s theory of his survival lies mostly in the idea that David Jones used David Bowie as a persona unto himself, and within that David Bowie persona switched through more personas—Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, particularly—and was both put at risk by the possession of these archetypes, and protected by them. The David Bowie of the universe of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is utterly consumed by his archetype, possessed by it in the Jungian sense, and the leader of the Spiders From Mars tells us
Ziggy played for time, jiving us that we were voodoo
The kid was just crass, he was the nazz
With God given ass
He took it all too far but boy could he play guitar
Making love with his ego Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band
Ziggy played guitar
Much as Christ was but a carpenter, Ziggy was but a guitarist. He played left-hand, we’re told, but made it too far: he was consumed by the archetype, and so, like all messiahs, is ultimately doomed to die. While his band members mutter about his increasing fame and inane proselytizing, about his claims that his band members are doing the work of God and so forth, they remind themselves continually that damn, though, is he good with that guitar. But, lost in his mind, and lost in his image of himself as a helpful messiah, Ziggy suffers the ultimate fate of messiahs: he is lost at the hands of the crowd. During a particularly raucous concert, Ziggy is confronted by a crowd of fans making demands of him, like a crowd of lepers assaulting Christ in the marketplace.
Hey man, oh leave me alone you know
Hey man, oh Henry, get off the phone, I gotta
Hey man, I gotta straighten my face
This mellow thighed chick just put my spine out of place
Hey man, my schooldays insane
Hey man, my work’s down the drain
Hey man, well she’s a total blam-blam
She said she had to squeeze it but she then she
While the crowd begs him for solutions to their problem, Ziggy Stardust is trying to deliver his very simple and basic message—that is, that the Kingdom of Heaven, the City of the Self, is found within. Instead of Jerusalem, Mecca or Israel, however, Ziggy’s City has a different name—Suffragette City. He advises the crowd not to lean on Ziggy’s understanding and experience, but rather urges them to go have their own firsthand experience at Suffragette City.
Oh don’t lean on me man, ’cause you can’t afford the ticket
I’m back on Suffragette City
Oh don’t lean on me man
‘Cause you ain’t got time to check it
You know my Suffragette City
Is outta sight she’s all right
The conflict continues, and Ziggy’s message remains the same; and so, finally, incensed and blood-thirsty, the crowd descends upon the stage and tears Ziggy apart in the manner of more than one dying messiah, the symbolism of the king being torn apart being one which reaches back deep into the psyche of men; the song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” is the song of the Risen Ziggy or the post-death Spirit of him, and contains the ultimate message of encouragement and love from the Logos, from all Messiah figures, from all those who speak the truth.
Oh no love! You’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up
But if I could only make you care
Oh no love! You’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone
STATION TO STATION
Three years after the abrupt retirement of the Ziggy Stardust character in 1973, and quite a few albums later, for that matter, Bowie will release what is easily one of his funkiest, most enigmatic albums, and will remember producing essentially none of it. While hopped up on a diet of peppers, milk and cocaine, the same drug used by Crowley in an effort to enhance his magical abilities, Bowie became consumed by the character of the Thin White Duke of Death, by far and wide one of his most famous characters. The insidious beat of the initial song on the album, which introduces the return of a character we had never before met, seems to foretell exactly what sort of fellow this character is. Indeed, it was about this time that Bowie’s wardrobe took a decided turn towards the Nazi chic, and his previous fascination with Nazis began to explode somewhat; this is doubtless a direct consequence of his engagement with the Thin White Duke, as much as the Thin White Duke is a consequence of his engagement with Ziggy Stardust.
While it is true that we have never before this album met the character of the Thin White Duke in so many words, we have indeed met him in the work of Bowie. He is Bowie’s shadow, in a sense, and also the shadow of the Logos—previously I have discussed the concept of Black Sulphur, which possesses both the qualities of Red Sulphur, and the qualities of the glass vessel which holds it. The Thin White Duke is a very clear personification of this experience, proving both a spiritual guide and protector and also, uh, rather racist. This is in the nature of Black Sulphur, however, because, being the shadow, it is all of the ugliest and most hateful things in man; the spirit of the Thin White Duke could be said to be the very spirit which so captivated the nation of Germany to begin with, in fact. I would point to Bowie’s increased struggle with cocaine addiction during this period as being symptomatic of it; much like Hitler with his amphetamine addiction, those trapped in the second circuit of the Thin White Duke tend to be partial to speed, as well as unempathetic decisions. There is a decided cost with dallying with this spirit, a great danger, and anyone who has watched an interview with Bowie during this period knows it very vividly. But for the price of the danger he endured, for this dark night of his being, he was offered a reward. Much as Bulgakov called on the Devil for help in writing the book which would eventually become The Master and Margarita, Bowie called upon the Thin White Duke he discovered in the recording of The Man Who Sold The World, and gave him total creative and spiritual control. This was doubtless an unconscious descent; much as Ziggy Stardust is a symbol of consciousness, the Thin White Duke is a symbol of unconsciousness, and so likely slithered upon Bowie over time, but eventually convinced him to relent his self-control. Thus it is that, with the sound of an incoming train, we are bowled over by the archetype in the manner Bowie was.
The return of the Thin White Duke
Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes
Here are we, one magical moment, such is the stuff
From where dreams are woven
Bending sound, dredging the ocean, lost in my circle
Here am I, flashing no color
Tall in this room overlooking the ocean
Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth
There are you, you drive like a demon from station to station
The Thin White Duke arrives at the beginning of the song as though he has been summoned; one can all but picture Bowie having a Faustian conversation with a demon he is surprised to see before him, literal or figurative. From the fabric of the eternal moment, Bowie has woven (like a spider) the dream of his life, the dream of this song, the dream of the presence of the Thin White Duke, who, being akin to the chthonic, left-hand iteration of the right-hand Logos, is similarly both separate from and indistinguishable from Bowie. “Here am I,” says the Duke to Bowie, through Bowie, “flashing no color, tall in this room overlooking the ocean.” Colors being a sign of the presence of emotions, the cold White Duke has none, and indeed is specifically called as being white, a combination of all colors—he is even, emotionally, icy and isolated, towering in his room overlooking the ocean, and it is now that I would point out to you that the Wise Old Man archetype as described by Jung commonly reveals itself in many different sizes, whether giant or elfin, for the unconscious lacks a sense of physical scale; I would also draw one’s attention to the description of Samael on Moses’ tour with Metatron, as the angel of death is there described as great and towering.
“Here are we,” offers the Duke to Bowie, “how easy it is to manifest me, to bring me from the point of Kether to the manifestation of Malkuth— and here are you, flailing around the stations of the cross, struggling to touch your flaming dove when I have only just seen him!”
Yes, indeed— this album, like many other albums in Bowie’s retinue, chronicles his attempts to draw ever-closer to the Holy Spirit, and in order to do that with Station to Station, he has descended into the pit of Black Sulphur; that which acts as a bridge, that which reflects Red Sulphur, and that which itself longs to be purified much in the way Bowie does; that which wishes also to be one with the Logos, with Love.
Once there were mountains on mountains
And once there were sun birds to soar with
And once I could never be down
Got to keep searching and searching
Oh, what will I be believing and who will connect me with love?
Wonderful, wonderful, wonder when
It is also worth noting that this was a point in time when Bowie was being overwhelmed in a sense by his fame, and when he was particularly alone, though surrounded by people. There is no more likely time to be possessed by an archetype than while one is alone. His prayers—as, indeed, this album mostly consists of prayers—are that he might draw ever-closer to God, and he feels feverish in his pursuit. The Thin White Duke, then, arrives to help him, and, like every Hades figure in fairy tale and myth, urges Bowie to drink of his cup that he might consume Bowie.
Have you sought fortune, evasive and shy?
Drink to the men who protect you and I
Drink, drink, drain your glass, raise your glass high
It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine
I’m thinking that it must be love
It’s too late to be grateful
It’s too late to be late again
It’s too late to be hateful
The European cannon is here
I must be only one in a million
I won’t let the day pass without her
It’s too late to be grateful
As soon as David has had his drink, he realizes what has happened, that it is not simply the side effects of a drug, but rather the arrival of the Mercurial spirit, the messenger of God, in the form of the Thin White Duke whether Bowie wants him or not. He has plunged too deeply into Nazi occultism and the shadow to avoid it; but the Devil is he who teaches men to pray, and it is the Devil who makes many a deal with men. If The Man Who Sold The World is Bowie’s initial meeting with the Devil, and The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is that which fomented their agreement and marks Bowie’s pledge to the unconscious, Station to Station is the unconscious’s personified reassurance back to Bowie, and an acknowledgment of their agreement. This is evident from the first song, certainly, but no where is it more evident than the next song on the short album, “Golden Years.”
Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel
Come get up my baby
Look at that sky, life’s begun
Nights are warm and the days are young
Come get up my baby
It has been my experience that this is the exact personality of the Logos, whether it should emerge in a Black Sulphur or Red Sulphurous aspect; it is typically cajoling, in a way, and playful, and it is in this song saying to Bowie, “Now, you’re really going to act like I don’t give you anything? These are the golden years! Let’s party!” It is simultaneously a song of encouragement and a song of chiding reminder to Bowie, that he has a duty to the Logos and that the Logos is giving him plenty, thank you, but if that’s not enough, he can have some more assurance.
I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years
Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years, gold
Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Come get up my baby
And next we are treated to a song familiar to any person who is trying ever to enact their true Will; ‘Word on a Wing’ is a love song for Logos, a sort of apology for his ungrateful affect as called out in the song ‘Golden Years’. Here, Bowie prays that he might have the strength to enact his true Will, expressing the hope that his prayer fit in with the Logos’ scheme of things. Notably, he is incredulous and now intensely grateful to realize that the Spirit has deigned to descend upon him again, whether in the shadowy form of the Thin White Duke or not.
In this age of grand illusion
You walked into my life
Out of my dreams
Sweet name, you’re born once again for me
Just as long as I can see, I’ll never stop this vision flowing
I look twice and you’re still flowing
Just as long as I can walk
I’ll walk beside you, I’m alive in you
Sweet name, you’re born once again for me
And I’m ready to shape the scheme of things
Like Proteus, the Spirit must flow; the moment it is gripped, it shall transform, or it had ought to be allowed to transform, at least, if it is to reach its fullest potential, and so Bowie swears he will never stop the vision flowing. He prays for the humble mindset to stay out of his own light, and offers up his words, his music, to the Logos, to the anima, to the Spirit, all the while wondering if the Logos has the same intentions for Bowie that Jones has for Bowie.
Lord, Lord, my prayer flies
Like a word on a wing
My prayer flies like a word on a wing
Does my prayer fit in
With your scheme of things?
After this song, then, Bowie is consumed with the unconscious, the Logos, the Thin White Duke, which becomes personified as the TVC-15. ‘TVC-15’ is a bizarre, Videodrome-esque song about a girlfriend apparently being lost within a television, but as the television is explicitly called out as being quadrophonic and thus consistent of the quaternity, it is far more sensible to view it as a symbol of the unconscious where the anima dwells. Bowie prays repeatedly throughout the course of the song to be with her— if he is consumed by the unconscious, also, will he meet his anima, his Lady Stardust, or will he simply be lost?
Maybe if I pray every, each night I sit there pleading
“Send back my dream test baby, she’s my main feature”
My T V C one five, he, he just stares back unblinking
So hologramic, oh my T V C one five
One of these nights I may just
Jump down that rainbow way. Be with my baby, then
We’ll spend some time together
So hologramic, oh my T V C one five
My baby’s in there someplace, love’s rating in the sky
So hologramic, oh my T V C one five
Alone, then, as we all are separated from our unconscious by the gateway of the flesh, Bowie, in the song ‘Stay’, initially tries to numb himself to the loneliness, and then turns his plea to the audience. “Hope someone takes after me,” he says.
Heart wrecker, heart wrecker,
make me delight
Right is so vague when it brings someone new
This time tomorrow I’ll know what to do
I know it’s happened to you
Stay – that’s what I meant to say or do something
But what I never say is
stay this time
I really meant to so bad this time
‘Cause you can never really tell
Wants something or wants to stay
Much as more than one song has before served as both a conversation between the Spirit and Bowie and Bowie and the audience, this song is much the same. The Spirit, after all, longs keenly to be acknowledged and observed; the unconscious wishes its contents to be made conscious. And so this is as much a plea from Bowie to the audience, for the audience to truly consider the meaning of his work; it is also a plea from the Thin White Duke to Bowie, and from Bowie to the Thin White Duke. He has his newly-renewed connection to the Self, and does not want to lose it, does not want it to fade in its vibrancy. Likewise, the Thin White Duke does not want to lose its connection to Bowie, and the result is the song which closes the album, the exquisite Nina Simone love song, “Wild Is The Wind.”
Love me, love me, love me, say you do
Let me fly away with you
For my love is like the wind, and wild is the wind
Wild is the wind
Give me more than one caress, satisfy this hungriness
Let the wind blow through your heart
For wild is the wind, wild is the wind
You touch me,
I hear the sound of mandolins
You kiss me
With your kiss my life begins
You’re spring to me, all things to me
Don’t you know, you’re life itself!
The Spirit Mercurius, associated closely with the air, pleads that Bowie open himself to it. Those who have felt the descent of the Logos probably understand the feeling expressed by the line, “With your kiss my life begins,” for although it seems at first little more than a trite expression from one lover to another, when taken in the context of a conversation between the Spirit Mercurius and the artist who beholds him, it becomes a tender prayer of love, both the love of Man for God, and the love of God for Man. The form of the Spirit personified by the Thin White Duke is indeed dangerous and darkness, but, being a part of God, it is, ultimately, love—ultimately naught but the Spirit Mercurius, the spirit of life, itself.
Like the leaf clings to the tree,
Oh, my darling, cling to me
For we’re like creatures of the wind, and wild is the wind
Wild is the wind
THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH & LABYRINTH
As important as Bowie’s music are Bowie’s films, and it is hard to say which is more significant. Each would require an essay unto themselves and we have little time, but I would take an aside to encourage occultists and psychiatrists to watch both films with a careful eye. The plot of The Man Who Fell To Earth centers on an alien who, being from a planet in the midst of a tremendous drought, comes to earth and uses the technology of his planet to develop the fortune required to create the space craft needed to return eventually to his planet with water acquired from earth. That very sentence could not be more rife with symbolism if I tried; ultimately tragic, it is a morality tale for all of us who would become trapped in the material world, locked in luxury apartments and trapped in abandoned prisons with no jailer but ourselves. Screenshots from the film were used for album covers for both Station to Station and Low. I mention it because it is a powerful warning and the earlier of the films, and, being released in 1976, speaks strongly of Bowie’s temperament around the Thin White Duke era; but Labyrinth is a more classic initiatory fairy tale, about a girl haunted by the animus, and I’d like to take just a moment to go over it.
As I’m sure we’ve all recently seen in clickbait articles across the Internet, the film Labyrinth is on one level a metaphor for a girl’s sexual awakening; on a far deeper and more satisfying level, however, it is a metaphor for a girl’s encounter with her unconscious. When the chthonic Spirit Mercurius arrives at the girl’s request to take away her baby brother, we are witnessing the threat of the transcendent function, and the ego of our main character is forced to retrieve it. As in Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, the journey into this fantasy land results in the acquisition of new friends, or unconscious principles which are activated throughout our character’s journey. Jareth, the Goblin King, seems intent on not killing the transcendent function, but transforming it and thus robbing it of its meaning; what he wants of Sarah, our protagonist, however, is not clear. Throughout the film he is shown setting all number of traps for her and making every effort to get in her way, and yet there are many moments where he endeavors to seduce her. At once the Saturnine principle and the Mercurial one, Jareth offers Sarah the opportunity to become his Queen— to assimilate the unconscious, to fuse consciousness and unconsciousness and male and female, and she rejects this invitation, being either unprepared or uninterested because she is focused on Christian values and the waking world of consciousness. Being as it is a place of fear, the unconscious is not for everyone; not everyone is meant to awaken, and not everyone is meant to awaken early in life. Indeed, at the end of the film, after he has been denied, Jareth is still present, but in his owl form, animals often representing unconscious principles which have not reached full conscious understanding. This wisdom-carrying bird may well return to her eventually; until then, however, she has rejected the opportunity to understand the deeper meaning of principles she takes as merely childish flights of fancy. The ultimate message of Labyrinth is not a sexual one, but the one mentioned in the song ‘Underground’—“Down in the underground/ you’ll find someone true.” Ultimately, all one has is one’s anima, one’s animus; ultimately, one must look within oneself, in the underground, in the Labyrinth, for their lover, and for the experience of the Spirit, and for their highest Self, which is often one in the same.
How I wish I had the time to go through every single album in Bowie’s oeuvre! I might take care to point out that the only time Bowie had a gap between albums longer than five years was the gap between Reality and The Next Day, and I might also take sly care to point out that Bowie was diagnosed with terminal cancer 18 months before his death in January of 2016, and that The Next Day was released March 2013, and that terminal cancer does not simply become terminal cancer overnight. I might take care to point all of this out, and to imply that the nature of Bowie’s deal with the Devil as clarified in The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was that if he did not release at least one album every five years, he would die of cancer; I might point all of this out, but that would sound a little absurd, and we are rationalist, here, simply interested in the symbolism of a great, late artist for whom I shall always have a burning and furious love.
Listening to Blackstar, it is clear enough what Bowie’s feelings are— after a lifetime of exploration and fun, after all of these golden years given him by the Spirit, he is more willing than ever to tantalize the masses with the truth which has always been woven delicately into the depths of his music. An album as magical as Station to Station, Blackstar opens with a ceremony, in both the song and the music video. The video has been analyzed to death; the music lacks interpretation.
In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen
Stands a solitary candle, ah ah, ah ah
In the centre of it all, in the centre of it all
Ultimately, the number is not eight, not four, not two, but one. There is but one candle; in the villa there is but a single light, and from this single light are all other lights lit. From your eyes does the Observer look out; from your eyes gazes but one spark, one fraction of that single candle. Bowie, who knows he is dying, feels the flame of his own candle sputtering, but knows that its light will continue in perpetuity— he knows that a star, upon dying, ruptures in space and sends in all directions those most basic elements of life, that some distant planet might someday inhabit Man or a species like it. And if “Starman,” “Star,” “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” and practically every other song he has ever written are any indication, David Bowie is nothing if not a star.
Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)
How many times does an angel fall?
How many people lie instead of talking tall?
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangster.)
I can’t answer why (I’m a blackstar)
Just go with me (I’m not a filmstar)
I’m-a take you home (I’m a blackstar)
Take your passport and shoes (I’m not a popstar)
And your sedatives, boo (I’m a blackstar)
You’re a flash in the pan (I’m not a marvel star)
I’m the great I am (I’m a blackstar)
I have been seeing many people across the Internet describe Blackstar as an album by a man who had not yet come to terms with death, but I do not think this is true at all. He was acutely aware of the mysterious nature of that which he was about to experience, but he did so bravely, and did so with awareness that he would be followed in the earthly realm by those who would find the true meaning in his work and use it to fuel their own— that he would inspire other blackstars. This song, this initial song on the album, he is offering you the opportunity to go with him— to find in him the guide he once found in Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke. But, as we all know, conversations Bowie has with the audience are often conversations someone else has with Bowie— the Logos, who is, as ever, doing the brunt of Bowie’s writing, has arrived to reassure him, saying, “I can’t answer why, just go with me; I’ll take you home, you’ll give up your identity and principles and drugs, and remember that you, David Bowie, are just an ego— I am that I am, and since you’re a part of me, you’ll be fine.”
Essentially, Bowie has flipped his perspective; rather than identifying with his ego, he is identifying with his consciousness. This is what he has done in preparation for death, but, as per usual, his lamentation is for his anima, that bitch goddess, who appears in “’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore,” for what is the anima, what is Maya, but the whore of whores? The Woman Clothed With The Sun, chased into the Forest and made to become Babalon; the metetrix claimed him, Bowie laments as per usual, and the eternal struggle is to be found in her grip, but it is his fate, and the fate of every man, to be bound to her treadmill, in a sense. The only thing which can free a Man, in theory, is death; and Bowie, facing down its barrel, finds solace in consciousness, in its eternal nature as the inner ‘Lazarus.’
Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now
Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose
I’m so high, it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cell phone down below
Ain’t that just like me?
By the time I got to New York
I was living like a king
Then I used up all my money
I was looking for your ass
This way or no way
You know I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain’t that just like me?
Oh, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me?
More moving lyrics about death have never been written, I think. There is little about this song which needs to be said; what is noteworthy about it is the manner in which Bowie seems to admit culpability for his death, having dropped his identity-containing cell phone ‘down below’, which he thinks to be just like him to do. This culpability, this acceptance and allowance of death, is indeed the theme which will follow us through the rest of the album; by the end, we have the sense that Bowie has chosen to die, despite, perhaps, the desire of his ego, David Jones, to carry on and see the lives of his children.
‘Sue (In A Season of Crime)’ is more of the struggling of the ego of David Jones, that most difficult part of death for any of us; for though our consciousness goes on forever, our ego may not, and the smallness and impermanence of that is troubling. Awash in mundanities, and yet in hope for the future, he continues to struggle with his anima as projected upon an external friend; indeed, we are reminded of the mother and son in ‘Soul Love’, although the positions of the deceased and living have reversed.
Sue, you said you wanted writ
“Sue the virgin” on your stone
For your grave
Why too dark to speak the words?
For I know that you have a son
Oh, folly, Sue
Ride the train, I’m far from home
In a season of crime, none need atone
I kissed your face
“In a season of crime, none need atone,” is a beautiful, seldom-spoken truth, to be certain. It is a season of crime in which we are living now, the imperfect material existence of the world; and any atonement we owe is owed only to ourselves.
The song following is one which requires rather some translation; a lamentation for his passed life, ‘Girl Loves Me’ continues to describe his love affair with the anima, who represents naught but life, herself; it is a plea to her that she fix him up, a plea which will go unanswered, and which will eventually result in his acceptance of his fate. The perpetually sensual yet abusive anima shows no signs of slowing down; wonderful with red rot, separating men from money and generally abusing her husband, Bowie, she in essence leaves him with no option upon review but to be perfectly fine with his fate, and it is this sentiment he expresses in ‘Dollar Days’.
Cash girls suffer me, I’ve got no enemies
I’m walking down
It’s nothing to me
It’s nothing to see
If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to
It’s nothing to me
It’s nothing to see
I’m dying to
Push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again
I’m trying to
We bitches tear our magazines
Those Oligarchs with foaming mouths come
Now and then
Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you
I’m trying to
I’m dying to
This is the song of a bored ego— the song of a dying king at the apex of his rule, ready, finally, to set aside his crown, to learn the adventure of death, to renew himself. Like all magicians, Bowie dies with intention: “I’m dying to push their backs against the grain,” he says, using a wonderful pun to indicate both that he is excited to push their backs against the grain, and he is literally dying so that he may push their backs against the grain. To live anew, a new adventure— his consciousness shall alight and take whatsoever the next step in its path may be. But it will not forget us, its fans, any more than it will forget David Bowie, or any more than we will. It is impossible to forget a man whose career was so packed full of truth, of an intensity of desperation of message which mankind will see with ever-increasing clarity as the years pass. But, as Bowie tells us in the next song, ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away.’ There are things man must experience firsthand. He has been utterly transparent throughout his career—any more transparent, and he would not be a musician, but a prophet.
Seeing more and feeling less
Saying no but meaning yes
This is all I ever meant
That’s the message that I sent
I can’t give everything
I can’t give everything
What prophet calls themselves a prophet, even when asked? Who with knowledge worth having flaunts it like a rich man flaunts his gold? Those who would could hardly be called prophets; and Bowie went out of his way to avoid flaunting his position as a prophet. Even as early as ‘Quicksand’, he tried to make it clear what he wasn’t. “I’m not a prophet or a stone-age man, just a mortal with potential of a superman: I’m living on.”
But of course he is. And of course he cannot give everything away, not after he has already told us so much, made us seen and feel and hear so much, and given us an opportunity to touch that flaming dove of greater understanding. As he said, also in ‘Quicksand,’
I’m tethered to the logic of Homo Sapiens
Can’t take my eyes from the great salvation
Of bullshit faith
If I don’t explain what you ought to know
You can tell me all about it on the next Bardo
But something tells me that he explained what we’d ought to know just fine. Well enough that I, personally, know I’m a blackstar; do you?