The Vale of Soul-Making. Philip Hoare’s RisingTideFallingStar

RisingTideFallingStar, the best book about Bowie I expect to read, the one I hope his daughter Lexie has, does not, within its text, include the word Bowie.  

I don’t read reviews before I read or write about books, so I don’t know if others see how gratifying this book is to Bowie people.

halfwing.jpg
Dustjacket flap features half the picture of Philip Hoare with wings by Dennis Minsky.

The advanced publicity cover picture suggested that the allusions to Bowie I’ve noted before in Hoare’s work would be more explicit, while the one-word title RisingTideFallingStar, reminiscent of Richard Long’s haunting Textworks, had me guessing Hoare would be returning to the sea again. Both are correct, and what is more, new friends and old* gather in the expanding Hoareiverse.

But like all Hoare’s books, RisingTideFallingStar is essentially about what John Keats called “the vale of Soul-making,”** and soul-making is a matter of self-transformation, the sadness of alienation, and the circuitous routes we take to attempt to get home.

It could be called a lament or thernody, like the song of the humpback whale, which Hoare describes at the beginning of the last chapter (“a keening threnody to me; but to another whale, it is a serenade of lust” (387)). On the book’s last two pages, Hoare seeks rest “in [his] room, overlooking the ocean,” listening to the whales’ unending song, “bending sound” and “dredging the ocean” (387). As a tempest gathers on the night of January 10, 2015, he confronts the allure of falling not to earth but deep into the sea, before finally sleeping and waking to “the news” (392).

I think all here know something of this feeling, this wondering at the stillness of Bowie’s body, then watching the videos, and knowing we will never again feel the transmission of energy through his “eyes, at the centre of it all” (393). After the text but before its epigram (alluding to The Tempest — and “Station to Station”) is Mick Rock’s photo of Bowie with the sailor’s anchor on his face. The last words of Thoreau, which Hoare quoted back on p. 129, come to mind: ‘“Now comes good sailing.’”

mick rock
Mick Rock’s picture of Sailor, page 395

For Hoare, whose trajectory was launched 40 years earlier by “the starman who obsessed me, and who presided over my blue notebook” (22), the answer is to go down to the sea, and write Bowie’s name in the sand, and let the waves take it away, and then, as he does each day, to dive into water.

To dissect RisingTideFallingStar would feel like performing a vivisection; to paraphrase, babytalk. it is a very long prose poem: nothing is dispensable, images break the surface briefly, then much later, having always been right there, return like waves to be visible once again. 

In the next few posts I’ll note some of the other Bowie allusions and evocations that run through this book. RisingTideFallingStar won’t be released in the US until April 2018 (but why wait? Get it now from Amazon.co.uk), and since this is a Bowie blog, not a lit crit or history of culture thesis, I’ll be taking the Just wow! And then there is this! And here is the best commentary of The Man Who Fell to Earth ever Approach. 


*For example:  Coleridge, Keats, Byron, Shelley, Melville, Thoreau, Barrett-Browning, Wilde, Owen, Woolf, Plath. The indefinable Stephen Tennant. Admiral Nelson, Dickens, Shakespeare, seabirds, cetaceans, selkies.

**”The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is ‘a vale of tears’ from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven-What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please “The vale of Soul-making” . Then you will find out the use of the world (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature admitting it to be immortal. . .)” — John Keats

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Sailor’s Journals, Part 10: Wisdom

If you don’t read anything else, skip to the end and read the extended quotations about Heathen — and mortality and music. 

These are a few of the passages from Sailor’s Journals I found particularly affecting. Some I have written about before.

On Grief & Empathy: One of the very earliest entries, 9/4/1998, was posted two days following the crash of  Swiss Air 111, a route Bowie used to travel from New York to Geneva. He commented on the mood at JFK International Airport:

“There has been enough sadness in my life for me to at least measure the depth of grief the surviving families must be suffocating in.”

On Love: A beautiful tribute appears on October 14, 1998, the anniversary of the first time he met Iman.

We’ve so grown into our love that I think we both feel that we’ve also grown up. And the feeling that our relationship being so joyous that we’re getting away with something has transformed into the realization that despite all odds we actually were meant to find each other. Hey, gentle vanities are the domain of the older man. Darling Iman, I can’t imagine life without you. I’m reluctantly grateful that I hadn’t known you before as I know I would have lost the best, most stabilizing thing in my life. I was a dumb guy for many years but I’m only stupid now. I love you. Happy anniversary.

On Music: November 27, 1998, Bowie was sorting his piles and came across this:

“What the music says may be serious, but as a medium it should not be questioned, analyzed, or taken so seriously. I think it should be tarted up, made into a prostitute, a parody of itself. It should be the clown, the Pierrot medium. The music is the mask the message wears – music is the Pierrot and I, the performer, am the message.’ Los Angeles Feb 1971. This was printed in Rolling Stone in April of that year. That was said nearly 28 years ago, and I really don’t think my approach to music has altered very much at all. What say you?”

The journal entries for December 20 to 26, 1998, “The Early Ears,” recall Bowie’s earliest musical memories, as well as the slow erosion of spirit that comes with a mother’s litany of, had it not been for you, my life would have been so much better. See [No Longer] Crashing in the Same Car: Mothers. 

The first two posts in this index list the songs and artists mentioned here. Use your Find function for dates 12/20/98, 12/22/98/ 12/23/98, and 12/26/98.

On the Potential of the Internet: Bowie posted this September 8, 1999. He introduces the entry by saying he  “dropped a really obvious mistake into my speech for the benefit of the press, but, so far not one report has noted it!!!” [There are two good answers, the most obvious being that the “man is born free” quotation is Rousseau’s; the other is that although born in England, Paine was a Revolutionist in the War of Independence. Likely a deliberate mistake about a deliberate mistake: how Bowie!]

…I’m delighted to be here with everyone to give some profile to Net Aid. The existence of any one of the so-called ‘pillars of poverty’ creates walls. And these walls create, not a certainty of security and comfort, but a prison. Both psychological and real.
The English radical Thomas Paine wrote: “Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains.” It’s stupefying that 200 years later those words are still applicable. And stupefying is, unfortunately, the appropriate word here. We so often feel incapable of contributing to our future world. All this, it seems, is in the hands of others.
     That is why I’m so enthusiastic about the involvement of the internet in such an event as this. Because here is a positive initiative that can be accessed by all. Apart from the obvious streams of constant information, you’ll be able to link direct with agencies and charities.
     Stricken communities will be able to advertise for urgent requirements, a water pump say, or particular medical supplies. And if you’ve got ’em you can act.
     Suppliers of commodities will be able to talk one-on-one with sales outlets, cutting out the middle man. A signature ability of the Net and a positive sign of things to come.

Becoming-Being-Surviving: Finally, three passages on the creation of Heathen.  From October 2001 to May 2002, Bowie discusses the making of this album at Allaire Studios (formerly Glen Tonche), not far from Woodstock, NY. There is a lot about the writing and recording of the songs, and many pictures, but these passages were the ones I found, especially from the viewpoint of 2017, the most moving of the journals. They are also the last of any substance.

5/14/02 [The studio is]  just outside of Woodstock, remote, silent and inspirational. We couldn’t believe what a find it was.
I just knew exactly what lyrics I was to write as I stepped into the room although I didn’t yet know what the words themselves were.
Now someplace like that can set me off two ways. I either get super euphoric or darkly depressive, misery being my default position. My soul flies erratically on the wings of what I would imagine is a feeble bi-polarism. Not the all out kind. I’ve encountered that and I’m not  that. However, something akin to that brushes past me in my quietest hours.
5/15/02: One reads about encountering epiphany, a Damascene experience. Giddy at the tranquility and the pure gravitas of the place, everything that I had written became galvanized somehow, into an unwavering focus.  

5/24/02: I didn’t like writing Heathen. There was something so ominous and final about it. …  these words were just streaming out and there were tears running down my face. But I couldn’t stop, they just flew out. It’s an odd feeling, like something else is guiding you, although forcing your hand is more like it.

On the other hand, what I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside of me. Not the demons, you understand, but the ghosts. There, I’m using that old language again. I don’t believe in demons. I don’t think there is such a thing. Or evil. I don’t believe in some force outside of ourselves that creates bad things. I just think of it as all dysfunctionalism of one kind or another. No satan, no devil. We create so many circles on this straight line we’re told we’re traveling. The truth of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time. 

5/27/02: For the purposes of this album, Heathenism is a state of mind. You can take it that I’m referring to one who does not see his world. He has no mental light. He destroys almost unwittingly. He cannot feel any Gods presence in his life. He is the 21st century man. However, there is no direct theme or concept behind Heathen, just a number of songs, but somehow there is a thread that runs through it that is quite as strong as any of my thematic type albums.  . . .

I had to resign myself, many years ago, that I’m not too articulate when it comes to explaining how I feel about things. But my music does it for me, it really does. There, in the chords and melodies, is everything I want to say. The words just jolly it along. It’s always been my way of expressing what for me is inexpressible by any other means.
What is very enlightening for me right now is that I sense that I’m arriving at a place of peace with my writing that I’ve never experienced before. I think I’m going to be writing some of the most worthwhile things that I’ve ever written in the coming years. I’m very confident and trusting in my abilities right now. But I’ve got to think of myself as the luckiest guy. Robert Johnson only had one albums worth of work as his legacy. That’s all that life allowed him.

Sailor’s Journals Indexed, Part 9: Others

Good categorization means everything has one place and only one. I could break this out into musical instruments and historical events and a few other things. Instead, at this point I am content with Others. So ends the series on Sailor’s Journals

Continue reading “Sailor’s Journals Indexed, Part 9: Others”

Sailor’s Journals Indexed, Part 7: Performances. And a Caveat.

Sailor’s Journals may seem voluminous from this series of posts. It is not. If you read it straight through it might take 3 hours. So say 6 to write. Six hours of journaling in the 69 years of such a complex man as Bowie simply is not much at all. Like a single cell in the body, perhaps.

Continue reading “Sailor’s Journals Indexed, Part 7: Performances. And a Caveat.”

Sailor’s Journals Indexed, Part 5: Visual Artists and Their Works

Bowie spent a lot of time visiting galleries in 1998 to 2003, especially in NYC and London. Sailor’s Journals include numerous snapshots of the paintings and artists.

After his death, the estate put many of the works he had bought throughout his years of collecting for auction at Sotheby’s. I think there were several reasons for this. They were doing no good in the vaults. For the younger artists, having a piece that once belonged to David Bowie auctioned at Sotheby’s would be of tremendous benefit to their careers, even more so than having it donated to a museum. They now have a sales history at Sotheby’s and an identity as an artist Bowie collected.

But for the two masterpieces, it’s different. In the journals, Bowie simply answers a fan question that it is true he has a Tintoretto and a Rubens, but doesn’t name them. I don’t know if the Rubens was auctioned. If it is very small, it might have been kept in case of a sudden need for portable wealth, who knows?

This list includes fashion designers and architects.
A.J., 3/29/99
Armitage, Kenneth, 3/10/03
Body Parts, 10/29/98
Boshier, Derek, 5/17/99, 5/9/00
Bowie’s art works: 8/24/98; 9/10/98; Mini Cooper 9/14/98
Branca, Glen, 1/24/99, 5/1/18/01

Brown, Cecily, 2/8/00
Burne-Jones, 3/10/03

Chapman Brothers, 10/22/98
Chalmers, Catherine, 5/9/00
Charles, Michael Ray, 5/17/99, 12/16/99, 10/1/00
Chertavian, Kate [Bowie’s curator/mentor in collecting], 9/5/98 
Cornell, Stephen, 9/14/98, 9/17/98, 9/21/98
Currin,  10/29/98
Dada, 10/29/98; 2/20, 26/99
Dali, 3/10/03

David, Jacques-Louis, 9/16/98
Death of Marat, 9/16/98
De Meuron, Pierre,  9/22/98
Diarchy, 3/10.03
Dix, Otto,  10/29/98
Duffy, Brian, 5/9/00
Eames, Charles,  9/14/98
Eames, Ray, 9/14/98
Eddy, 10/4/00
Emin, Tracy, 3/10/03
Epstein, Jacob, 2/24/99
Fragonard, Honore, 1/27/99

Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan album cover, 5/17/99
Freud, Lucien, 3/10/03

Garnett, Sandy, 7/30/00
Gleason, Matt, 11/20/98

Goldsworthy, Rupert, 11/20/98
Hamilton, Page, 5/9/00, 5/16/00
Hockney, Peter,3/10/03

Hawkinson, Tim, 10/29/98
Herzog, Jacques, 9/22/98
Hirst, Damien 8/23/98; 9/10/98, 9/14/98, 9/17/98
Hockney, 5/17/99, 8/15/99, 5/9/00, 3/10/03
Hume, Gary, 3/10/03
Horne, Rebecca, 10/29/98
Hunt, Holman 9/6/98

Indoor Flag, 9/16/98
Johns, Jasper,  9/16/98
Jones, Allan, 5/17/99, 5/9/00
Kersel, Martin, 10/29/98
Lanyon, Peter, 5/22/00
Light of the World  9/6/98

Hunt_Light_of_the_World
A poster of Holman Hunt’s Light of the World was hung, as it was in so many homes at the time, in Bowie’s grandmother’s house.

Loebs, Damian  12/6/00
Longos, 1/18/01
Man Ray, 1/29/99
McQueen, Alexander, 9/5/98, 9/16/98  

Moore, Thurston,  10/22/98
Moss, Kate, 8/31/98
Men in Cities, 1/18/01
Mugler,  Thierry, 1/23/99
Nauman, Bruce,  10/29/98
Nitsch, Rudolf, 8/23/98
Ockenfeld, Frank, 3/29/99

Odd Nerdum, 1/30/00
Ofili, Chris, 10/29/98, 5/17/99
Oursler, Tony, 11/20/98, 1/24/99, 5/16/00
Picabia,  8/24/9;
Picasso,  8/24/98; 9/10/98
Pollock, Jackson,1/9/01
POP, 9/10/98

Rubens, Peter Paul, 3/10/03
Rock Drill, 2/24/99
Rock, Mick, 1/17/01
Rodin, Auguste,  2/24/99
Saville, Jenny, 9/24/00
Schiele, Egon, 9/6/98

Schnabel, Julien, 11/15/1998
Schwarzkogler, Rudolf,  8/23/98

Sensation (Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection show), 9/21/99, 9/29/99
Smith, Paul,  8/31/98
Stuff,  9/10/98
Thurlow,  10/29/98
Tintortteo, Jacopo,* 3/10/03

Turks, Gavin,  9/10/98,  9/14/98, 9/16/98, 10/22/98
Underwood, George, 11/5/02
Union Jacket 1,  9/16/98
Warhol, Andy, 8/25/98
Yoneda, Tomoka, 2/2/00
Young Americans II (Saatchi’s), 9/17/98, 10/29/98

*About the Tintoretto: From Artnet:

“The Angel foretelling Saint Catherine of Alexandria of her martyrdom (late 1570s) was acquired for £191,000 by a European collector during Sotheby’s sale of the late musician’s collection last Thursday. Immediately after making his purchase, the collector announced his plans to place the work on a long-term loan to the Rubenshouse Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, in the hope that there, the piece will be admired by many.

“Through this act of generosity the collector sought to pay dual homage to the remarkable influence that Tintoretto and Venetian painting had on Belgian artist Peter Paul Rubens, and to the legendary musician who formerly owned the work. The gesture is intended to honor Bowie’s life-long love of and generosity towards museums and cultural institutions.”

Corrections are most sincerely welcomed. This project got a little out of hand, shall we say. I am deeply grateful to Noel Barretto for his help in improving Part 1.