Psychic Attacks

A disclaimer: My understanding of what Dion Fortune wrote is slight, as is my knowledge of the occult. I read Psychic Self-Defense because I was intrigued by Bowie mentioning the book and his use of  “psychically damaged,” which I previously figured he used because of his antipathy toward psychiatry. Psychic Self-Defense defies summary. If I get things wrong, please comment.
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Page numbers are from this 2001 edition (Weiser Books) of Fortune’s 1930 text.

Speculation: Could one of the reasons Bowie cited Psychic Self-Defense as one of two books about the occult that were most important to him during his terrible time in LA, be that it allowed him a different way to think about what was happening in his head? He never denied that his behavior during that period was bizarre, and I expect he probably wondered if what he had long feared had come to pass, that he would have a psychotic break like his half-brother Terry, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, institutionalized for much of his adult life, and committed suicide, or one of his three maternal aunts, including one who was lobotomized.

Fortune trained as a psychologist, and a good deal of  Psychic Self-Defense addresses mental illness and psychic experiences. The differential diagnosis of a mental illness or psychic attack is complicated because the effects of both are so similar. An unstable person might have delusions of psychic attack, but a psychic attack can cause madness as well. There are ways of dealing with and overcoming psychic attack, according to Dion Fortune. In Bowie’s mother’s family, psychiatry lost the battle with mental illness every time.

“We live,” Fortune writes, “in the midst of invisible forces whose effects alone we perceive [and] invisible forms whose actions we very often do not perceive at all, though we may be profoundly affected by them” (3). Life goes on, the veil between worlds stays in place – until it doesn’t, and we are face to face with the Unseen. It’s not that the Unseen is any more inherently evil than water or fire. It’s when it has been “corrupted and perverted” by “adepts of the Left-hand Path” that problems arise (6).

One of four conditions usually applies when the Unseen makes itself known in a psychically damaging way:

  • Being in a place where forces are concentrated*
  • Associating with people who are “handling these forces”*
  • Seeking out the Unseen and getting in too deeply
  • Being ill with “certain pathological conditions which rend the veil.” [p. 4]

Any – or possibly all – of these could have contributed to the psychic damage that took Bowie from Beverly Hills to Bel Air to Berlin, and years to repair.

Psychic attacks are preceded by a sense of fear and foreboding, then nervous exhaustion, fear of sleep, and mental breakdown – in other words, the warning signs are much the same as what Bowie experienced. The liminal state between sleep and wakefulness is a time of vulnerability. If Bowie feared sleeping, his wakefulness may not have been a side-effect of the cocaine; it may have been the goal. **

Fortune warns against jumping to the conclusion that these feelings are necessarily the result of an externally sourced attack. When a person first becomes involved in the occult, psychic disturbance is not uncommon since his “consciousness is being disturbed by an unaccustomed force” (102). Another risk is “partial recovery of the memories of past incarnations” (103), especially those having to do with involvement in the occult. The emotions associated with the memory are recovered first, and it can take a long time for the memory itself to emerge. 

Although Bowie had been interested in the occult for many years before LA (“Quicksand”), it is possible that all he knew was limited to what he had read. Fortune stresses that it one thing to read about the occult, and another to participate in ritual and ceremonial magic (if he did so).

Bowie’s years of training with Lama Chime Rinpoche, beginning in 1965, may have made it easier for him to deal with memories of his past lives. I expect he would have had a better understanding of this than most who get involved in the occult.

When other explanations had been rejected and Fortune was asked to evaluate a probable psychic attack, she considered three possible causes of the disturbance:

  • physical disease 
  • “malicious human action” 
  • “non-human interference” (175).

I’m going to leave “malicious human action” for the next post and concentrate instead on “non-human interference.”

A good deal of detective work went into evaluating whether a psychic attack had occurred and if so, what type. When Fortune interviewed a victim, she’d first ask about the place where the attack occurred and check out the neighborhood (Had a prison, asylum or workhouse been there before?).  Were any unusual objects in the house, particularly those associated with religious rituals?

Bowie’s house was described as Egyptian in style. Who had owned or lived in it before? Did they practice any ceremonial Egyptian magic? What had caused them to leave the property? Did it contain any Egyptian artifacts?

His collection of occult books would have been of interest as well. Surely among the hundreds of occult books Bowie is said to have carted around there would have been more than a few second-hand ones, and some of these may have been used by sinister magicians (180).

Knowing Bowie had an interest in Buddhism, she would have asked about any Buddha statues he possessed. Fortune had her own encounter with a seemingly benign Buddha that had been excavated in Burma. One evening she spontaneously placed a marigold before him; the next time she passed him, she found herself pursued by “a ball of pale golden light.” Later she learned that these types of statues (“archaic soap-stone statuette, some nine inches high”) had been consecrated with human blood (66).

Fortune also notes that care should be taken with Buddhas from Tibet in case they have been used in Dugpa sect, one that engaged in “some of the worst black magic in the world” (66).

His investigator would want to know too whether Bowie’s symptoms improved when he was away from home. A likely yes. Had he been as tormented in New Mexico as he was in LA, he could not have worked. Then again, he wasn’t using cocaine when on The Man Who Fell to Earth set.

He possibly felt better in New Mexico because, probably by accident, he was doing things that Fortune suggests to alleviate suffering: One is exposure to sunlight, which strengthens the aura (169), and another is to eat regularly  (170). Anything that strengthens the body is helpful. Solitude is not. The person under attack is advised to stop all occult studies and return to the “prayers of his childhood” (172).  

But whatever progress he had made in New Mexico, when Bowie returned to LA, he came closer than ever to the abyss.

When the attack is in the nature of a haunting, the solution is to get away from the place and leave behind all possessions (185).

The dates are vague, but at some point Bowie left the Beverly Hills house for one in Bel Air. He only lived there a few months before decamping for Berlin. This was his fourth residence in 11 months, not counting time spent in New Mexico.

And yes, I do know about the exorcism of Bowie’s swimming pool, but since the only witness was Angie Bowie, I hesitate to credit it. Some accounts say that white witch Walli Elmlark exorcised the demon in the pool, but Angie (Backstage Passes) says that David himself conducted the exorcism as she looked on, aided by notes from Elmlark and several hundred dollars worth of occult supplies. She says the experience  prompted the move to Bel Air. 

*For a sense of the concentration of occult activity in Bowie’s neighborhood, see Christopher Knowles’s The Secret History of Rock N’ Roll or visit his blog and follow the “rock and roll” tags. http://secretsun.blogspot.com/

**When Fortune suspected psychic attack, if the victim had to be drugged to sleep, she sought the assistance of someone who knew how to keep an “occult guard” (169).

Bowie’s Cross: A Tool for Psychic Self-Defense?

“Did you always wear a cross?” I ask.

“No.” Bowie murmurs. “I only started wearing one a couple of years ago. It came around that same LA period. I just felt I’d been pretty godless for a few years. It’s no great thing, just a belief, or let’s call it the usual force. Or God? Yes, sure. It’s a lukewarm relationship at the best of times, but I think it’s definitely there. It became part of a new positive frame of mind that I have about trying to reestablish my own identity for myself-for my own sanity. And for my son’s sake.  — Interview by Timothy White, Crawdaddy, 1978

Every so often on the numerous Bowie fan sites, some one wants to know why Bowie wore a cross. Did it mean he was a Christian? No, so then why? 

In one of the first anecdotes in Psychic Self-Defense, Dion Fortune describes being on a retreat during which most of the group suffered nightmares. She felt that one of the group harbored evil impulses. This woman repeatedly asked that Fortune tuck a little silver cross she wore out of view. Now, Fortune had had this cross blessed since the group she was going to was new to her. Only she knew that the “cross had been specially magnetised against psychic attack. Nevertheless, the  woman who would have attacked,  if she could, felt its influence and feared it” (p. 31) . Fortune adds that this woman was found to have been a witch in a previous incarnation, and just as the witch-traditions tell, she couldn’t abide religious symbols, be around religious paintings, wear a cross, or enter a church.

Although this is no secret — anyone who watched The Exorcist knows that the possessed can’t abide churches or crosses  — there it seems a religious response, dependent on the mediation of a priest, and so perhaps not of much use to an unaligned gnostic.

Dion Fortune was a Christian, but if the power to repel evil came from the symbol itself and not from the faith of its wearer, one could have a “lukewarm relationship” with God and still use it as a first-line defense against malevolent magic.

Does the cross itself has magical powers? Was Bowie fighting magic with magic if he took to wearing the cross for the reason Fortune describes?

The Laughing Gnome, the first website to address Bowie and the occult, and one to which other sites refer,  doesn’t mention that after leaving LA, Bowie would wear a cross off and on for at least the next 30 years.

The irony of this is that if Bowie wore one as a tool of psychic self-defense, it shows that he took the occult very seriously indeed.

Perhaps later, after he no longer felt “psychically damaged,” he continued to wear it because it reminded him of his vulnerabilities, or second chances, or to stay on the side of the angels: Who knows?

The first pictures I know showing Bowie wearing a cross are from the set of The Man Who Fell to Earth taken by Stephen Schapiro, but in these it may have been a costume prop. It’s a lot less discrete than those he wore post LA.

He wears it very visibly in the “Heroes” video. Why? Did Bowie want to make it clear to some of his former associates that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with them?

He wore it in the late 70s , the 80s, the 90s, and the 00s. Once Bowie started wearing high collar shirts (Heathen) or kerchiefs (Reality), it wasn’t visible, but the backstage photos show he was wearing it still. He wore it in 2005 when he performed with Arcade Fire (his top button was opened). Then  Bowie seemed to get self-conscious about his neck, even wearing a thick scarf indoors (in photos with son Duncan at Sundance), and during his years in retreat was most often photographed in evening wear, out with Iman. 

Here is a sampling of pictures of Bowie with crosses. Once you start looking, you see it.

Photos are used for illustrative purposes in support of text. Should any holder of a copyrighted photo object, I will remove it. Even doing a reverse Google search image rarely reveals a provenance for a picture. The first picture is by Stephen Schapiro. I think the TWD is by Philippe Auliac. The sixth is by C. Simonpietri.   The seventh photo is the cover for the Spanish version of David Buckley’s Strange Fascination. The tenth is the cover sleeve for the single “Never Let Me Down.” The angel one is by Denis O’Regan. It’s the 12th picture here.

Bowie and Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense, Part 1

The release of Blackstar and its videos has generated speculation (again) on Bowie’s interest in the occult. Yes, there are allusions to so-called occult symbols, as there are to Christianity, as well, and to Bowie’s own ouevre. That the allusions  to the occult are so obvious means that the occult isn’t any longer — hidden, that is. The Cabbalah, alchemy, numerology, astral projection, auras, telepathy, Tarot, astrology — all of these ideas, systems, philosophies, practices that deal with forces unseen could be called occult. The imagery is rich and studying one branch leads to another and another, and so would be fascinating to a creative intellect. 

So why had the occult been a secretive system of thought? Magic. 

Whatever his intentions were in drawing attention to himself and his sex life and drug use, and publishing widely that which had been held secret,  Aleister Crowley posthumously achieved his aim of being the most notorious magician in the world.

He achieved this by making the rituals of ceremonial magic widely known. There are those who use magic to accomplish positive change. But the temptation of the dark arts are great, particularly to those who feel they have scores to settle or a ruthless will to power.

Crowley seems at the center of it all because he launched his own bid for recognition as the age’s greatest magician by violating the trust of magical  societies, such as the Order of the Golden Dawn, which were structured on a hierarchy of orders and degrees attained by initiates through study and practice and kept secret,  incorporating these secrets into his new religion of Thelema, over which he reigned absolutely. 

The rituals of Thelema featured drug use for altering states of consciousness and pan-sexual encounters  within its practice. No wonder then that he became a cult figure in the late 60s and early 70s. Many who talked about him had likely never read his books, but they would have known the law of Thelema: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” and possibly the response to this command: “Love is the law, love under will.”

It seemed a declaration of freedom from convention, but the ramifications of such a law were far from simple — especially when a malevolent magician decided what he wilt was your torment.

Peter-R Konig’s site The Laughing Gnome, which he began in 1996 and is still adding to, and Steele Savage’s David Bowie, Outside, Aleister Crowley, and the Holy Grail, suggest that Crowley’s works greatly  influenced Bowie.  These two sites are devoted to Bowie. In his farther reaching blog, The Secret Sun, Christopher Knowles frequently finds himself returning to Bowie, who he believes was a magician.

In 1997, Bowie told NME:

“I always thought Crowley was a charlatan. But there was a guy called [Arthur]Edward Waite who was terribly important to me at the time. And another called Dion Fortune who wrote a book called Psychic Self–Defence.”

A.E. Waite (of the Rider-Waite tarot deck) was Crowley’s most vocal detractor. By aligning himself with Waite, Bowie distances himself from Crowley, but not from the Mysteries.

I think it safe to say that Bowie believed in magic and didn’t always think Crowley a charlatan. Bowie came to fear magic, and you don’t typically fear what you don’t believe is possible.

The 1997 interview above is the first I’ve found where he repudiated Crowley. Did it take 20 years for him feel safe enough to do so? If I believed in magic, I wouldn’t want to raise the ire of a Crowley-ite.

I don’t know whether he was the victim of  a magical attack or if he was experimenting with performing ceremonial magic and got in over his head or both, or paranoid about being attacked, but after he’d quit cocaine, Bowie would say of his time in L.A. that  he was “totally washed up emotionally and psychically,” [TimeOut interview 1983]  and told  interviewer Peter White: “It took the first two years in Berlin to really cleanse my system. Especially psychically and emotionally” [ Musician 1983]. In 1997 he recalled that during the Station to Station era, he was “psychically damaged.”  Search “psychically damaged” + Bowie and you’ll get about 8400 results.

It’s the use of psychically rather than psychologically to describe the nature of his damage that brings us to Bowie’s abiding respect for Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense (1930). 

Dion Fortune (1890-1946) was a psychic and practitioner of benevolent magic, trained as a psychologist, and a scholar of the Cabbala. She was 15 years younger than Crowley (1875-1947)  but both were active during the same era. Fortune was highly respected in her day, but she wasn’t a sensation. The work she describes in Psychic Self-Defense suggests that a lot of her time was spent undoing the harm that Crowley and would-be Crowleys had caused. 

I believe that at some point Bowie realized as he read Psychic Self-Defense that he could be the poster child for those who must not mess with magic.

But more on that next time.

 

 

Lazarus’s Pajamas and the Return of the Thin White Duke

The video of “Lazarus” isn’t the first recent Bowie video to allude to the Station to Station era. That would be “Love is Lost [Halloween Version]”  from 2013, the one Bowie made himself with help from Coco Schwab and Jimmy King, using images from previous or planned videos. Remember the sad projected face of “Where Are We Now?” It’s back, with a witch’s hat stuck on it. As creepy as that face is (and how foreboding the line “Walking the Dead” seems now), the scariest thing in this video is the presence of a marionette Thin White Duke splattered with blood. The marionette Duke was going to be used in a video for “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell.”

The lyrics of “Love is Lost” seem made for the Halloween  version (“Say goodbye to the thrills of life/Where love was good, no love was bad/Wave goodbye to the life without pain”). The world has become a scary place.

When future Bowies were asked about the Thin White Duke, he consistently declared that this persona was an ogre, very threatening, and one he was glad to be rid of. The Thin White Duke [TWD] came to represent what had been — at that point — the worst time of his life. 

The timeline of Bowie’s cancer isn’t our business, but I’m wondering if the TWD surfaced in the Halloween video because Bowie intuited that something was wrong, or if he knew. October 2013 falls well outside the eighteen months that has been cited as the length of Bowie’s final illness, but I have read that he had had cancer, they thought he had beat it, and then it returned, which may account for the type of cancer initially being pegged as liver cancer and later changed to pancreatic.

At least once it was clarified as pancreatic, the nonsense about his cancer being caused by drink and drugs ended. Is it any wonder that he wanted to keep his illness private? Bowie had, after all, been straight for 15 or so years. If the cancer had metastasized to the liver, the cancerous cells had their origin elsewhere.

The point is that Bowie may have been sick longer than 18 months.

And sometimes, even if there has been no firm diagnosis, you know something is wrong before you know what it is. And that is very, very scary.

Since the TWD years were the ones when Bowie was scared and sick, it is unsurprising that Station to Station is alluded to in “Lazarus.”

Now, the TWD doesn’t appear in “Lazarus,” but Bowie has chosen, for the last we will see of him on film, to wear striped pajamas resembling the ones he (Bowie, not the TWD) wore on the back cover of Station to Station (photographed by Steve Schapiro). 

I have never liked those pajamas, and they look awful on him in the “Lazarus” videodbkaSome say the white lines were inspired by the copious amounts of cocaine Bowie was consuming at the time. I think they look like the convict uniform in the South, with stripes askew. (I’ve wondered too why in the Schapiro photo he is using white chalk to draw black lines.) 

But the pajamas do evoke some of the darkest days of his life.

I don’t, however, think they mean that Bowie was using his last months to revisit the Kabbalah, regardless of stories on sites ranging from The Irish Mirror  to The Jerusalem Post. Even The Guardian’s Jude Rogers talk about Aleister Crowley “with whom Bowie was obsessed in the 1970s.”

I think what he said in the 90s still held true: “Nobody professing a knowledge of the black arts should be taken seriously if they can’t speak Latin or Greek.” This implies that there are black magicians out there. He could have added that those who dabble in the occult can get in way over their heads. This is not something you want to fiddle with when you are already sick and weak. He’d already been through that. Bowie arrived in LA a Crowleyite, but he left with respect for Dion Fortune, a white magician, and particularly her book, Psychic Self-Defense. More on that next time.

The “Lazarus” video is about a man who is sick and under attack, not from a malevolent magician, but from that for which there is no psychic defense. 

Still, he isn’t going to let that lady with the creepy face be the guise in which Death comes for him. He eludes her and backs into the closet from which she had emerged. He will do as he told Cameron Crowe back in 1976: “I’ve now decided that my death should be very precious. I really want to use it. I’d like my death to be as interesting as my life has been and will be.”

Here’s a strangeness for you: In 1976 when Cameron Crowe reviewed the Station to Station tour for Creem,  he subtitled the piece “David Bowie Pulls A Lazarus.”

Finally, did anyone else feel chilled by Bowie’s teeth in “Lazarus” ? Gone are Bowie’s beautiful hands; they are now mottled. His neck has bulging veins, not the swan’s smoothness he had so long. But his teeth? His teeth are perfect.

 

 

Ziggy in the UK and US: What Americans Missed

At times I’ve found the emphasis on the Ziggy years to be puzzling. Pick up any of the biographies or most of the obituaries, and you’ll see what I mean: the 1970s are covered at much greater length than the whole of 1980 to 2016 (36 years!), and even within these pages, Ziggy gets a disproportionate amount of attention.

There are good reasons for this: the theatricality and myth-making are two. And the risk Bowie took. Had he not been able to pull it off, a silly Ziggy Stardust would’ve been hard to overcome.

I don’t know how to substantiate my next claim, but I’d guess that the strongest feelings for Ziggy (not to be confused with Bowie) are held by English fans born in 1955 or earlier, and that this is largely a matter of geography.

The first concerts for Ziggy and the Spiders were in small venues, taverns and pubs. Then they graduated to university halls, and finally to civic centers and theaters.

From January 29 to September 7, 1972, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars performed 55 times in England and once in Wales. I imagine it would have taken at least two concerts for fans to take in what they were seeing, and then if you were in these early, small audiences, you’d be back as often as you could manage, and you would start to notice those that were doing the same.

From an audience, a congregation would emerge.

Membership in the church of man, love. You didn’t need faith you weren’t alone in your weirdness; you had evidence, and no matter how miserable your work or school week was, there would be another chance to be back with your people.

Or so it could have been in England.

But not in America.

Why? The whole of England is roughly 400 miles at its longest and 300 at its widest, and it has a functional rail system.

Whether by car or rail, it would have been possible to attend dozens of performances. The longest legs, like  Manchester  to Plymouth (300 miles) or Sunderland to Torquay (380) could be done in a day (and a night) round trip. Most distances were less than 250 miles. Even Aberystwyth, Wales is only 210 miles from London.

Ziggy Stardust played half as many shows — 26 — in the US in 1972. And in so doing, the entourage covered over 15,000 miles by bus, car, or train. (Bowie refused to fly for a few years).* Whoever planned this itinerary had never opened an atlas, had no experience of a road trip from hell, and wasn’t footing the bill.

One stretch of the tour was 1632 miles (Kansas City to Santa Monica); another, Seattle to Phoenix, was 1440, not counting the 800 it took to get from San Francisco to Seattle to play for an audience of 400.**

I’m guessing that other than journalists, very, very few people in the US saw Ziggy Stardust more than once in 1972***. Only those who had a lot of time and a fair amount of money could do what wouldn’t have been a big deal for those in the UK.

No church of man, love in the US, in other words.

Ultimately I suppose it mattered little. The congregants who formed the hard-core fan base in the UK probably numbered only in the thousands.

But wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have been one of these?

What Bowie’s manager Tony Defries did right in the US was to get the journalists and celebs on the East and West Coasts excited about Bowie. Those shows, and perhaps for good will, Cleveland’s would have sufficed. The fan experience wouldn’t have been so different that it would justify the strain on Bowie.****

Whenever I hear people knock down Bowie for his 1980s money-making shows, I think about those 15,000 miles. Supporting an entourage of 42 or so people didn’t fall on the folks who engineered this zigzagging mess, but on Bowie, who ended up having made very little money for the physical and psychological investment demanded by the Defries machine. Once out of this servitude to Defries, he decided to take care of his (and his son’s) financial security.

And then he was able to do what he enjoyed.

——–

*Look at some of these distances: Cleveland to Memphis: 730 miles; back up to NYC 1100; down to Boston: 216; west to Chicago 990; up to Detroit 280; down to St. Louis, 530; then to Kansas City, 280; out to Santa Monica: 1632; up to San Francisco, 380, and then to Seattle, 800*; down to Phoenix, 1414; east to New Orleans: 1550; south to Ft. Lauderdale (Dania), Florida 875, and so on.
**Another site not worth the effort it took to get there: Pirate’s World in Dania, FL. Dania is a small Southern town, when you get right down to it, north of Ft. Lauderdale, or about an hour and a half from Miami.  Pirate’s World was an amusement park, so bands were competing with screams from roller coasters, etc. I looked for audience size for this concert, and on two sites, Bowie’s appearance isn’t even listed. These folks came out for Grand Funk Railroad, Iron Butterfly, Alice Cooper. And for this, Bowie traveled 1775 miles from New Orleans to Dania (875 miles) and then back up to Nashville (900 miles).
And why go to Nashville in the first place? It’s the epicenter for country music. And it is in the Bible Belt of the Deep South.
***The few who did, if there were any, probably lived in or near Cleveland, Ohio (3 shows), Santa Monica, San Francisco, or Philadelphia (2 each). Only the Cleveland shows weren’t all on consecutive nights (one at the start of the tour, two toward the end).
****Cleveland, Ohio, had disc jockeys who in 1972 took a break from “Horse with No Name” and “Song Sung Blue” to play a bit of Bowie; they were ready for Ziggy’s landing. And Cleveland is on the way from NYC to California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is Ziggy Stardust Labeled Androgynous?

The “androgynous Ziggy Stardust” is so commonplace a description of the leader of the Spiders from Mars that it seems to be indisputably correct.

But repetition of a characterization doesn’t make it right. 

On the covers of The Man Who Sold the World and especially Hunky Dory, Bowie’s appearance is androgynous. With no prior knowledge, at first glance one might think that the person on the cover of The Man Who Sold the World is a female; on second, the figure is obviously a man in a dress. With nothing to go on but the front cover of Hunky Dory, my guess is that many — maybe most — people would maintain, even after a good long look, that they are seeing a woman. “Don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl”: that’s androgyny –at least of the quite literally superficial variety.

In contrast, could anyone seriously believe that Ziggy was a woman?

This Ziggy picture is not Bowie at his loveliest, but consider the Adam’s apple, the chest, the crotch. What is androgynous here? Make-up?

Ziggy wasn’t androgynous at even the basic level of not being obviously male or female.

So what is special about Ziggy?

The same thing that was consistently true of Bowie: his extraordinary sexual magnetism. And this extended to gay guys, straight guys, bisexual guys and women, straight women, gay women, transgender, and the questioning (before such a category was even suggested).

Is there any other man so widely revered by both men and women for his sex appeal and beauty? 

The point of Ziggy was transcendence. Bowie’s earlier androgynous personas were self-limiting because they were not inclusive. On Hunky Dory, Bowie is a man who attains idealized feminine beauty, something few women can achieve, and something that would be counter-productive for a straight male to seek. Androgyny, in other words, depends on accepting that there are feminine and there are masculine traits.

“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”  — Rock & Roll Suicide

I know gay males who were born in the 1950s who regard Bowie as their savior. I don’t pretend to be able to even imagine what it would have been like to grow up gay in the sixties and seventies — and then to have heard “Rock & Roll Suicide.”

Maybe Ziggy was gay and maybe he wasn’t. What is clear is that he wasn’t “masculine.”

I also know straight males who found in Bowie an aesthetic perfection that they sought to emulate, in spite of being teased and taunted. It would have been easier for them to dress like their “masculine” peers, to leave off the clear nail polish, etc. but I think that for many of us who grew up knowing we were too young to have been at the forefront of social change, that is, we had missed the sixties, the mass demonstrations were replaced by small scale, even personal, rebellions.

“No matter what or who you’ve been”: In the Bowie-verse there were no losers.

When I was a teen, football players and soldiers were at the apex of a very limited range of acceptable manifestations of the masculine. (I think things are better now. I hope so.)

And aggression and violence, while not inevitable components, seemed always to be brewing just below the surface in these manliest of men.

Bowie’s appeal to straight females discredited the presumption that rough and tough were the aspects all women require in a lover. Whether you call what Bowie’s Ziggy was attempting to do rejecting, refining, or redefining masculinity, it couldn’t have occurred without modifying femininity.  In Ziggy’s universe, not making the cut for the cheerleading team didn’t mean a woman was less feminine than the chosen few; she didn’t have to measure up to the standards of the homecoming queens, there were other kings waiting for her.

In this respect, Ziggy was anti-androgynous. Blurring the feminine and masculine diminishes the range of both.  Ziggy came to smash the stereotypes and expectations, and to see where the pieces fell.

Even Ziggy’s size was a relief to a number of us women. He was small; he seemed safe (and I believe Bowie found brutality as despicable as “Repetition” suggests [this is the one Bowie song I cannot listen to]).

My experience — by no means unique — was that the more Bowie-esque a man is, the more likely he is to have an interesting mind and to be a gentle man.

Make way for the homo superior.

 

Bowie Sighting: Philip Hoare. Public and Personal Bowies

Last January while waiting for Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant, I chanced upon Philip Hoare’s, The Sea Inside, and enjoyed it so much that after Serious Pleasures I returned to Hoare, this time The Whale (UK Leviathan), and hence to Melville’s Moby Dick, a wonderful book to live in for several weeks, when not required reading. I also started keeping an eye out for Hoare’s short pieces in The Guardian and following his Twitter feed (@philipwhale).

Looking for allusions to David Bowie in Hoare became a game with me because if he could work Bowie into a book about whales, then where would one appear next? Now the game feels bittersweet; in the past few weeks so many have written so much.

Already it is tapering off, this deluge of tributes. I suppose tributes — their writing and their reading — are part of grieving, which serves the living, not the dead. I wonder too if there is not some element of magical thinking about them, whether they are like the command not to speak ill of the dead or RIP [rest in piece], means perhaps of insuring that the spirits of the dead are placated, safely sent on their way, no lingering, no haunting.

I find tributes to the living much more compelling, and this, I realize, is what I was looking when I started keeping track of Bowie Sightings, in Hoare and in Matt Haig’s novels.

Such sightings I see as thank-you notes, sent out into public space, with generosity of spirit: to Bowie, and to the future readers.

When authors I respect allude to those from whom they have gained much, I take note (Patti Smith’s highly allusive M Train is a moving, melancholy meditation on memory and mediaries to the mystical. To read what she has: a fantastic voyage).

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”  — E. M. Forster, Howard’s End

Forster, best known for his novels including A Passage to India, was a friend of Stephen Tennant’s, but what I’m interested in here is “only connect.”

By sharing or connecting, the personal becomes public, while still remaining just as personal to Hoare or Smith, undiminished.

Consider (again) the Bowie allusion in The Whale [Leviathan]:

“And I stood looking out to sea, watching transatlantic ships sail by, like Fitzgerald’s boats borne back ceaselessly  into the past, waiting for a future that might never come, like the man who fell to earth.”

Hoare explains this in the notes on the text:

“17 ‘boats borne back ceaselessly’ F.Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Penguin, 1974, 188. Gatsby looming over the water is a reflection of Ishmael at the Battery, whilst Fitzgerald’s closing phrase about ‘that vast obscuity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night’ echoes the final passage in Moby-Dick: ‘then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.'[576] In The Man Who Fell to Earth, (1976), Thomas Jerome Newton also looks out over the water, and the film’s director, Nicholas Roeg, cites Auden’s poem, Musee des Beaux Arts, with its reference to Icarus.”

Several years ago I wrote about similarities I saw between Jimmy Gatz (who the Great Gatsby was before he was Gatsby) because I see Bowie as very much a self-made man. Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby are Americans novels that have very little in common except what matters most: they will endure.

blue light

David Bowie in Nicolas Roeg’s  THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976). Courtesy Photofest.

Here, however, Hoare is responding to resonances of imagery. There is no ocean in The Man Who Fell to Earth, (1976), but there is a pier, and at the end of it is a light. Newton and his girlfriend live across a lake from the scientist who seems Newton’s friend but betrays him, and all collapses for Newton, as it did for Ismael.

When Hoare was asked by Electric Sheep  who he considers his avatar or alter ego, he readily responded:

“Thomas Jerome Newton, the flame-haired, paper-skinned, grounded angel in The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

“Newton crosses zones and cultures, an existential figure, a stranded alien in search of water for his parched planet. The scene in which he stands at the end of a dock was, to me, a direct echo of Jay Gatsby standing at the end of his Long Island dock.”

In David Bowie Is, Hoare remarks that “The Man Who Fell to Earth is such a key point in the Bowie universe because it exists sui generis – it’s completely on its own” or “reduced to the essence of Bowie-dom. . .always being beyond.”

I agree, and if I had only one Bowie item — album, video, film — that I could take to a desert island, it would be The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Magic — that is the only explanation for  the trinitarian creation of Thomas Jerome Newton by Walter Tevis (who wrote the novel), director Nicolas Roeg, and David Jones/David Bowie (and I will add that the actor in those other movies of Bowie’s is more correctly David Jones).

It’s not that Bowie fits the description of Newton in Tevis’s novel; he doesn’t. But Roeg knew when he saw Cracked Actor that only Bowie would do, no matter that he had no previous experience. Interestingly, in his next picture, Walkabout, Roeg would cast David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu, an Australian aboriginal who spoke no English (as well as his own son, Luc) in the lead role, and it seems unimaginable that any other man could replace Gulpilil in the role.

So why did Roeg chose Bowie? He is not human. And he isn’t. He is a projection. When Newton teleports, when he sends messages home by way of music broadcast into space, he is Bowie. When he is the gentlest of gentlemen, private and remote, and one of the most influential people on the planet, he is Bowie.

The way I connected Bowie and Gatsby differs from Hoare’s, and he brings them together via Melville.

In other instances the public persona of Bowie is connected in more obvious ways. Take, for example, Oscar Wilde and Bowie. In Oscar Wilde’s Last Stand, Hoare slips in a reference to Heddon Street, where Bowie is photographed for the Ziggy Stardust cover. Bowie of course had no direct physical connection to Wilde (1854-1900), but Hoare sees Wilde as a proginitor of Bowie — and Bowie as a guide to those who preceded him, including Wilde (connections run multiple ways). “My education came from him [Bowie] as I learned about William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, and Jean Genet. Just like Oscar Wilde, he commodified dissent for the suburbs,”  and in a review of Wilde in America: Oscar Wilde and the Invention of Modern Celebrity, Hoare notes that author David M Friedman “might have updated his story further. A century later, Andy Warhol installed his fame-making Factory at 33 Union Square. There, a pre-Ziggy Stardust Bowie – who, long-haired, wearing a “man-dress” and draped on a sofa, had reprised Sarony’s languid portraits of Wilde for the cover of his 1970-71 album, The Man Who Sold the World – would call on Warhol and reinvent himself as a result.”

I agree Bowie’s visit to Warhol’s Factory led to his re-invention of himself. When I look at the picture of Bowie in his man-dress, scowling and being paid no attention at Warhol’s, I think Bowie’s epiphany is that a colorful and embracing decadence is what he could offer England, that NYC already had the dark decadence market cornered: consider the Velvet Underground’s songs “Venus in Furs” about S&M and the paean “Heroin.”

I’d also argue that Bowie’s legacy will surpass Burrough’s, Warhol’s. Genet’s and Wilde’s. He was a magpie: Bowie took the shiny bits he found and built himself a magnificent fortress. And he had well over 50 years to do so.

“Live in fragments no longer,” to repeat Forster. Add to this Ezra Pound’s command to poets to “make it new,” Whitman’s “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” and Blake’s “He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.”

There are so many ways begin to talk about Bowie.