Category Archives: Robyn Hitchcock

THE DEMISE OF THE MASK (VOL 13)__WAITIN’ AT THE HARBOR___

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Hello All.

Welcome to Volume Thirteen of the MixTape series: The Demise Of The Mask. –(Volume One here)__(Volume Two here)__(Volume Three here)__(Volume Four here)__(Volume Five here)__(Volume Six here)__(Volume Seven here)__(Volume Eight here)__(Volume Nine here)__(Volume Ten here)__(Volume Eleven here)__(Volume Twelve here)-

Not only is this the thirteenth volume but it is also the very last in the series. So there you now have a total of seventeen hours and seventeen minutes of music! It all together makes a great soundtrack if you have to spend a day painting the blades of grass in your backyard or something of that nature. I do hope you dig it!

Also below you’ll find an updated list of things I read (or re-read) so far since January of this year. You’ll find the more recent things towards the bottom. These are works that I truly enjoyed and/or loved. I highly recommend them all!

I do want to make special mention of two books here that I believe are real healthy for your sense of reality: Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters by Paul Maher Jr. (Editor), and The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington, with its incredible, twisted beauties like The Happy Corpse Story and How To Start A Pharmaceuticals Business!

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Oh and my son and I fell in love with Marc Martin’s A River

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Well I do hope you dig it all and if you dig the mix then please feel free to pass & post it along; if you dig an artist then please support them and go out and pick up some of their stuff. Oh, If you dig the blog overall there’s always the “FOLLOW BLOG VIA EMAIL” button somewhere down at the bottom

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__The Demise Of The Mask (Vol 12)__Waitin’ At The Harbor___
  • This Is I – Juan Wauters
  • – David Bowie
  • Museum Of Sex – Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3
  • In A Parade – Paul Simon
  • Son Of Your Father – Elton John
  • Pillow of Your Bones – Chris Cornell 
  • To Kingdom Come – The Band
  • In My Own Dream – Karen Dalton
  • The Passage of the Black Gene – Elvis Perkins
  • Cuckoo Cocoon – Genesis
  • 22 Ghosts III – Nine Inch Nails
  • Dear World, – Nine Inch Nails
  • Lonely Planet Boy – New York Dolls
  • Fundamentally Loathsome – Marilyn Manson
  • Dear Friend – Jonathan Wilson
  • Cluster Ghosts – Madlib
  • Modern Kosmology – Jane Weaver
  • I Can’t Sleep At Night – Gary Higgins
  • The Way That You Sleep – nature films
  • I Guess I Should Go To Sleep – Jack White
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[This Is I – Juan Wauters]

[★ – David Bowie (illustration by Helen Green)]

[Museum Of Sex – Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3]

[In A Parade – Paul Simon (art by Chuck Close)]

[Son Of Your Father – Elton John]

[Pillow of Your Bones – Chris Cornell ]

[To Kingdom Come – The Band]

[In My Own Dream – Karen Dalton]

[The Passage of the Black Gene – Elvis Perkins]

[Cuckoo Cocoon – Genesis]

[22 Ghosts III – Nine Inch Nails (photography by Phillip Graybill and Rob Sheridan )]

[Dear World, – Nine Inch Nails]

[Lonely Planet Boy – New York Dolls (art by Greg “Stainboy” Reinel)]

[Fundamentally Loathsome – Marilyn Manson (photo by Mark Seliger, 1998)]

[Dear Friend – Jonathan Wilson]

[Cluster Ghosts – Madlib]

[Modern Kosmology – Jane Weaver]

[I Can’t Sleep At Night – Gary Higgins]

[The Way That You Sleepnature films]

[I Guess I Should Go To Sleep – Jack White (art by Methane Studios)]

Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite / The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 2: Dallas by Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba

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All the best to you and yours!—  –   ————-______-________ ->BOBBY CALERO[—+=-_________________If you dig the mix then please feel free to pass & post it along; if you dig an artist then please support them and go out and pick up some of their stuff. Oh, If you dig the blog overall there’s always the “FOLLOW BLOG VIA EMAIL” button somewhere down at the bottom.

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A MEAL FOR MEMORY (The Seven-Cent Inamorata)

_If you dig the mix then please feel free to pass & post it along; if you dig a particular artist then please support them and go out and pick up some of their stuff.

Hello one & all! welcome to A Mouthful Of Pennies’ latest MixTape: A Meal For Memory (The Seven-Cent Inamorata). This post feels particularly special to me, for it is certainly one of my personal favorites in terms of my own MixTapes, and I really am quite proud of all I have written below. A labor of love, this sentiment is particularly true of my long, sprawling meditation on the extraordinary and inspiring art of recently deceased David Bowie (R.I.P.). If you have the time I would definitely appreciate your attention to that and any comments you might have.

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The Seven-Cent Inamorata


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A MEAL FOR MEMORY_CVR

A MOUTHFUL OF PENNIES PRESENTS: A MEAL FOR MEMORY (The Seven-Cent Inamorata)
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A Mouthful Of Pennies Presents: A Meal For Memory (The Seven-Cent Inamorata)

  • Flying – Anon
  • Map To The Treasure – Laura Nyro [Live At The Fillmore East May 30, 1971]
  • Soon Forgot -Anon
  • I’m the One – Annette Peacock
  • Soul of a Village Pt. 2 (45 edit) – Joe Zawinul
  • Divider – Scott Weiland
  • Obsidian Currents – of Montreal
  • You Will Not Take My Heart Alive – Joanna Newsom
  • Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune – Claude Debussy [performed by David Robertson conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded live at the Barbican 11/29/2007]
  • Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise) – David Bowie
  • Love – Margo Guryan
  • Mythical Kings and Iguanas – Dory Previn
  • Echo In Your Mind – Susan Christie
  • Uncorrected Personality Traits – Robyn Hitchcock
  • Wooden Empire – Noah Georgeson
  • Future Cloud -Anon
  • Old Western Movies – written by Jack Kerouac, performed by William S. Burroughs & Tomandandy
  • Follow The Light – Death And Vanilla
  • (1849) – Annabel (lee)
  • Green Shirt – Elvis Costello & The Attractions

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A MEAL FOR MEMORY 
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universe
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FLYING – ANON
This mixtape features a few selections (“Flying,” “Soon Forgot,” “Future Cloud“) from the album Universe. Envisioned and created by an artist that alternately goes by the monikers WynnW.Y.N.N., and ANONUniverse is an assemblage of brief bursts, soundscapes, scrapes, sodden ambiance, demented little diddies, digital bumps, bedroom tapes, and soft moments of sweeping beauty. These fragmented tracks all seem to step on each-other’s toes as often as they rub elbows. Considering the album as a whole, I once described it to the artist as “nearly unlistenable,” and I’m still not quite sure if he took offense to my critique. However, that certainly was not my intention as it is the “nearly” that functions as the operative word in my phrase, and it is the “nearly” that makes me return over and over to this fascinating LP.
    The musicianship is first-rate (mostly provide by Wynn himself) and even features accomplished jazz drummer Keith Carlock on a few tracks. Yet, there is something so solipsistic, so insular about this work that attempts to thwart you from getting into a groove with it, but when and if you do it can be a bit like being a solid foreign object tossed about the fluids and vapors inside another’s skull for 48 minutes; which can be both mesmerizing and more than a little disconcerting. There is little of the spectacle to this album and so it does not care about your “enjoyment.” Your enjoyment is not the point.

    Wynn’s explanation to me that Universe was intended as something wholly personal and really just for himself–something of a death-bed project even–at least confirms that I am not completely off-base in my listening. I do recommend that you check it out yourself and see how it makes you feel. I will say that it is exactly this sort of singularity in terms of vision and production that both frustrates and excites me about other work I’m fond of, like Ishmael “Butterfly ” Butler and Tendai “Baba” Maraire’s “weirdo” hip-hop project Shabazz Palaces (who I’ve featured before on a few mixes).

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[painting by Walt Yablonsky]

[painting by Walt Yablonsky]

MAP TO THE TREASURE – LAURA NYRO
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Here on A Meal For Memory I use the first two aforementioned Universe tracks to bookend Bronx’s own Laura Nyro and her stunning live performance of her song “Map To The Treasure.” This is taken from her appearance on May 30, 1971 at Bill Graham’s long-gone and short-lived East Village venue The Fillmore East. The reclusive 23 year old singer/songwriter here appears alone with just her voice and her piano, boldly stripping her songs down to their bittersweet essence.

    Gone are all the subtle layers of instrumentation and sophisticated flourishes that do so distinguish her supposed trilogy of albums: the 60s girl-group street soul strut meets avant-garde jazz in 1968’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession; the intimate, intense, fractured sound made dramatic when suddenly punctuated by Broadway noir horns and strings in 1969’s New York Tendaberry; and the somewhat more casual feel of Muscle Shoals’ Swampers band on Side 1 descending into the exotic on Side 2 with Alice Coltrane‘s aquatic harp and the wail of Duane Allman’s guitar in 1970’s Christmas and the Beads of Sweat.

eli

nytend

christmassweat

It is from Side 2 of the latter that “Map To The Treasure” originally comes. In her unique phrasing, Nyro coos and questions over the scant droplets of her piano: Where is your love? Gone to Spanish Harlem? Gone to buy you pastels? Where is your love? Gone to Spanish Harlem? Gone to buy you books and bells beneath Indian summer?

Then as desire excites and knots the tune–desire for her “pretty medicine man”–she makes her move and lets him know:

For you I bear down

Soft and burning

In the treasure of love

In the treasure of love

In the treasure of love, love

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UNI info
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SOON FORGOT – ANON
Oh I soon soon forgot
It is fun to be here with you
Oh I made you flat
And now we should
Before a thing confused
Too much by flight
Resting now
I’m glad to be so tired
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ANNETTE PEACOCK
I’M THE ONE – ANNETTE PEACOCK
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As the carnival wheeze of Wynn’s “Soon Forgot” fades we hit the dissonant but real loose free jazz squall that opens both the title track and album of Brooklyn-born Annette Peacock‘s 1972 release, I’m The One. (including Brazilian percussionist extraordinaire Airto Moreiraand Mike Garson, the pianist that would go on to provide much of the color and motion to Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs, as well as David Bowie‘s other brilliant releases of the 90’s and 2000’s, 1.OutsideHeathen, and Reality), it’s as if Peacock and her team had to toss all these sounds into the pot before she could tease out the mutations of soul and blues grooves that serve as the vertebrae for this and much of the other tracks that make up this odd record. An early pioneer of synthesizers, Peacock and her husband, pianist Paul Bley, had persuaded Robert Moog to give them a prototype of his MOOG Modular Synthesizer by convincing him they would demonstrate that his instrument could be used to make serious music and not just novelties and jingles.
bley
Soon after she would innovate the use of the synthesizer to process and manipulate the human voice, which you’ll hear her here use to startling effect–at times to me delirious, bloody, and delicious all at once.
PEACOCKl
 
    In a 2014 interview she described the process behind this innovation as, “It was just a case of working out how to get in there and control the oscillators and the envelopes and then how to control the sound once you had made contact with it.”
Contact! Yes, contact could serve as a great one word signifier for this album as a whole.
    Annette Peacock comes on strong and seductive, informing her inevitable conquest:  
 

I’m the one / You don’t have to look any further / I’m the one / I’m here, right here, for you

ANNETTE PEACOCK2
      
 

     And then with a buzz and ache that comes from a raw territory of feminine dynamism:

Can’t you see it in my eyes

Can’t you hear it in my voice

Can’t you feel it in my skin

When you’re buried deep within me

I’m the one for you

   I love how as she and her team push the R&B boogie elements of the tune to their limits–as if testing the tensile strengths of traditional song structures–the edges begin to glitch, squelch, and blister. Her keen howl burns through the organs and soulful riffs of brass, spiraling further, further, until it all melts. It’s not so much that these synthesized sounds are layered atop, but, as the tune is stretched so thin that it begins to peel, it is revealed that this whole time just beneath the surface lay this stew of fractal patterns and a strange molten nectar being squeezed from burning wires. Typically, I find that synths are applied to a song in order to create glacial tones or gossamer ones. However, throughout the record the affect is more carnal: something as frightening as pulmonary aspiration; or more sensuous, hot breath dragged along the throat, a wet press from the muscles of an inner thigh, the squirm of the viscera, a pulse, squeeze, and twitch from sexual organs.
 
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zawinul
SOUL OF A VILLAGE – JOE ZAWINUL
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A soft drone of strings and a slight twinge of a horn ushers us into the 45 edit of Joe Zawinul‘s “Soul of a Village Pt. 2” Recorded in a session in 1967, this 45 RPM edit was released in 1968 and taken from the album The Rise and Fall of the Third Stream. The improvisational jazz elements bubble within the classically inflected compositions by avant-garde composer/tenor saxophonist William Fischer. Violas and a cello sway along with the drums as the tingle and pull of Zawinul’s Fender Rhodes dances under Jimmy Owens’ muted trumpet. Of course, the Austrian born keyboardist would take much of what he began to explore here and develop them in astonishing ways in collaborations with Miles Davis (In a Silent WayBitches Brew), and then eventually as one of the founding members of Weather Report (working alongside Wayne ShorterMiroslav Vitouš, Alphonse Mouzon, Airto Moreira, Jaco Pastorius and others).
weatherreport
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weilandmirror
DIVIDER – SCOTT WEILAND
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 This lounge act sad tale of two codependent lovers locked and lost in the same impotent spiral–vicious only in its futility–has long been one of my favorite tracks by Scott Weiland.
When she comes divided
She nearly comes alive
scott&mary

[Scott Weiland & ex-wife Mary Forsberg in the May 2000 issue of Jane Magazine. I recently read Forsberg’s memoir Fall to Pieces, and I must say I found it beautiful; very moving, nervous at times yet honest…and actually full with a warm sense of humor.]

weilandxy
Featured on his erratic and stylish solo debut record from 1998, 12 Bar Blues, “Divider” features Weiland’s own work on vibraphone, his brother Michael on Percussion, the fragile hum of a mellotron played by Victor Indrizzo, the lithe and searching work on bass by Martyn LeNoble of Porno For Pyros, and phenomenal Brad Mehldau playing opium parlor piano, which all perfectly apply a graceful sleaze to the lovely slink of Weiland’s vocal melody and lyrics like:
A drinker, he’s a boozer
A junkie, she ain’t shit
Some of them get famous
But most of them just get it
or the recurrent chorus of:

She only cares when her libido is buzzing

Bees only thrive when the honey is there

She knows the way to the script write doctor

She calls him up when the itch gets bad, 
 

and then Weiland informs you of the woefully inevitable:

 
…the itch gets bad…
…the itch gets bad…
 

…the itch gets bad…

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Kevin Barnes

OBSIDIAN CURRENTS – OF MONTREAL

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With a jettison of the manic weight and vertigo that effectively marked much of their previous records, of Montreal mastermind and ringleader Kevin Barnes explored more of a gentle loll through the sound of 1960’s San Francisco in their 2013 LP Lousy with Sylvianbriar; albeit still a highly idiosyncratic one. The structures are tight-knit and the feel intimate. To my ear one of the most honest and gorgeous moments of the record arrives early with the second track, “Obsidian Currents.” This song comports itself through a plain spoken cadence buoyed about by the lilt and wobble of soft psychedelic-folk.
 
Lousy

[gatefold jacket for the LP packaging designed by the incredibly talented Nina Barnes & Jerrod Landon Porter]

    Highly critical, yet still this tune retains a sweet compassion that the majority of “let me tell you something you might not know about yourself” songs can–by their nature–rarely deliver (think young Dylan, Lou Reed). It is an appeal to a loved one (although ironically, and perhaps more poignantly, that loved one might be the singer himself) about their callous rationale and intellectual detachment. More so it is a warning about the logical conclusion to a mind spent dedicated to only concepts and logical conclusions:
 

There is a virus in your tenets

Don’t be naive, you know it’s true

And if you don’t protect yourself

Obsidian currents

Will devour you

    This “virus” of  “obsidian currents” to my mind serves as a poetic descriptor for the alluring pull and singular end-point of pursuing to “live beyond good and evil” when “you have committed yourself wholly to the dominion of semantics and ideas”: Nihilism.
    Conducting a marvelous investigation with hopscotch-like gambols between the recondite traditions, phenomena, art movements, and demands that have had a force in shaping modern culture, in 1989 music journalist and cultural critic Greil Marcus published Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century. At several points within this book he writes:
lipsticktracesjpg
“Nihilism is the belief in nothing and the wish to become nothing: oblivion is its ruling passion.”
“Nihilism can find a voice in art, but never satisfaction. Nihilism means to close the world around its own self-consuming impulse […].”
“The nihilist, no matter how many people he or she might kill, is always a solipsist: no one exists but the actor, and only the actor’s motives are real.”
“When the nihilist pulls the trigger, turns on the gas, sets the fire, hits the vein, the world ends.”
ninatwin

[“In order to change perspective, or more so, to open the gateway to a world unseen –Art knew she had to open the perception through the realm of emotions”, (2015) by Nina Grøttland Barnes, aka Gemini Tactics, aka ANIN TIWN ~ NINA TWIN, ex-wife of Kevin Barnes.]

     On a somewhat lighter note, discussing this particular song in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine‘s Ryan Reed, Kevin Barnes had this to say: “My brother had a funny vision for that one. He said it was a superhero who got beat by his arch-nemesis, and the arch-nemesis has him tied in this dark cellar, and he’s saying these things to this superhero and forcing him to come to terms with his flaws.”
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newsome

[photo by Annabel Mehran]

YOU WILL NOT TAKE MY HEART ALIVE – JOANNA NEWSOM
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And what do you remember most?
The line of the sea seceding the coast?
Fine capillaries glowing with cars?
The comfort you drew from the light of the stars?
It is with these two memorable couplets strung together that Joanna Newsom opens the song “You Will Not Take My Heart Alive” from her latest work of lavish precision, Divers. In an interview regarding her appearance as actor and narrator in Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vicethe conversation turned to the distance between this and 2010’s three-disc opus, Have One on Me: “I’ve been working hard for a lot of those five years on a new idea.”
       This “new idea” having to do with time, the transcendence of, and this statement she made to Laura Snapes of Uncut magazine:
Everyone’s getting older. When I crossed that line in my mind where I knew I was with the person that I wanted to marry, it was a very heavy thing, because you’re inviting death into your life. You know that that’s hopefully after many, many, many, many years, but the idea of death stops being abstract, because there is someone you can’t bear to lose. when it registers as true, it’s like a little shade of grief that comes in when love is its most real version. Then it contains death inside of it, and then that death contains love inside of it.
[cover art Wildflowers 52i by artist and former NASA thermal engineer, Kim Keever.]

[cover art Wildflowers 52i by artist and former NASA thermal engineer, Kim Keever.]

Lauper
    Admittedly, I am still in the process of engaging and fully appreciating Newsom’s new idea.The first time I listened to this album it was at a ridiculously low volume at 4:30am as I fed my nine-month-old son and attempted to not wake my wife. I truly enjoyed what I could hear, but I must also confess that as a whole at the time it all sounded like various alternate takes of Cyndi Lauper performing her 1986 hit “True Colors” (I know that thematically Lauper’s 1984 hit “Time After Time” might seem more aligned with the concerns of Divers but that is just not what came to mind; and this comparison is in no way meant as an insult as I find Cyndi Lauper to be pretty . fucking . fantastic!).
   Yet, even at low volume those opening lines above struck me, and what followed:

And I rose to take my shape at last

from the dreams that had dogged me through every past,

when, to my soul, the body would say

You may do what you like

as long as you stay.

Harp
  This all delivered in the delicate music-box whirl of Newsom’s odd baroque-pop, with its conflict of light and shadow and yet a fluid exchange between the two. The song at first functions as a courtly dance between her lighthearted if somewhat hesitant harp and her elastic soprano, but as it builds in height it also takes on a heft as if to bear the weight of the words. Small patches of glutinous synthesized keyboards enter and leave with an exquisite sense of timing just as frigid droplets pinprick the melodic line. For all it’s obvious antiquated instrumentation and arrangement, I adore how the song truly sounds as if it is being pushed forward in increments by some strange pedal-pump operated mechanism. Newsom hits an operatic height with the line, “Now the towns and forests, highways and plains / fall back in circles like an emptying drain / And I won’t come round this way again / where the lonely wind abides,” then proceeds to move on by digging in with a repeated defiant sentiment that leads us on out:

and you will not take my heart, alive.

You will not take my heart, alive.

You will not take my heart, alive.

You will not take my heart, alive.

You will not take my heart, alive.

You will not take my heart, alive.

You will not take my heart, alive.

You will not take my heart.

[photo by Jay L. Clendenin, 2015]

[photo by Jay L. Clendenin, 2015]

The whole song lasts no more than four minutes and one second, and yet seems so expansive you might forget where you began or realize that it’s now over.
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Program illustration by Léon Bakst. In 1912 Debussy’s piece was made into a short ballet with costumes and sets by painter Bakst, choreographed and performed by renowned Ballets Russes dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.

Program illustration by Léon Bakst. In 1912 Debussy’s piece was made into a short ballet with costumes and sets by painter Bakst, choreographed and performed by renowned Ballets Russes dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.

PRÉLUDE À L’APRÈS-MIDI D’UN FAUNE – CLAUDE DEBUSSY 

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Translated into English as “Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun” (first performed in Paris on December 22, 1894, conducted by Gustave Doret), this symphonic poem for orchestra by French composer Claude Debussy (1862–1918) has long been a favorite piece of music for me, just as I relish much of his compositions and “tone paintings.” I will place very little claim towards my knowledge of “Classical” music, but there is something to Debussy’s work–its layered textures, its strokes of color, the way that it seems to both manipulate and accept the immediacy that is inherent in the flux of time–that speaks to me. He had a true appreciation for the sensory nature of man and that it is through a correspondence of those faculties we experience and orient ourselves in temporal existence and in memory. His music is alive. It is a disturbance and it is a pleasure. It is mysterious and wet. It is something you can swim in.
Misty Morning on the Seine [Claude Monet, 1897]

Misty Morning on the Seine [Claude Monet, 1897]

[Claude Debussy (1862-1918), photo taken in 1904.]

[Claude Debussy (1862-1918), photo taken in 1904.]

    In a 1906 letter to his step-son Debussy argued: “Music has this over painting–it can bring together all manner of variations of color and light–a point not often observed though it is quite obvious.” It is with this same sort of fluid mind frame that he attempted to evoke scents in his piano prelude “Sounds and Fragrances Swirl Through the Evening Air.” That work was inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s poem Harmonie du Soir, featured below in translation by William Aggeler:
One illustration by Beresford Egan (1905 – 1984) for a 1929 edition of Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 volume of poetry Les Fleurs Du Mal (The Flowers of Evil).

One illustration by Beresford Egan (1905 – 1984) for a 1929 edition of Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 volume of poetry Les Fleurs Du Mal (The Flowers of Evil).

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Evening Harmony

The season is at hand when swaying on its stem

Every flower exhales perfume like a censer;

Sounds and perfumes turn in the evening air;

Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo!

.

Every flower exhales perfume like a censer;

The violin quivers like a tormented heart;

Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo!

The sky is sad and beautiful like an immense altar.

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The violin quivers like a tormented heart,

A tender heart, that hates the vast, black void!

The sky is sad and beautiful like an immense altar;

The sun has drowned in his blood which congeals…

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A tender heart that hates the vast, black void

Gathers up every shred of the luminous past!

The sun has drowned in his blood which congeals…

Your memory in me glitters like a monstrance!

 .
    To return to the work featured on this mix, Debussy was very engaged with the cultural innovations and mutations occurring in Fin de Siècle France: Aestheticism, Decadence, and Symbolism, amongst various other movements. Debussy himself was regarded as one of the prominent figures associated with Impressionist music, yet he himself rejected that association and viewed it as only some label created by art critics.
[Despite Debussy’s rejection of the “Impressionist” label, one can see why Margaret Lam would state that when considering “Debussy’s vision focused on the colours and textures of sound, rather than the established structures and grammar of music” […] “Claude Monet’s paintings, like Rouen Cathedral, Portal in the Sun, 1894, may be more helpful in understanding the music of Claude Debussy than other types of analysis.”]

[Despite Debussy’s rejection of the “Impressionist” label, one can see why Margaret Lam would state that when considering “Debussy’s vision focused on the colours and textures of sound, rather than the established structures and grammar of music” […] “Claude Monet’s paintings, like Rouen Cathedral, Portal in the Sun, 1894, may be more helpful in understanding the music of Claude Debussy than other types of analysis.”]

Debussy much more aligned himself with the literary school of his period known as Symbolism, and it is from a work by major French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) that “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” takes both its title and inspiration. Mallarmé believed in the essential creative function of poetry (as in the theological sense of “creation”) and in a complexity to art where the audience should have to participate–they must pull meaning out of both the semantic and acoustic surface of his words.
[Stéphane Mallarmé by Edouard Manet (1832-1883). On display at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France, this portrait was painted in 1876, the year of the publication of Mallarmé’s Après-midi d’un faune, a long poem illustrated by engravings by Manet.]

[Stéphane Mallarmé by Edouard Manet (1832-1883). On display at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France, this portrait was painted in 1876, the year of the publication of Mallarmé’s Après-midi d’un faune, a long poem illustrated by engravings by Manet.]

     Mallarmé described the heart of his own poem, L’après-midi d’un faune as a “very lofty and beautiful idea,” and it is clear that this syntactically complicated reworking of the Ovidian myth of Pan–with here this Satyr accompanying himself on his reed pipes while recounting (or living) the erotic fantasy of his failed possession of two nymphs–deals with the elemental confusion within desire and memory. The poem begins with the Faun stirring to indulge himself in sensuous, if frustrated, memories:
[1876 Engraving by Edouard Manet for Mallarmé’s Après-midi d’un faune.]

[1876 Engraving by Edouard Manet for Mallarmé’s Après-midi d’un faune.]

These nymphs, I would perpetuate them.
So bright
Their crimson flesh that hovers there, light
In the air drowsy with dense slumbers.
Did I love a dream?
My doubt, mass of ancient night, ends extreme
In many a subtle branch, that remaining the true
Woods themselves, proves, alas, that I too
Offered myself, alone, as triumph, the false ideal of roses.

[1876 Engraving by Edouard Manet for Mallarmé’s Après-midi d’un faune.]

[1876 Engraving by Edouard Manet for Mallarmé’s Après-midi d’un faune.]

After a total of 110 lines the work concludes with the Faun returning to his slumber with a tranquil resignation:

Farewell to you, both: I go to see the shadow you have become.

 

[(considered the greatest male ballet dancer of the 20th Century) Vaslav Nijinsky as the faune, 1912.]

[(considered the greatest male ballet dancer of the 20th Century) Vaslav Nijinsky as the faune, 1912.]

[Lubov Tchernicheva as a Nymph and Vaslav Nijinsky as the Faun [photo by Baron Adolf de Meyer, Vogue’s First Staff Photographer]

[Lubov Tchernicheva as a Nymph and Vaslav Nijinsky as the Faun [photo by Baron Adolf de Meyer, Vogue’s First Staff Photographer]

[Lydia Nelidova and Vaslav Nijinsky entwined.]

[Lydia Nelidova and Vaslav Nijinsky entwined.]

[Vaslav Nijinsky as the Faun [photo by Baron Adolf de Meyer.]

[Vaslav Nijinsky as the Faun [photo by Baron Adolf de Meyer.]

[Still from Charlie Chaplin’s Sunnyside (released June 15, 1919). Nijinski and Chaplin met in 1916 on the set of Easy Street and Nijinsky complimented Charlie on how balletic his moves were. With this fantasy scene of a dance with wood nymphs Chaplin payed homage to Vaslav Nijinski and the ballet he choreographed, L’Après-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun). Below you can watch this short silent film written, directed and starring the always fantastic Charlie Chaplin.]

[Still from Charlie Chaplin’s Sunnyside (released June 15, 1919). Nijinski and Chaplin met in 1916 on the set of Easy Street and Nijinsky complimented Charlie on how balletic his moves were. With this fantasy scene of a dance with wood nymphs Chaplin payed homage to Vaslav Nijinski and the ballet he choreographed, L’Après-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun). Below you can watch this short silent film written, directed and starring the genius and always fantastic Charlie Chaplin.]

    In 1891 the journalist Jules Huret (1864-I915) interviewed Mallarmé on the significance of symbolism, the obscure play of associations, the sacred magic of evocation in poetry, and the end of naturalism. Here Mallarmé asks, “Is there not something abnormal in the certainty of discovering […]?” He also states:
 .
“To name an object is to suppress three-quarters of the enjoyment of the poem, which derives from the pleasure of step-by-step discovery; to suggest, that is the dream. It is the perfect use of this mystery that constitutes the symbol: to evoke an object little by little, so as to bring to light a state of the soul or, inversely, to choose an object and bring out of it a state of the soul through a series of unravelings.
[…]
“The childishness of literature, up to now, has been to believe, for instance, that choosing a certain number of precious stones and writing down their names on a piece of paper, even very precisely, was to make precious stones. Well, no! Poetry being an act of creation, one must draw from the soul of man states, glowing lights, of such absolute purity that, well sung and well lighted, they become the jewels of man: that is what is meant by symbol; that is what is meant by creation, and the word poetry here finds its meaning: it is, in sum, the only possible human creation. And if, in truth, the precious stones with which one adorns oneself do not convey a state of the soul, one has no right to wear them . . .”
.
    Mallarmé even extends these ideas to musical composition:
“In music, the same transformation has occurred: the firmly delineated melodies of yesteryear have made way for an infinity of shattered melodies that enrich the fabric without making us feel the cadence as strongly.”
 .
[Jim Morrison as the Faune. photographed by Frank Lisciandro, 1970.]

[Jim Morrison as the Faune. photographed by Frank Lisciandro, 1970.]

Or, perhaps, as Jim Morrison wrote in his poem, Ghost Song:

Enter again the sweet forest

Enter the hot dream

Come with us

Everything is broken up and dances

    In the preparatory notes for his highly ambitious but completely unrealized masterpiece Le Livre (“The Book”) (in which he hoped to reveal “all existing relations between everything”), Mallarmé writes: “Mystery and Drama, Drama and Mystery are only the same thing reversed and presenting the one on the surface while the other is hidden inside.” To my mind it is the sentiment behind that statement that is much in play in the intricate pattern of Debussy’s musical evocation of The Afternoon of a Faun, and it is this that makes it such a pleasure to listen to. Debussy’s music was a radical departure from the grand gestures and formalities of traditional harmonic chordal resolution found in the Romantic era, and he sought to create a music with new harmonic and melodic language. In this Debussy could be said to be largely responsible for what we consider modern music, from “classical” to jazz to pop (and that influence can be clearly cited in works from artists as diverse as Charlie Parker and Trent Reznor).
[A design by Léon Bakst for the stage setting.]

[A design by Léon Bakst for the stage setting.]

    With a sinuous melody played on flute, which intimates the sensual grace of the feminine figure, and the gentle swells of strings, horns, harp, oboe, clarinet, and finger cymbals all utilized to be evocative of a mind at drift, I am not surprised that after this composition’s controversial debut Mallarmé wrote a short note to Debussy that read:
 .
I have just come out of the concert, deeply moved. The marvel! Your illustration of “The Afternoon of a Faun,” which presents a dissonance with my text
only by going much further, really, into nostalgia and into light, with finesse, with sensuality, with richness. I press your hand admiringly, Debussy. Yours, Mallarmé.
 .-________________
[I should of course note that Claude Debussy’s 1894 musical composition is here beautifully performed live in 2007 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the American-born Grammy winning David Robertson who has served as principle guest conductor since 2005.]

[I should of course note that Claude Debussy’s 1894 musical composition is here on this MixTape beautifully performed live in 2007 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the American-born Grammy winning David Robertson who has served as principle guest conductor since 2005.]

-_____
-__________
-________________________________-_____________-_____
-________________ – ______
dd-poster

Art by Guy Peellaert, based on a photo by Terry O’Neill [both 1974]

SWEET THING SUITE – DAVID BOWIE

 

-_
blackstar

[designed by Bowie’s long-time graphic design collaborator Jonathan Barnbrook]

[I feel for context sake that it should be noted that these songs’ inclusion on this mix was done prior to the sudden news of David Bowie‘s death on January 10, 2016, two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final, harrowing, strange, and truly beautiful record, Blackstar (or ★). This parting album is one that continues to elicit a response of real tears while I listen and sing along. With that in mind I’d like to state that this MixTape and all below should not be seen as the total of my eulogy for this incredible artist, as it could not do justice for all that Bowie’s over five decades of art has meant to me throughout the thirty-six year course of my life, nor the resonance I am sure it will continue to have with me. Additionally, David Bowie’s art and his relationship with his attendant spirit of genius are profoundly complex. To paraphrase Walt Whitman‘s Song of Myself, he is large, he contains multitudes. That being so, I’d love for this to be lucid but find that here I am only able to discuss his art in laborious whorls and intellectual flits that I can only hope at least create a mandala of thoughts caught adrift, but resulting I’m sure in deficient generalities and the broadest of terms, or worse a babbling ouroboros. In short, the essay below is a failure and I know full of holes. Yet, I present you the fragments. To be honest, I will likely tinker with this essay some day to be featured in a post of its own where it can accompany a Bowie tribute mix, much like I did for Lou Reed upon his passing. Of course, it should go without saying, all below are facets of my David Bowie, as I am sure you all have numerous ones of your own.]
To you, David Bowie, in memoriam, I can only return your own words, which you placed as the dying invocation of a young Tibetan monk under stars that look so special as his brains spill out into snow that looks so old:
sevenyears
I praise to you; Nothing ever goes away.
_____-_________
Our alienation goes to the roots. The realization of this is the essential springboard for any serious reflection on any aspect of present inter-human life.
 
We are bemused and crazed creatures, strangers to our true selves, to one another, and to the spiritual and material world — mad, even, from an ideal standpoint we can glimpse but not adopt. 
 
What is to be done? We who are still half alive, living in the often fibrillating heartland of a senescent capitalism — can we do more than reflect the decay around and within us? Can we do more than sing our sad and bitter songs of disillusion and defeat? The requirement of the present, the failure of the past, is the same: to provide a thoroughly self-conscious and self-critical human account of man. 
 
We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love. I am a specialist, God help me, in events in inner space and time, in experiences called thoughts, images, reveries, dreams, visions, hallucinations, dreams of memories, memories of dreams, memories of visions, dreams of hallucinations, refractions of refractions of refractions of that original Alpha and Omega of experience and reality, that Reality on whose repression, denial, splitting, projection, falsification, and general desecration and profanation our civilization as much as anything is based.
rdlaing
.
The above four quotations were all pulled from The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise (public library), the 1967 book by radical, Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing (10/7/27 – 8/23/89).
.
bowcrop
    Many might have made the remark that David Bowie’s art is a cold, impersonal thing more concerned with a narcissistic surface image and style rather than authenticity (see for example critic Lester Bangs excellent if shortsighted reviews featured in the brilliant collection Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung)(public library).
lesterbangs
Now, I might accede to certain facets of that argument, but only as I believe that much of the true depth of expression in Bowie’s art was achieved through a meditative manipulation with, against, and between exteriors and such modern concepts as the Constructivism art movement; “the reconciliation of ostensible paradoxes” in Hegel’s dialectic; the synthesizing of multiple abstractions through imagism; an odd and somewhat absurd blend of the Theatre of Cruelty developed by Antonin Artaud with the dramatic theory of “making it strange ” or Alienation Effect developed by German dramatist-director Bertolt Brecht; and the disturbed fun one can have with a simulacrum, as demonstrated through Pop art, particularly how it relates to an individual’s desires regarding celebrity and mass society in the condition of industrialization (and of course, coupled with his obviously quick, inquiring mind, these all seem to be interests that he would acquire organically when considering he was raised in a family plagued by psychosis and various mental illnesses, and that he spent his younger years alternately as a junior visualizer at a London advertising firm, studying the theatrical medium of mime under legendary Lindsay Kemp, and seriously considering becoming a monk while learning Tibetan Buddhism under meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Scotland).
Lindsay Kemp in his own stage production of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play, Salomé [photo by Graziano Villa]

Lindsay Kemp in his own stage production of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play, Salomé [photo by Graziano Villa]

Bowie as Pierrot for 1980's Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) [photo by Brian Duffy, makeup design by Richard Sharah, costume designed by Natasha Kornilof] Although Bowie's sense of performance was certainly expressive, he always employed an economy of movement that comes from the traditions taught by Kemp.

Bowie as Pierrot for 1980’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) [photo by Brian Duffy, makeup design by Richard Sharah, costume designed by Natasha Korniloff] Although Bowie’s sense of performance was certainly expressive, he always employed an economy of movement that comes from the traditions taught by Kemp.

Many of the photos from the session with photographer/designer Duffy were then given to artist Edward Bell for further treatment.]

Many of the photos from the session with photographer/designer Duffy were then given to artist Edward Bell for further treatment.]

    With these ideas about dramaturgy and numerous other art theories in play, Bowie was able to mate them to his idiosyncratic approach to song-craft, which was certainly innovative yet wholly intuitive. Assimilating and modifying his restless enthusiasms, forthright about the varied range and taste of his influences, Bowie would then turn his own singular talents and personality(ies) and those of his calculatingly chosen collaborators towards transforming them into a more personal and peculiar mechanism of artistic expression. In a society where increasingly narrow definitions and allegiances to lifestyle brands are demanded of us this system for songwriting might seem facile, fraudulent, or worse as grasps towards relevancy. However–with his curious immersion into whatever music, art, theater, and literature that caught the interest of his eclectic mind and his teasing of elements from these sources to service as layers and textures in the pursuit of a work all his own–Bowie’s songwriting should be appreciated for what are truly organic methods. To borrow F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s description of his own technique, Bowie’s processes of accretion, expansion, and reduction are more honest about the natural attitudes and non-linear patterns of the hearts and minds of men and women as they search to express themselves down here in “reality.” As transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson said in his 1841 essay Self-Reliance: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.”
Bowie-Nothing-has-changed
      In her essay in the collection David Bowie: Critical Perspectives, Dr Kathryn Johnson writes: “[…] Bowie continued to mine diverse sources of inspiration and later became adept at assimilating them into new and original work of rare variety and depth. Songwriting, for Bowie, became part of a holistic creative process which also involved visual design and resulted in a ‘total’, three-dimensional vision.”
smile
Considering the later concepts of a “fiction suit” (an apparatus of the imagination that enables us to enter a work of art) as coined by Grant Morrison when creating his brilliant “hypersigil” comic series The Invisibles, and writer Alan Moore‘s statements regarding human beings existing as essentially amphibious creatures (“in the etymological sense of ‘two lives’”) inhabiting the commensurate realms of the solid material world and the world of ideas inside our head–one could take Bowie’s “dimensional vision” as consisting of more than merely three, but incorporating four or more dimensions. His art could be appreciated as a landscape composed by and for his various characters and concepts to inhabit and explore themselves poetically and as a terrain of interaction where we the audience can freely explore our own characters and emotions as well. This of course is possible when an artist has a full regard for language and art, symbols, words, and images as being consciousness altering tools–or magic. This is a conviction that Bowie has enthusiastically demonstrated wholly throughout his long career. Likewise, in this formula for communication, his music–the clusters of notes, its timbre and beat, etc.–should be regarded as characters and concepts too as they contain as much information or more than say a choice in wardrobe, prop, or lyric; thus all this are really emotions, attributes, emanations, or sephiroth if you were feeling Kabbalistic. As Bowie says with a compressed sepulchral croon among other disjunctive images and sentiments that knit through 1993’s “You’ve Been Around” from his oh-so-nearly but disorienting variation on new jack swing LP Black Tie White Noise: this is a permeable zone “Where the flesh meets the spirit world/Where the traffic is thin,” and here in this liminal space we can “slip from a vacant view.”
[David Bowie, Los Angeles February 17, 1993, photo by Herb Ritts]

[David Bowie, Los Angeles February 17, 1993, photo by Herb Ritts]

      I find it both impressive (and obviously somewhat bewildering to write about) that this sort of deep engagement with a work seems to be achieved in part through the distance imposed by artifice and performance (what Prof. Shelton Waldrep calls The Phenomenology of Performance in his book The Aesthetics of Self-Invention: Oscar Wilde to David Bowie) (public library) or by presenting an unexpected frame within a frame that the audience must first recognize and be unsettled by in order to make contact with the work.
Frames from Kubrick's 1968 epic science fiction 2001: A Space Odyssey.

[Frames from Kubrick’s 1968 epic science fiction film  2001: A Space Odyssey.]

Think of the meticulous mise-en-scène, framing, cuts, soundtrack, and the actor’s performances in the films of Bronx born and bred director Stanley Kubrick, an obvious and well-known influence on Bowie. With these films the audience is made constantly aware of the technical aspects of “movie-making” by a master of the form and thus forced to confront certain abstractions, and yet somehow his fastidiously orchestrated work is more powerful, more visceral and intimate than the majority of movies that merely rely on pathos’ overwhelming effect on a passive audience. As Kubrick himself once said, “A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” Or more specifically as Kubrick commented on his own brilliant film A Clockwork Orange, “The story functions, of course, on several levels, political, sociological, philosophical and, what’s most important, on a dreamlike psychological-symbolic level.”
[Final scene from Kubrick's 1971 brutal masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange]

[Final scene from Kubrick’s 1971 brutal masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange]

Rather than an immediate emotional identification (which can be developed later organically by the audience’s active fascination, or not), this discipline demands of the audience a critical reaction.
Young Americans A side.tif
Fascination
Take a part of me
Can a heart beat live in a fever, raging inside of me
Fascination takes a part of me, I can’t help it
 
Got to use her, every time, every time, every time, got to use her
Every time
Fascination comes around
“Fascination” by Bowie & Luther Vandross from Young Americans (1975)
As Hugh Iglarsh writes in his review Rescreening Dr. Strangelove, “It is similar to what Bertolt Brecht describes as the alienation effect, forcing the viewer to see characters in terms of what they represent, coloring the subjective perception of objective reality, and creating the psychological conditions for both detachment and enlightened re-engagement.”
George C. Scott's unforgettably manic performance as the boorish Gen. 'Buck' Turgidson Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

[George C. Scott‘s manic, unforgettable performance as the boorish Gen. ‘Buck’ Turgidson in Kubrick’s brilliant 1964 comedy of frayed nerves, nuclear mutually assured destruction, and sexual frustration, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb]

[the incredibly skilled bassist Gail Ann Dorsey & Bowie in the 1997 video for "Dead Man Walking" directed by the always fascinating artist Floria Sigismondi. The song comes from Bowie's 1997 record of intricate glitch and textured, percussive loops, Earthling , which really deserves another listen by those who haven't in a while

[The incredibly skilled bassist Gail Ann Dorsey & Bowie in the video for “Dead Man Walking” directed by the always fascinating artist Floria Sigismondi. The song comes from Bowie’s 1997 record of abrasive, intricate glitch and textured, percussive loops, Earthling , which really deserves another listen by those who haven’t in a while]

      David Bowie himself has cited this German poet and playwright’s methods as an enormous influence on his creative process and composition.  Particularly, I find his comments in a June 1997 issue of the magazine Guitar Player to be quite illuminating on this subject:
          ….I’m sorry to keep using the word “context”, but it’s a governing principle. Context is almost everything. This is something too pretentious for words, but there’s another attitude that’s very much a part of what I do as a musician and performer. Brecht…[dissolves into laughter].
          Can you believe I said that?
         Bertolt Brecht believed that it was impossible for an actor to express real emotion in a natural form every night. Instead, you portray the emotion symbolically. You don’t try to draw the audience into the emotional content of what you’re doing, but give them something to create their own dialog about what you’re portraying. You play anger or love through stylistic gesture. The voice doesn’t rise and fall and the face doesn’t go through all the gambits you would portray as a naturalistic actor.
          I’ve done that an awful lot throughout my career. A lot of what is perceived as mannered performance or writing is a distancing from the subject matter to allow an audience to have their own association with what I’m writing about. That comes straight from Brecht, who was a major influence on me as a whippersnapper. It applies to any art form. It’s a question of creating a space between your subject matter and yourself as an artist. I sing notes that stand in for emotion. I honestly couldn’t care less about what the subject matter [of the album] is. I need lyrics; I write some lyrics. I guess a lot of subconscious things come through, and that probably says something about me. But it’s almost like lyrics standing in for lyrics: [sings] “Some words go here, and here’s some more words”. That’s enough. It’s almost like when you do an undersketch for a painting. You sketch out what it looks like–a sun here, a house here. That’s fine. The enthusiasm fleshes things out.
      All this creates a multivalence to Bowie’s work. As he describes his own painful jewel of a tune (which likely concerns, Bowie’s experiences with his closest childhood companion, his own schizophrenic half-brother, Terry) “The Bewlay Brothers“:
“[…] there are layers of ghosts within it. It’s a palimpsest, then.”
[From the 1971 Marlene Dietrich inspired Hunky Dory photo sessions with photographer Brian Ward]

[From the 1971 Marlene Dietrich inspired Hunky Dory photo sessions with photographer Brian Ward]

 Bowie’s work is instinctual and empathetic. There are contradictions at work. There are frustrations. Frustration creates narratives. There is a friction. Friction opens possibilities. If nothing else, Bowie’s work is about possibilities.
[One of Jung's numerous illustrations and mandalas for his own The Red Book: Liber Novus; a sort of journal wherein he recounts and comments upon the his imaginative experiences and unconscious visions between 1913 and 1916]

[One of Jung’s numerous illustrations and mandalas for his own The Red Book: Liber Novus (public library); a sort of journal wherein he recounts and comments upon his imaginative experiences, unconscious visions, and encounters with the symbolic language of expression and archetypes between the years 1913 and 1916]

      The founder of analytical psychology (the central concept of which stresses that individuation—or the psychological process of integrating opposites within the psyche—to be the central process of human development) Carl Gustav Jung wrote in 1923: “Since life cannot tolerate a standstill, a damming up of vital energy results, and this would lead to an insupportable condition did not the tension of opposites produce a new, uniting function that transcends them. […] From the activity of the unconscious there now emerges a new content, constellated by thesis and antithesis in equal measure and standing in a compensatory relation to both. It thus forms the middle ground on which the opposites can be united. […] The standstill is overcome and life can flow on with renewed power towards new goals.” This process is of course facilitated by active imagination, which results in the creation of a living symbol of some sort that assimilates and embodies the once adverse forces in the psyche.
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd I'm a blackstar, I'm a blackstar. Another illustration by Carl Gustav Jung for The Red Book: Liber Novus.

[He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar. Another illustration by Carl Gustav Jung for The Red Book: Liber Novus.]

In her fantastic essay “Crashing Out with Sylvian: David Bowie, Carl Jung and the Unconscious”  Tanja Stark writes:
“A prolific writer, Jung’s theories are complex but at their core was an understanding of life as an ongoing process of Individuation, a psychological journey of emergence, transformation and centered integration of the psyche within a holistic Self through conscious awareness, engagement and balance with the energies of the Personal and Collective Unconscious. Jung held that subliminal essences and universal energies profoundly influenced the lives of individuals and societies and believed the recurring mythopoeic symbolism, imagery and narratives found across cultures in art, myth and religion drew from the powerful energies of this Collective Unconscious. Manifesting in ways such as dreams, visions, art, intuitions, spiritual experience and synchronicities, active attention to these expressions could provide pathways to greater integration and wholeness. In contrast, unhealthy repression, denial or unbalanced inflation of unconscious energies could result in pathology, illness, psychosis and psychological disintegration.”
leroijones
      This repression and denial is what LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) depicts as one of the worst sins in his 1965 novel The System of Dante’s Hell (public library). In the brief notes that open this book, Jones attempts to define his concept of a heretic (or Heathen, as Bowie titled his brilliant album of 2002):
[Heathen album artwork designed by Bowie's long-time graphic design collaborator Jonathan Barnbrook]

[Heathen album artwork designed by Bowie’s long-time graphic design collaborator Jonathan Barnbrook]

I put The Heretics in the deepest part of hell, though Dante had
them spared, on higher ground .
It is heresy, against one’s own sources, running in terror, from
one’s deepest responses and insights . . . the denial of feeling . . .
that I see as basest evil .
We are not talking merely about beliefs, which are later, after the
fact of feeling. A flower, turning from moisture and sun would
turn evil colors and die.
[Heathen interior art by Jonathan Barnbrook; based on the 1611 painting Massacre of the Innocents by Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni]

[Heathen interior art by Jonathan Barnbrook; based on the 1611 painting Massacre of the Innocents by Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni]

The contradictions and facades inherent in Bowie’s work could and should be considered as an active attention to his expression, in pursuit of his “own sources,” or a truth of feeling.
[Photo by Markus Klinko for GQ Men of the Year, 2002]

[Photo by Markus Klinko for GQ Men of the Year, 2002]

As Bowie said in a 2002 interview:
 
“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 God’s presence in his life. He is the 21st century man.”
brainpickings
      In a post for her stunning and always stirring blog Brain Pickings (with its stated intention being to aid us to “tap into our mental pool of resources”), Maria Popova writes: “Creativity is a combinatorial force — it rests on our ability to fuse, usually unconsciously, existing concepts, memories, bits of information, pieces of knowledge, and fragmentary impression into novel ideas that we call our own. A mind of exceptional creativity, then, is a mind brimming with vibrantly diverse bits that can be fused together into a boundless array of possible combinations.” Popova also depicts the creative process as a “dancing in a delicate osmosis of conscious and unconscious work.”
[Beautiful detail of an illustration by the legendary Steve Ditko for his creation Doctor Strange, published by Marvel Comics in STRANGE TALES #138 (Nov. 1965)]

[Beautiful detail of an illustration by the legendary Steve Ditko for his creation Doctor Strange, published by Marvel Comics in STRANGE TALES #138 (Nov. 1965)]

David Bowie in designer Kansai Yamamoto’s “Rites of Spring” costume (photo by Terry O'Neill, Ziggy Stardust UK tour, 1973)

David Bowie in designer Kansai Yamamoto’s “Rites of Spring” costume (photo by Masayoshi Sukita, Ziggy Stardust UK tour, 1973)

I understand how a consumerist public might either be absolutely allured or totally disinterested by a self-aware art that at times could present itself boldly with the warm plane of a four color sci-fi comic book–as the year or two of the Ziggy Stardust project and much of glam rock did–as Warhol’s Death And Disaster series of silk screens do.
[Andy Warhol, Orange Car Crash, 1963]

Andy Warhol looks a scream / Hang him on my wall / Andy Warhol, Silver Screen / Can’t tell them apart at all. [Andy Warhol, Orange Car Crash, 1963]

[Edward Kinsella Illustration of French writer and provocateur Jean Genet for The New Yorker, 2014]

[Edward Kinsella illustration of French writer and provocateur Jean Genet for The New Yorker, 2014]

[Bowie with Cyrinda Foxe, Beverly Hills, 1972, photo by Mick Rock]

[Bowie with Cyrinda Foxe, Beverly Hills, 1972, photo by Mick Rock]

Bowie certainly had an ear towards the American jukebox when composing the rattlesnake muscle and sinew set to dance to a genuine american primitive rhythm & blues that is the November 24 1972 single “Jean Genie,” and likewise when creating the cherry-popping, lip-smacking, subordinate to the beat, Elvis-with-a-vulva swagger that is the February 15 1974 single “Rebel Rebel.” (funnily enough this track can be taken as a rockin’ oldie playing on some antique jukebox in the glitter & doom dystopia Hunger City, where his album Diamond Dogs is set).
[Contact sheet for the late 1973 photo session later used for the February 1974 release of the single "Rebel Rebel"

[Contact sheet for the August 1973 Pin Ups photo session by Mick Rock later used for the February 1974 release of the single “Rebel Rebel”]

[Mick Rock served as David Bowie's official photographer from 1972 to 1973]

[Mick Rock served as David Bowie’s official photographer from 1972 to 1973]

It does seem that for much of the early 70s Bowie was consciously attempting to create music that would “move like tigers on vaseline” (as he sings in 1972’s “Hang On to Yourself.”) He was attempting to make art that captured and released the desiderata of a depressed generation, all the while with face painted in kabuki mimicry that suggests an extraterrestrial alpenglow.

 

[Applying his Ziggy Stardust makeup in May 1973]

[Applying his Ziggy Stardust makeup in May 1973]

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But the days still seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
“Changes” – David Bowie (1971)
[Elvis I & II by Andy Warhol, 1963. The original images images of Elvis were taken from a publicity still for the 1960 movie Flaming Star. Based on the 1958 book Flaming Lance by Clair Huffaker, the western film had an original working title of Black Star.

[Elvis I & II by Andy Warhol, 1963. The original images of Elvis were taken from a publicity still for the 1960 movie Flaming Star. Based on the 1958 book Flaming Lance by Clair Huffaker, the western film had an original working title of Black Star and an accompanying Elvis song with the lyrics : Every man has a Black Star / A Black Star over his shoulder / There’s a lot of livin’ I gotta do / Give me time to make a few dreams come true, Black Star]

In the fascinating 1989 work by brilliant cultural critic Greil MarcusLipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (public library)–he states that from within the suppressed desires, frustration, and malaise coupled with the economic boom that all ensued with the close of the Second World War, “Pop Culture” was born in the year 1948. If that is true, it should be noted that Bowie née David Robert Jones was born in Brixton, south London on January 8th 1947 (exactly 12 years to the day after the birth of Elvis Aaron Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi). It is indisputable that there were profound cultural shifts occurring during Bowie’s youth. There was for example the emergence of the figures of Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, and James Dean; or what “Beat Generation” writer Jack Kerouac characterized as America’s New Trinity of Love, writing in 1957 (the year On the Road was published) (and read here by the comedian Richard Lewis):

“Love is sweeping the country.

“While wars and riots rage all around the world, in a vortex that resembles the dying Dinosaur Age of Violence, here within her sweeter shores America is producing a Revolution of Love. Three young men of exceptional masculine beauty and compassion and sadness have been upraised by its reaching hands.
[…]
“The Garden of Eden might come back in its pristine form. The old American Hero fought the Devil; the new American Hero knows that the Devil never existed except in the minds of anxiety. There will be no more tempting of the woman by the Devil and no banishment from the paradise on earth.
[…]
“There is the need all around to be recognized and adored by some other human being, the need all around for kindness, for the ideal of love which does not exclude cruelty but is all-embracing, non-assertive, simply lovely. Not necessarily the Dionysion orgy but the tender communion.”
[…]
Kerouac here does accept the dark entangled in this adoration, but then twists its shape to flood it with light and align it with the more mystic facets of mankind:

“As always when something new grows out of the groaning earth, this earth which is a recent event in the cosmic eternity of light, there are angry complaints raised from all stations. The dryer intellectuals complain that the adulation of the dead James Dean by thousands of American girls represents a kind of unhealthy necrophilia; they point out the fact that 1,000 fan letters a month are still being written to Dean as tho he were still alive, asking for his pictures and asking him to come back because they love him. “Even if you look bad and you’re all cut up from your car-crash, come back anyway.” Yet if Saint Teresa can make us the holy promise that she will come back and shower the earth with roses forever, this belief in the immortal lovingness of James Dean by thousands of eager believing chicks is well-rooted in a reverential mystical tradition that has certainly never harmed the sleeping babe in his crib. It augurs well for the world that it will refuse to believe that in death endeth loveliness, or endeth enlightenment.”

[Tupelo, Mississippi - Sep. 26, 1956, photo by Marshutz Stanley]

[Tupelo, Mississippi – Sep. 26, 1956, photo by Marshutz Stanley]

Or, as Lester Bangs put it twenty years later in his essay for the August 29, 1977 edition of The Village Voice, Where Were You When Elvis Died? (How Long Will We Care?) (and Robert Johnson, too):

“[Elvis] was the only male performer I have ever seen to whom I responded sexually; it wasn’t real arousal, rather an erection of the heart, when I looked at him I went mad with desire and envy and worship and self-projection. I mean, Mick Jagger, whom I saw as far back as 1964 and twice in ’65, never even came close.
[…]
Elvis Presley was the man who brought overt blatant vulgar sexual frenzy to the popular arts in America (and thereby to the nation itself, since putting “popular arts” and “America” in the same sentence seems almost redundant). It has been said that he was the first white to sing like a black person, which is untrue in terms of hard facts but totally true in terms of cultural impact. But what’s more crucial is that when Elvis started wiggling his hips and Ed Sullivan refused to show it, the entire country went into a paroxysm of sexual frustration leading to abiding discontent which culminated in the explosion of psychedelic-militant folklore which was the sixties.
I mean, don’t tell me about Lenny Bruce, man – Lenny Bruce said dirty words in public and obtained a kind of consensual martyrdom. Plus which Lenny Bruce was hip, too goddam hip if you ask me, which was his undoing, whereas Elvis was not hip at all, Elvis was a goddam truck driver who worshipped his mother and would never say shit or fuck around her, and Elvis alerted America to the fact that it had a groin with imperatives that had been stifled. Lenny Bruce demonstrated how far you could push a society as repressed as ours and how much you could get away with, but Elvis kicked “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” out the window and replaced it with “Let’s fuck.” The rest of us are still reeling from the impact. Sexual chaos reigns currently, but out of chaos may flow true understanding and harmony, and either way Elvis almost singlehandedly opened the floodgates.
[…]
If love truly is going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others’ objects of reverence. I thought it was Iggy Stooge, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation’s many pains and few ecstasies. We will continue to fragment in this manner, because solipsism holds all the cards at present; it is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis’. But I can guarantee you one thing: we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.
[Photo by Dennis Stock of James Dean looking at records in his aunt and uncle's basement in Indiana, 1955.]

[Photo by Dennis Stock of James Dean looking at records in his aunt and uncle’s basement in Indiana, 1955.]

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
[Photo by Al Wertheimer, Segregated Lunch Counter: Elvis Presley waits for his bacon and eggs at the railroad station lunch counter while a black woman waits for her sandwich, Chatanooga, Tennessee, 1956]

[Photo by Al Wertheimer, Segregated Lunch Counter: Elvis Presley waits for his bacon and eggs at the railroad station lunch counter while a black woman waits for her sandwich, Chatanooga, Tennessee, 1956]

You’re too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clock waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don’t eat when you’ve lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide
[Marlon Brando, 1948, photo by Ronny Jaques]

[Marlon Brando, 1948, photo by Ronny Jaques]

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don’t let the sun blast your shadow
Don’t let the milk float ride your mind

You’re so natural, religiously unkind
[Little Richard, by Charles Burns 1992]

[Little Richard, by Charles Burns 1992]

In 1956, Bowie not yet ten, his father would bring home the recent hit singles that made bizarre but wholly thrilling rock ‘n’ roller Little Richard a star: “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally.” Bowie later said that he had the sensational reaction of “My heart near­ly burst with excitement. I’d never heard anything even resembling this. It filled the room with energy and color and outrageous defiance. I had heard God.” Even as a little boy his ambition had been set to be “a white Little Richard…..or at least his saxophone player.”
stoptheworld
 Another figure that would weigh heavily as an influence upon Bowie as a boy is the British vaudeville actor-singer Anthony Newley.  A child actor (the Artful Dodger in David Lean‘s 1948 film adaption of Oliver Twist), the seemingly endlessly versatile Newley went on to great success in numerous diverse, creative fields. To name but a few, there was television where he created the surreal 1959 comedy show The Strange World of Gurney Slade; there was film where he starred in Richard Fleischer’s 1967 musical film Doctor Dolittle; he created a bestselling LP of political satire titled Fool Britannia, which starred comedic genius Peter Sellers and Newley’s wife Joan Collins; and in terms of music (with songwriting partner Leslie Bricusse) in addition to landing at least a dozen Top 40 entries on the UK Singles Chart between 1959 and 1962, Newley created the smash 1962 Broadway musical Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, wrote the title song of 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger and “Feeling Good“, which was popularized by Nina Simone, and the soundtrack for the Gene Wilder showcase, the 1971 adaption of Roald Dahl‘s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. As to why this obviously highly present and talented entertainer seems to be somewhat “uncelebrated” to put it mildly, writer Peter Doggett provides a well put, likely answer: “The British public, however, tends to distrust performers who exhibit more than one talent; they’re seen as pompous, pretentious, arrogant, all adjectives that were thrown at Newley during his lifetime.”
Alongside “Beat Generation” literary figures of speed and motion, the spiritually turbulent “sheets of sound” blown by John Coltrane, and other hip culture introduced to Bowie by his older half-brother Terry Burns, and despite the attitudes of the larger British public, it’s clear to see why this protean pop star would appeal to the ambitions of an adolescent Bowie. (Interestingly enough, coming at a time when he was nearly depleted of creativity Bowie’s only true “mainstream success” arrived in the 1980s by providing a seemingly equally enervated audience a variation of Newley’s polished persona of professional entertainer). Newley for his part once said to the Daily Express in 1963 some of the most poignant words I’ve ever read about performers:
“There must be a hole in a man who gets up on a stage and cries, ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ I am still a paramount egotist forever watching myself. Why? A kid needs all the attention he can get, all the affection. He works for it. He was born with an engaging little face and nothing more. So he uses his cuteness to get love. The process continues throughout his life, into maturity. He sharpens and hones that ability until it is an art. Acting, when you boil it down, is just a plea for approval, for love.”
[Pan by Marjorie Cameron, 1955]

[Pan by Marjorie Cameron, 1955]

 When Bowie was a boy in postwar London another significant shift was occurring within the larger culture concerning where science, the occult, and the public converge, and in how these found novel expressions through art, the literature of science fiction, and the general zeitgeist. Of course matters of the occult and science had long been interwoven traditions (take as just one example the fascinating mid-16th century figure of John Dee, who–when not communicating with angels in the Enochian alphabet with a desire to solve the mysteries of the heavens through mathematics, optics, astrology, science and navigation–served as advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, giving her the notion and coining the term of a “British Empire”). Likewise, science fiction had been embraced by the public for quite some time, many citing Mary Shelley‘s 1818 book of alchemical horror Frankenstein as the pioneer of the genre. Another marvelous example of the occult and science copulating in fiction (and one that proceeds by thirty years H. P. Lovecraft‘s significant innovations in the 1920s & 30s of tales where scientific curiosity leads to the indelible truth of dark, esoteric forces) is Welsh author Arthur Machen‘s 1894 novella The Great God Pan (public library).
[Edward Kinsella illustration for the Criterion Collection edition of 1969 Italian Federico Fellini's 1969 film Satyricon]

[Edward Kinsella illustration for the Criterion Collection edition of 1969 Federico Fellini film Satyricon]

Despite his brief association with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and being well read and experienced on numerous aspects of mysticism, Machen remained rooted in his own way to the orthodox ritual of Anglicanism. Highly recommended by me, the inception of the horror here in The Great God Pan is a brain surgery performed on a young woman with the idea that reordering our grey matter would open our minds to the strange, sensual, pagan realms that exist just beyond our humdrum one. Yet, despite all these antecedents none of them ever quite had the flavor of “POP” as they would exude during Bowie’s youth, which is to say they were becoming fashionable.
Dark Angel, a portrait of Jack Parsons by his wife Marjorie Cameron, made sometime during the course of their marriage (1946–1952)]

Dark Angel, a portrait of Jack Parsons by his wife Marjorie Cameron, made sometime during the course of their marriage (1946–1952)]

A personage of the 1950s who adopted the title of Frater T.O.P.A.N (initials for a latin translation of the motto “The establishment of Thelema through the rituals of love” and also quite literally a dedication and declaration of “To Pan”) also in many regards might embody best the confluence of the occult and science. Born Marvel Whiteside Parsons but better known as “Jack,” Parsons is often credited as the “true father of the American space race” (by Werner von Braun no less). As the author of Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons (public library) George Pendle writes:

“If you were to tell someone you were a rocket scientist during the 1920s and 1930s, they’d have either laughed at you or backed away with a worried expression on their face. No universities taught rocketry courses and there were no government grants allotted to rocketry research. To the public, rockets were pure science fiction, and in established scientific circles, they were even worse, synonymous with the ridiculous, the far-fetched, the lunatic, a byword for insanity.

“It was the very fantastical nature of rockets that first drew the young Parsons to it. Inspired by the stories in pulp science fiction magazines like Astounding and Amazing, he began building simple gunpowder rockets in his Pasadena backyard and peppered the upscale neighborhood with burned out cardboard tubes and flaming paper.”

Through the acclaim and innovation he achieved from his projects and experiments during his twenties, Parsons (not yet 30) and his colleagues founded the Pasadena, California based “Jet Propulsion Laboratory” (JPL, but also thought of a the Jack Parsons Laboratory, which was funded through military contracts throughout WWII, and is still currently a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center where the Mars rovers were assembled and their missions managed). Jack Parsons invented the first rocket engine using a castable, composite rocket propellant, and pioneered the advancement of both liquid-fuel and solid-fuel rockets, all which directly resulted in U.S. space exploration. In addition to these accomplishments, beginning in 1942 Parsons was the head of the “Agape Lodge,” the Californian branch of the Thelemite Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) created by the notorious English occultist known alternately as “the wickedest man in the world” and “the Great Beast 666,” Aleister Crowley (1875-1947).
[Aleister Crowley wearing the head-dress of Horus making the sign of Pan, circa 1910]

[Aleister Crowley wearing the head-dress of Horus making the sign of Pan, circa 1910]

Before his mysterious death at the age of age of 37 on June 17, 1952 when he was torn apart from an explosion within his home laboratory, Parsons associated socially with various bohemians, eccentrics, physicists, and several prominent sci-fi authors such as Robert A. Heinlein, Cleve Cartmill, Jack Williamson, Anthony BoucherRay Bradbury, and Bradbury’s literary agent Forrest J Ackerman, who also was the editor/creator of the influential magazine started in 1958, Famous Monsters of Filmland.
famous-monsters-of-filmland1

[Published July 1970]

fearbook1970

[Published June 1, 1969 ]

Parsons was not only engaged in the practices of magic and science but was also an an avid fan of writers that could weld these into a narrative whole. The somewhat unconventional Heinlein would regularly host informal meetings of the Mañana Literary Society in his Laurel Canyon home, which Parsons would attend and return the favor by inviting him for some amusement in his own mansion. Liljan Wunderman–wife of aeronautical engineer and JPL co-founder Frank Malina–described Parson’s home as: “It was a huge wooden house. A big, big thing, full of people. Some of them had masks on, some had costumes on, women were weirdly dressed. It was like walking into a Fellini movie. Women were walking around in diaphanous togas and weird make-up, some dressed up like animals, like a costume party.”
Of course the sci-fi writer that would have the largest impact on Parson’s life is the one that would eventually run off with Parson’s money, former mistress, yacht, and go on to found the Church of Scientology: L. Ron Hubbard. The Church of Scientology maintains that Hubbard was sent to Parson’s circle as an undercover agent contracted by the government to assess and dismantle “the black magic coven.” Charismatic for sure, however others found Hubbard to be no more than a con man from the get-go like Darker Than You Think author Jack Williamson, and legendary L.A. crime reporter Nieson Himmel who was roommates with the struggling science fiction writer in Parson’s home and who stated, “He was a guy on the make, I couldn’t stand him. I can’t stand phoneys and to me he was so obviously a phoney, a real con man. But he was certainly not a dummy. He was very sharp and quick, a fascinating story-teller, and he could charm the shit out of anybody.” Aleister Crowley himself would write from England to his OTO successor Karl Johannes Germer (Frater Saturnus) on May 22, 1946: “Suspect Ron playing confidence trick—Jack Parsons weak fool—obvious victim prowling swindlers.”
darker

[Originally published as a novelette in 1940 and then expanded and published in 1948]

When not in his lab feverishly producing technical innovations towards rocket science or hosting debauched gatherings at his spatial home on a stretch of Orange Grove Blvd. once dubbed Millionaire’s Row, Parsons was compulsively engaged in sex magic rituals with his “Elemental woman” and second wife, the incredibly talented artist Marjorie Cameron. Performed with L. Ron Hubbard as scribe and “sorcerer’s apprentice,” the purpose of this “Babalon Working” was to shatter the boundaries of space and time to bring about the incarnation of Thelemite goddess Babalon whose pregnancy would facilitate the emergence of Thelema’s Æon of Horus: a new libertarian age of free love and anti-authoritarianism. This is essentially the plot of the novel Aleister Crowley wrote in 1917, Moonchild (public library), and Roman Polanski‘s disturbing horror film from 1968, Rosemary’s Baby.
moonchild

[dust-jacket illustration by the incredible Beresford Egan (1905 – 1984) for the 1929 edition published by Mandrake Press ]

[the great Brigitte Helm as False Maria/Die Grosse Babylon in Fritz Lang's German expressionist masterpiece of 1927, Metropolis]

[the great Brigitte Helm as False Maria/Die Grosse Babylon in Fritz Lang‘s German expressionist masterpiece of 1927, Metropolis]

Revelation 17 (King James Version)
1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
5 And upon her forehead was a name written:
MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS
OF THE EARTH.
6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
7 And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.
8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.
11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
13 These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.
14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
16 And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.
17 For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.
18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
 (Although with Crowley’s system the biblical horror is twisted upon its head to be almost feminist, where Babalon is a sacred harlot, welcoming all, annihilating ego, a grail or graal used to “flood the world with Life and Beauty”–“For as thy blood is mingled in the cup of BABALON, so is thine heart the universal heart.”)
All this and more of the story can be found in John Carter’s informative and rather fun biography: Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons (public library), while you can learn more about where Lafayette Ronald Hubbard went from here in journalist Russell Miller’s Bare-faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard (public library):
Bare_Faced_Messiah_UK_paperback_cover
[Peyote Vision, by Cameron, 1955.]

[Peyote Vision, by Cameron, 1955.]

Parson’s bereaved widow Marjorie Cameron (known as “Cinderella of the Wastelands” and “The Wormwood Star“) would keep to a strange and somewhat itinerant lifestyle, continuing to create art but rarely exhibiting it.
[Marjorie Cameron as The Scarlet Woman, 1954]

[Marjorie Cameron as The Scarlet Woman, 1954]

Two years after Parson’s death Cameron introduced the works of Aleister Crowley to american cult filmmaker Kenneth Anger who would utilize this influence to create his 38-minute avant-garde film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, in which Cameron stars as The Scarlet Woman. This film is considered part of his “Magick Lantern Cycle” of cinema that stretches from 1947’s Fireworks to 1981 when he released his decade in the making masterpiece Lucifer Rising (the soundtrack of which would be composed and recorded in prison by Bobby Beausoleil–former guitarist for Arthur Lee‘s band Love and “Manson Family” member responsible for the murder and torture of Gary Hinman.) In the late 60’s Anger lived in London associating with incredibly wealthy patron of the arts John Paul Getty, Jr, and both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling StonesDonald Cammell (who would direct Jagger in the fascinatingly bizarre counterculture crime drama Performance) was cast in Lucifer Rising as the role of the god Osiris alongside singer, actress Marianne Faithfull who would star as Lilith. Anger’s presence within this scene is generally believed to have had a significant influence on The Rolling Stones and their hit from 1968 album Beggars Banquet, “Sympathy for the Devil.” 
[Marianne Faithfull as Lilith in Cairo, 1971]

[Marianne Faithfull as Lilith in Cairo, 1971]

[A glowing, orange UFO soaring past shoulder of the colossal ancient statue of Ramses II in Luxor Egypt from Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising]

[A glowing, orange UFO soaring past the shoulder of the colossal ancient statue of Ramses II in Luxor, Egypt from Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising]

[Marianne Faithfull & David Bowie sing Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe" for Bowie's last appearance as Ziggy Stardust, the odd cabaret-style one-hour TV special, “The 1980 Floor Show.” Filmed over 3 days in October 1973 at the Marquee Club in London, it was aired late-night on NBC, 16th November 1973]

[Marianne Faithfull & David Bowie sing Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” for Bowie’s last appearance as Ziggy Stardust: the odd cabaret-style one-hour TV special, “The 1980 Floor Show.” Filmed over 3 days in October 1973 at the Marquee Club in London, it was aired late-night on NBC, 16th November 1973]

Robert-A-Heinlein_Starman-Jones_SCRIBNER_Clifford-Geary
In 1953, when Bowie was 6 years old, a year after Jack Parson’s death, science fiction legend Robert A. Heinlein published the seventh installment in his and publisher Scribner’s Heinlein juveniles series, Starman Jones (the 1952 young adult novel that preceded it was titled The Rolling Stones). Concerning a boy who longs to escape his authoritarian Earth and navigate the stars as a member of the Astrogators’ Guild, it’s easy to see why this book would appeal to the boy David Robert Jones who would grow up to become David Bowie.
[Bowie as a young boy with his mother Peggy]

[Bowie as a young boy with his mother Peggy. By many accounts Bowie was raised in a “cold atmosphere” as his mother was likely preoccupied with her own mental health issues and certainly participated in the strain and tension revolving around the mental illness of her other son, Bowie’s half-brother Terry. Bowie’s childhood friend Dudley Chapman would later say, “It was a very cold household. She’d feed him, clothe him, do all the mother’s things, but there was no cuddling.”]

Concerning the literature associated with the genre of science fiction a pivotal mutation would occur in 1964 when a twenty-four year old English writer named Michael Moorcock took over as editor of the British science fiction magazine New Worlds.

New Worlds 191 New Worlds Publishing, June 1969

[New Worlds # 191, June 1969, cover illustration by Malcolm Dean]

Moorcock would reflect the thoughts and hearts of many at the time, serving as a catalyst for the disruptive, daring literature that had evolved from pulp into the speculative fiction and pop inflected genre-bending forms being produced by those progressive authors gathered under the rubric of “The New Wave.” As Jason Heller writes in his essay Anthems for the Moon:
.
“[Moorcock] used [New Worlds] as a platform for avant-garde science fiction and fantasy. By 1969, New Worlds had become a beacon for transgressive work, regularly publishing forward-thinking authors from both sides of the Atlantic such as J. G. Ballard, Samuel R. Delany, Thomas M. Disch, Brian Aldiss, Roger Zelazny, and Rachel Pollack (under the name Richard R. Pollack).
“All of these New Worlds authors, and many others like them, challenged the predominantly optimistic outlook and linear storytelling techniques of science fiction up to that point. Theirs were not simplistic tales of intrepid explorers such as Heinlein’s Starman Jones. In their place, New Worlds substituted moral ambiguity, sexual fluidity, narrative experimentation, broken taboos, and sometimes even outright nihilism; Moorcock and crew wholeheartedly embraced William S. Burroughs’ incursions into genre-twisting radicalism as an integral part of the sci-fi canon—and the genre’s future.
“Moorcock published some of his own work in New Worlds, and it exemplified his ideal: a style that became known as the New Wave. In particular, his Jerry Cornelius series of novels and short stories—1965’s The Final Programme being the first book-length installment—summed up that wildly transitional period. In them, Cornelius is a mysterious, androgynous secret agent with a knack for sartorial elegance and introverted remove—and in his spare time, he’s also a rock star.”
moorcock

[cover art by Bob Haberfield]

All this digression might just be incidental for sure, but I do think it speaks considerably towards certain pertinent aspects of the culture that had been brewing for quite some time before given to full psychedelic ebullition in what is known as the Swinging Sixties. Although Bowie’s public arrival might most be associated with the 1970s, it should be remembered that it was within the London milieu of this previous era that he came of age and where he first sought with great–if unfocused–effort to make a connection with a chosen career. In certain respects the chrysalis of the sixties served as a pivotal casket and cradle for the artist; Bowie being an artist that produced and inhabited a multitude of these paradoxical zones throughout his life.
London towards the middle of the end for that decade, however, was a Mod scene of Mary Quant mini skirts on models named Twiggy, where freakbeat groups and bands of the British blues boom all tried to make it while shopping the boutiques from King’s Road to Carnaby Street. 
[spread by major fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez for the psychedelia-tinged Intro Magazine, in which “youth talks to youth in its own lingo.” Issue No.1, September 23rd 1967.]

[“Wild-Hair” spread by major fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez for the psychedelia-tinged Intro Magazine, in which “youth talks to youth in its own lingo.” Issue No.1, September 23rd 1967.]

International Times Vol.1 #22 December 15 - 28 1967: 'Are you afraid of the light?'

International Times, Vol.1 #22 December 15 – 28 1967: ‘Are you afraid of the light?’

At the counterculture art gallery and bookshop Indica (co-owned and run by writer Barry Miles, Peter Asher, the brother of Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Jane Asher, and artist John Dunbar, who was husband to Marianne Faithfull; it was here where where John Lennon first met Yoko Ono at her art exhibit there) one could pick up the latest edition of the underground newspaper, International Times (or it). On the street one could pick up a copy of The Process, a glossy and artistically designed magazine that was meant to increase both funds and followers for The Process Church of the Final Judgment. The Process Church were an apocalyptic cult that sought to wrench the world from The Grey Forces of social conformity, mediocrity, and whose goal was for the opposing psychological and spiritual archetypes of Jehovah, Lucifer, and Satan to all be reconciled in Christ. This multi-faceted (and often facetious) religious group was founded by the couple Mary Ann MacLean and Robert “DeGrimston” Moore who had both been “auditors” in Scientology but were declared “suppressive persons” by L. Ron Hubbard in 1965 when they broke off to explore their own version of mystic-psychotherapy based upon their new system: Compulsions Analysis.
With thematic issues dedicated to Sex, Fear, DeathFreedom of Expression, and other topics central to their faith, the Process magazine featured prominent cultural figures like Jagger, McCartney, Charles Manson, and The Incredible Hulk. The Process Church would also offer classes and lectures on telepathy, self-expression, communication, and later astrology, Tarot, and astral traveling. (As an aside, the George Clinton helmed group Funkadelic would release two intense records of lunatic funk–Maggot Brain in ’71 and America Eats Its Young in ’72–that were not only influenced by The Process Church but quoted at length from these magazines in their liner notes).
[Publisher Feral House released a collection and reproduction of 3 Process issues under the title, Propaganda and the Holy Writ of The Process Church of the Final Judgment. This followed their publication of, Love Sex Fear Death: The Inside Story of The Process Church of The Final Judgment, written by Timothy Wyllie, a formative member of The Process Church and the served as the magazine's art director.]

[Publisher Feral House released a collection and reproduction of 3 Process issues under the title, Propaganda and the Holy Writ of The Process Church of the Final Judgment. This followed their publication of, Love Sex Fear Death: The Inside Story of The Process Church of The Final Judgment, written by Timothy Wyllie, both a formative member of The Process Church and who served as the magazine’s art director.]

(Man! looking at these magazines and others like OZ (now completely digitized!) are really making me miss Laris Kreslins‘ and Jay Babcock‘s periodical Arthur, and Alan Moore‘s own Dodgem Logic, which during their runs were the closest equivalents in intelligence, humor, and beautiful graphic design in my lifetime to these fantastic counterculture zine’s!)

[ ARTHUR No. 25/Winter 2006]

[ Arthur No. 25/Winter 2006]

[Dodgem Logic #4, June 2010. cover art by John Coulthart]

[Dodgem Logic #4/June 2010. cover art by John Coulthart]

Despite the influence of flower power and its bleed into the everyday; despite the sudden room for a blooming desire towards self-exploration and an encouraging sense that simply being part of the “Now Generation” was a radical act; despite the psychic turmoil of the times–it should be noted that it was all still constricted by our mundane world of money, power, and manipulative advertisements for stationary, chewing gum, shampoo, alcohol, false eyelashes, etc., etc., … (For a succinct understanding of how liberation is quickly glommed on to by commerce, funneled towards fears of inadequacy and a simultaneous want for a remedy–a product–I recommend this brief overview on Feminine Deodorant Spray).

[Bowie, Lou Reed, Dorchester Hotel, London, 1972. photo by Mick Rock]

[Bowie, Lou Reed, Dorchester Hotel, London, 1972. photo by Mick Rock]

Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, on Lou Reed‘s superb LP of 1972, Transformer, Reed and Bowie sing:

Satellite’s gone up to the skies
Things like that drive me out of my mind
I watched it for a little while
I love to watch things on TV

In the much further strangled age of 1997 with the track “Looking for Satellites” from Earthling, Bowie intones this mantra into the nebulous breach between spirituality and television:

earthling

Nowhere, Shampoo, TV, Combat, Boyzone
Slim tie, Showdown, Can’t stop
Nowhere, Shampoo, TV, Combat, Boyzone
Slim tie, Showdown, Can’t stop
Where do we go from here?
There’s something in the sky
Shining in the light
Spinning and far away
Nowhere, Shampoo, TV, Combat, Boy’s own
Slim tie, Showdown, Can’t stop, (Satellite)
Nowhere, Shampoo, TV, Combat, (Satellite), Boyzone
Slim tie, Showdown, Can’t stop, (Satellite)
Nowhere, Shampoo, TV, Combat, (Satellite), Boyzone
Slim tie, Showdown, Can’t stop
Looking for satellites
Looking for satellites
Where do we go to now?
There’s nothing in our eyes
As lonely as a moon
Misty and far away
Nowhere, Shampoo, TV, Combat, Boyzone
Slim tie, Showdown, Can’t stop, (Satellite)
Nowhere, Shampoo, TV, Combat, (Satellite), Boyzone
Slim tie, Showdown, Can’t stop, (Satellite)
Nowhere, Shampoo, TV, Combat, (Satellite), Boyzone
Slim tie, Showdown, Can’t stop
Looking for satellites
Looking for satellites
Satellite, Satellite, Satellite, Satellite
Looking satellites
Looking satellites
Where do we go from here?
 Montag Stationery (R) Ad for Clark Gum 1967 “A Happening is you and Clark’s Gum Shuffle Shift Party Kit. You’re wearing our kicky Shuffle Shift” begins the ad copy. “You’re listening to a 2-sided stereo LP record of the famous Clark Gum Shuffle. And you’re doing that groovy TV dance! The kit includes illustrated instructions. Send for a Clark shuffle shift Party Kit. Its packed in a turned on fashion carry-all bag and consists of the disposable shuffle shift in your size, the stereo LP with 12 minutes of swinging shuffle tunes, and a super stick of Clark Fruit Punch gum.”

(left) Ad for Montag Stationery, 1967; (right) Ad for Clark Gum, 1967.
“A Happening is you and Clark’s Gum Shuffle Shift Party Kit. You’re wearing our kicky Shuffle Shift. You’re listening to a 2-sided stereo LP record of the famous Clark Gum Shuffle. And you’re doing that groovy TV dance! The kit includes illustrated instructions. Send for a Clark shuffle shift Party Kit. Its packed in a turned on fashion carry-all bag and consists of the disposable shuffle shift in your size, the stereo LP with 12 minutes of swinging shuffle tunes, and a super stick of Clark Fruit Punch gum.”

1967 "Pink is for Girls" advertisement for Lustre Creme Shampoo.]

1967 “Pink is for Girls” advertisement for Lustre Creme Shampoo.]

[1967 Smirnoff Skyball Vodka print ad]

[1967 Smirnoff Skyball Vodka print ad]

[from Seventeen magazine, 1967.]

[from Seventeen magazine, 1967.]

In this time Bowie must have felt what many who do not quite fit do, how “all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people/And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people” often feel : turned on and disgusted. The respected British historian whose academic focus is medieval history and “Orientalism,” Robert Irwin, turned to writing novels at the tail-end of the 70s. Irwin wonderfully captures the strange flavors produced through aimless enthusiasm and experimentation in the late 1960s in his exciting, black-magick-comedy of a novel,  Satan Wants Me (public library).
irwin-robert-satan-wants-me-50542-p
Published in 1999, written in the form of a diary kept by Sociology grad student Peter during the “Summer of Love Under Will” (to twist a central tenet of  Crowley’s Thelema), the book features numerous humorous remarks like:
“Cosmic told me a few months ago that he was hoping the world will end on a Wednesday. After thinking about this for a bit, I asked him why. He said that it would break up the week.”
Irwin has also written an endearing memoir of his youth when he searched for identity in London and Sufi enlightenment in Algeria: Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties (public library). His tale begins with the droll line: “It was in my first year at Oxford that I decided that I wanted to be a Muslim saint. I wish I could remember more.”
dervish
Irwin sets the scene so well within the chapter titled, The Summer Of 1967:
“By now, the sixties (in the sense of colorful clothes, long hair, drugs, tarot cards, the youth cult and the rest of it) were in full flood. […] Kaleidoscopic light shows, dancing in the nude, stoned laughter, silvery dresses and a lot of frivolity. According to Roland Barthes, “Tinsel is better than gold. It has all the qualities gold has, plus pathos,” and Barthes was echoed by the sixties photographer David Bailey, whose Box of Pin-ups declared, “David Bailey is fascinated by tinsel–a bright, brittle quality, the more appealing because it tarnishes so soon.
[David Bailey's Box of Pin-Ups, 1965]

[David Bailey’s Box of Pin-Ups, 1965]

“[…] But the trappings of the sixties gave warnings of their transience. One was supposed to wear flowers in one’s hair, the image of the butterfly was everywhere and a lot of bubbles were blown. The psychedelic moment was only a moment and it was obvious that it could not last. […]
24-prisoner-free-for-all

Patrick McGoohan’s paranoid head-game classic series of 1967-68 television, The Prisoner. “We all live in a little Village…Your village may be different from other people’s villages but we are all prisoners.” – Patrick McGoohan

“The summer of ’67 was very summery. In the TV series The Prisoner, the men paraded around in boaters and blazers and the women carried parasols. It was like that in Oxford too. As Nick Cohn put it: ‘Hippie was largely a summer sport. Bare feet and silks and universal brotherhoods–these things were not created for an English January.’
[Donovan and Jenny Boyd, fall 1967, photographed by Karl Ferris]

[Donovan and Jenny Boyd, fall 1967, photographed by Karl Ferris]

“The sun was celebrated in Donovan’s ‘A Sunny Day,’ ‘The Sun is a Very Magic Fellow,’ ‘Sunny South Kensington,’ ‘Sunshine Superman,’ and ‘Writer in the Sun.’ The summer’s beauty gave an edge to what was going to happen.
velvet
“In March one of the great rock albums of all time was released, The Velvet Underground and Nico, the vinyl embodiment of nihilistic New York cool. The lazy, lush, lulling cadences of the opening track, “Sunday Morning,” are deceptive, for they deal with paranoia.
[…]
[art by Gerald Scarfe for the cover story concerning Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in the Sept. 22, 1967, issue of Time.

[art by Gerald Scarfe for the cover story concerning Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the Sept. 22, 1967, issue of Time.

“In June the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was the anthem of 1967. In Oxford colleges it was played over and over again and we searched the lyrics for hidden meanings. Beneath all the brassy oompah, there was an undertone of sadness to that record. […] In general, it is striking how many of the pop lyrics were set in the future and looked back to the present from a position of defeat and compromise. […] It was as if regrets were being stockpiled for the future […]. Defeat, the sell-out to maturity and ‘the toad work’ were almost universally anticipated by the lyricists. It was also anticipated that the first love would not last. Even so, as the International Times put it sometime in 1967, ‘If our ideas are squashed in the future we can look back on the ball we had now.’ I did have a ball, but a sad one.”
[The Beatles, by Richard Avedon (August 11, 1967)]

[The Beatles, by Richard Avedon (August 11, 1967)]

Diversifying their approach to songs with both wholly original constructions and organically borrowed, nostalgic musical sensibilities all dressed up in dazzling innovations in sound recording for heightened emotional impact, The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band truly demonstrated a strange liberation of form for popular music. The record was both an experience and a journey inside the listener. This ambitious album by an experimental pop group had an incalculable impact upon the world. As Ian MacDonald wrote in his exceptional track-by-track assessment of The Beatles’ output, Revolution In The Head (public library):

“When Sgt. Pepper was released in June [of 1967], it was a

major cultural event. Young and old alike were entranced. […]

In America normal radio-play was virtually suspended for

several days, only tracks from Sgt. Pepper being played. An

almost religious awe surrounded the LP. Paul Kantner of the

San Francisco acid rock band Jefferson Airplane remembers

how The ByrdsDavid Crosby brought a tape of Sgt. Pepper

to their Seattle hotel and played it all night in the lobby with a

hundred young fans listening quietly on the stairs, as if rapt by a

spiritual experience. ‘Something,’ says Kantner, ‘enveloped the

whole world at that time and it just exploded into a renaissance.’

The psychic shiver which Sgt. Pepper sent through the

world was nothing less than a cinematic dissolve from one

Zeitgeist to another. In The Times, Kenneth Tynan called it

‘a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization,’ a

remark now laughed at but nonetheless true, if perhaps not quite

in the way that it was intended. As the shock wore off, voices

from an earlier age began to complain that this music was

absolutely saturated in drugs. Not wishing to promote LSD,

the BBC banned ‘A Day In The Life‘ and ‘Lucy In The Sky

With Diamonds,’ while others found drug references in

Fixing A Hole‘ and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends.’

More Bizarrely, ‘She’s Leaving Home‘ was attacked by

religious groups in America as a cryptic advertisement for

abortion.

“While half these claims were spurious, it would be silly

to pretend that Sgt. Pepper wasn’t fundamentally shaped by LSD.

The Album’s sound—in particular its use of various forms of echo

and reverb—remains the most authentic aural simulation of the

psychedelic experience ever created. At the same time, something

else dwells in it: a distillation of the spirit of 1967 as it was felt by

vast numbers across the Western world who had never taken drugs in

their lives. If such a thing as a cultural ‘contact high’ is possible, it

happened here. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band may not have

created the psychic atmosphere of the time but, as a near-perfect

reflection of it, this famous record magnified and radiated it around

the world.”

Throughout the sixties, young Bowie certainly positioned himself as a face on the London music scene, but one whose artistic ambitions and outlets were in constant flux.
Kon-rads
He was only 15 in 1962 when he joined The Kon-rads as a saxophone player and sometime singer under the stage name David Jay. Performing pop songs with a rock-n-roll backbeat, the group mainly played clubs, pubs, and halls in and around Bromley in south east London. Approaching the age of twenty, by 1967 Bowie had tested various styles and attitudes with a more mod or Bob Dylan-like boho-chic appeal while embracing blues and soul-inflected rock music through a series of bands: Davie Jones and the King Beesthe Mannish Boysthe Lower Thirdthe Buzz, and the Riot Squad.
[David Bowie with The Lower Third, 1965]

[David Bowie with The Lower Third, 1965]

Although his performances were respected, not one of his groups were ever able to really land a hit single or get play on the radio. Bowie was also running around at this time with close friend and rival, fellow London mod Mark Feld. Feld would soon morph into the psychedelic-folk artist Marc Bolan before pioneering glam-boogie with his sensational music project, T. Rex (Bowie and Bolan both would come to rely heavily on American producer Tony Visconti when creating some of their definitive work).
[July 1968 debut by Tyrannosaurus Rex: My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows]

[July 1968 debut by Tyrannosaurus Rex: My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows]

[Bowie in 1967, photo by Dezo Hoffmann]

[Bowie in 1967, photo by Dezo Hoffmann]

 On June 1st 1967 Deram Records released Bowie’s first solo record (eponymous, it would later be re-released with the title, The World of David Bowie). This collection was a charming and often silly amalgam of mannered, pop novelty character studies that flirted with the baroque, vaudeville, subversive nursery rhymes, and a distinctly British strain of whimsical psychedelia. Although the album desperately tries to convey that it is coming from a “professional entertainer” it really is pretty passé or at least completely out of step with the contemporaneous trends and sonic innovations from say the likes of Jimi Hendrix with Are You Experienced and Pink Floyd‘s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. (Yet, I’ve always been quite partial to certain songs of his from this era like the melodious, “Silly Boy Blue“; the thumping gender-bender, “She’s Got Medals“; and the b-side to his insane novelty “Laughing Gnome,” “The Gospel According to Tony Day” a tune that wears its “I’m so hip” heart right out on its aloof sleeve).
tonyday

[released April 14 1967]

Of course the most drastic example of The World of David Bowie‘s dissonance with the times is the fact that this debut was released on the exact same day as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I find it telling that Bowie would not release any more recorded music for another two years, not until 1969 and “Space Oddity.” Frustrated, Bowie’s low self-esteem must have truly been wounded by his debut’s poor reception. “Space Oddity” however, would be released to coincide within days of the The United States’ Apollo 11 moon landing, become a No. 5 hit in the UK, and get him awarded with an Ivor Novello Award from the Songwriters’ guild of Great Britain for Best Original Song on May 10th 1970. This not only provided his career with much needed traction but I’m sure the reception for his cinematic tale of desolation gave him the confidence to forge ahead with his vision and create his next two records of disturbing self-analysis and esoteric thoughts delivered eloquently through strangely accessible song structures: The Man Who Sold the World (’70) and Hunky Dory (’71).

 manwhosoldtheworld

I believe that Bowie had been buried under the sixties, but he managed to get way out ahead of the seventies. Bowie’s pursuit of recognition and his search for expression as an artist was not some velleity. He was motivated and moved constantly towards some goal.

[During Marc Bolan's 1969 T. Rex tour Bowie was the opening act, performing his one-man mime routine depicting China’s invasion of Tibet. The Communist sympathizer students booed]

[During Marc Bolan’s 1969 T. Rex tour Bowie was the opening act, performing his one-man mime routine depicting China’s invasion of Tibet. The Communist sympathizer students booed]

Even before The World of David Bowie had failed he had moved on to new avenues of creativity and would continue to do so over the next several years: immersing himself in mime and theater; participating in the creation of the Beckenham Arts Lab where artists of various mediums collaborated; creating the promotional film, Love You till Tuesday, which was designed to showcase the different facets of his talents, and in late 1968 he briefly led his girlfriend Hermione Fatheringale on vocals and guitar and guitarist John “Hutch” Hutchinson in a folk-rock trio called Feathers, which was to also serve as a troupe of sorts performing poetry and mime. 
[Feathers in '68]

[Feathers in ’68]

Again, none of these would bring him much recognition until “Space Oddity” and that itself nearly hemmed him in as a one-hit-wonder.
[Bowie's 2nd record released in Nov. 1969 under various titles, "Space Oddity, Man of Words/Man of Music, and as another eponymous record, David Bowie. Based on sketches provided by Bowie, the cover art was created by his good friend since they were eight-years-old, George Underwood. It's a fight over a girl and George Underwood's 15-year-old fist that was responsible for damaging Bowie's eye, making them appear to be two different colors]

[Bowie’s 2nd record released in Nov. 1969 under various titles, Space Oddity, Man of Words/Man of Music, and as yet another eponymous record, David Bowie. Based on sketches provided by Bowie, the cover art was created by his good friend since eight-years-old, George Underwood. It’s a fight over a girl and George Underwood’s 15-year-old fist that was responsible for damaging Bowie’s eye, making them appear to be two different colors]

[Bowie's sketch for Space Oddity, 1969]

[Bowie’s sketch for Space Oddity, 1969]

As the youthquake began to corrode from the contentment of All You Need Is Love towards the blisters of Helter Skelter, Bowie would intelligently take note of how two other under-appreciated but brilliant artists had shown him a path towards the white light/white heat he instinctively knew he needed to fulfill his artistic vision: Lou Reed, from the Velvet Underground, and Iggy Pop, from the Stooges. (Also my failure to address the enormous influence his ex-wife Angie Barnett had upon him at this time is surely plain rude on my part, but as this is not intended as a biography I do not have time to engage in that complicated relationship here).
[Bowie would go on to co-produce The Stooges' Raw Power ('73), & Iggy Pop's two solo masterpieces, both released in '77: The Idiot and Lust for Life]

[Bowie would go on to co-produce The Stooges’ Raw Power (’73), & Iggy Pop’s two solo masterpieces, both released in ’77: The Idiot and Lust for Life]

[David with Angie & their nearly 3 year old son, future director Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones at the Amstel Hotel, Amsterdam, 7th FEBRUARY 1974.]

[David with Angie & their nearly 3 year old son, future director of the great 2009 sci-fi film Moon, Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones at the Amstel Hotel, Amsterdam, 7th FEBRUARY 1974.]

.
[Danseuses, c. 1959 & Saltimbanques, 1954, by Helen Phillips (3/3/1913--1/23/1995). Phillips created both intaglio prints and worked in bronze, carved wood, and stone to create anthropomorphic figures that are locked in perpetual motion]

[Danseuses, c. 1959 & Saltimbanques, 1954, by Helen Phillips (3/3/1913–1/23/1995). Phillips created both intaglio prints and worked in bronze, carved wood, and stone to create anthropomorphic figures that are locked in perpetual motion]

In the face of opposition,
in the midst of insecurity,
among conflicting directions and ideas,
one grasps an image….
The image is my stability.
                    –Helen Philips, 1948

However, a problem would persist in Bowie’s career until he presented a startling solution in 1972. His mercurial displays of his talents and interests left a potential audience with little to grasp in terms of a personality. Even with the novelties of 1967 it was clear that he was an artist searching for a way to successfully marry theatricality to pop, but was lacking a vehicle that could carry its weird shape. Thus, Bowie was an entertainer without an audience. Perhaps Bowie was more noise than signal, but what was needed was not a slant towards the latter but a fascinating manner with which to carry the voluminous information contained within that noise. His fix for this dilemma should be seen more as an ingenious pop experiment than just a innovative trend in music.

[published by Harper in 2012]

[published by Harper in 2012]

 Peter Doggett has written what is perhaps the most impressive and comprehensive book I’ve read on Bowie’s work of the sixties and seventies, The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s (public library). This music journalist is also behind the sensitive, thorough, and thoroughly engaging book, You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup (public library). In the opening chapter of The Man Who Sold the World Doggett perfectly addresses both what I characterize as a dilemma and Bowie’s shrewd solution. Doggett likewise stresses The Beatles as the dominant mirror and mover of the sixties, but places it in a context of Bowie being the same for his own distinct “long decade” of the seventies. With a deference to Doggett’s talent, I will quote him at length:
“Like the Beatles in the decade before him, Bowie was popular culture’s most reliable guide to the fever of the seventies. The Beatles’ lives and music had reflected a series of shifts and surges in the mood of their generation, through youthful exuberance, satirical mischievousness, spiritual and chemical exploration, political and cultural dissent, and finally depression and fragmentation. The decade of David Bowie was altogether more challenging to track. It was fired not by idealism or optimism but by dread and misgiving. Perhaps because the sixties had felt like an era of progress, the seventies was a time of stasis, of dead ends and power failures, of reckless hedonism and sharp reprisals. The words that haunted the culture were decline, depression, despair: the energy of society was running out, literally (as environmentalists proclaimed the imminent exhaustion of fossil fuel supplies) and metaphorically.
[…]
“What enabled David Bowie to reflect the fear and chaos of the new decade was precisely the fact that he had been so out of tune with the sixties. He was one of the first pop commentators to complain that the optimism that enraptured the youth of the West in the mid-­sixties was hollow and illusory. His negativity seemed anachronistic, but it merely anticipated the realization that Western society could not fuel and satisfy the optimism of sixties youth culture. “Space Oddity” aside, his work of 1969–70 failed to reach the mass audience who heard the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed or John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, two albums that also tore away the pretensions of the recent past. But even those records paled alongside the nihilistic determinism of Bowie’s first two albums in his new guise as cultural prophet and doom-­monger.
“Unable to secure a mass audience for his explorations of a society in the process of fragmentation, he decided to create an imaginary hero who could entrance and then educate the pop audience—and to play the leading role himself. Since the start of his professional career as an entertainer in 1964, he had used his brief experience as a visualizer in an advertising agency to rebrand himself in a dozen different disguises. Now he would concentrate on a single product and establish a brand so powerful that it would be impossible to ignore. The creation of Ziggy Stardust in 1972 amounted to a conceptual art statement: rather than pursuing fame, as he had in the past, Bowie would act as if he were already famous beyond dispute, and present himself to the masses as an exotic creature from another planet.
david-bowie-ziggy-stardust-performance
“Ziggy would live outside the norms of earthly society: he would be male and female, gay and straight, human and alien, an eternal outsider who could act as a beacon for anyone who felt ostracized from the world around them. Aimed at a generation of adolescents emerging into an unsettling and fearful world, his hero could not help but become a superstar. Whereupon Bowie removed him from circulation, destroying the illusion that had made him famous. What happened next was what made Bowie not just a canny manipulator of pop tastes, but a significant and enduring figure in twentieth-­century popular culture. He channeled the momentum of Ziggy Stardust’s twelve months of fame into a series of artistic and psychological experiments that tugged at the margins of popular entertainment, and at the cohesion of his own psyche.
“Between 1974 and 1980, Bowie effectively withdrew from the world around him and created his own microculture—a bewildering landscape in which nothing was fixed and everything familiar was certain to change shape before the observer’s eyes. Bowie’s methods were simple, and devastating: he placed himself into alien environments and cultures (New York, Los Angeles, Berlin; R&B music, experimental rock, ambient soundscapes), turned them to his own devices, and then systematically demolished what he had just created. In each situation, he pushed himself, and his surroundings, to their limits, to see whether they would crack or bend. Then he moved on, relentlessly and compulsively, to the next incarnation.”
[created by Helen Green]

[created by Helen Green]

[art by Erin McGuire]

[art by Erin McGuire]

Yes Bowie was raised within “Pop Culture” and was quite aware of how commerce grew engorged when attached to “Youth Culture.” Perhaps with strong hints of cynicism he played with its facets and drives as a medium. Having placed Vance Packard‘s 1957 account of advertising agency psychologists The Hidden Persuaders (public library) on his list of 100 books, I’m sure Bowie was familiar with these words from Aldous Huxley‘s 1958 essay, Brave New World Revisited (public library):
“The principles underlying propaganda are extremely simple. Find some common desire, some widespread unconscious fear or anxiety; think out some way to relate this wish or fear to the product you have to sell; then build a bridge of verbal or pictorial symbols over which your customer can pass from fact to compensatory dream, and from the dream to the illusion that your product, when purchased, will make the dream come true. They are selling hope.
“We no longer buy oranges, we buy vitality. We do not just buy an auto, we buy prestige. And so with all the rest. In toothpaste, for example, we buy not a mere cleanser and antiseptic, but release from the fear of being sexually repulsive. In vodka and whisky we are not buying a protoplasmic poison which in small doses, may depress the nervous system in a psychologically valuable way; we are buying friendliness and good fellowship, the warmth of Dingley Dell and the brilliance of the Mermaid Tavern. With our laxatives we buy the health of a Greek god. With the monthly best seller we acquire culture, the envy of our less literate neighbors and the respect of the sophisticated. In every case the motivation analyst has found some deep-seated wish or fear, whose energy can be used to move the customer to part with cash and so, indirectly, to turn the wheels of industry.”
[Already in 1939 photographer Barbara Morgan created this surrealist-inspired photomontage Hearst Over the People to express her concern over the media-tycoons power and influence over the people by portraying him as a monstrous, Lovecraft-like deity.]

[Already in 1939 photographer Barbara Morgan created this surrealist-inspired photomontage–Hearst Over the People–to express her concern over the media-tycoon’s power and influence over the people by portraying him as a monstrous, Lovecraft-like deity.]

"First they give you everything that you want/Then they take back everything that you have/They live upon their feet and they die upon their knees/They can work with satan while they dress like the saints/They know God exists for the devil told them so/They scream my name aloud down into the well below" [still from the 2013 Floria Sigismondi directed video for "The Next Day"

First they give you everything that you want/Then they take back everything that you have/They live upon their feet and they die upon their knees/They can work with satan while they dress like the saints/They know God exists for the devil told them so/They scream my name aloud down into the well below” [still from the 2013 Floria Sigismondi directed video for “The Next Day

[film still from Blackstar directed by Johan Renck]

[film still from Blackstar directed by Johan Renck]

Yet, with bowie there is a sincere yearning for some faith to be healed and held up over our world of disappointments, frauds, manipulation, and trauma; there is a true search for what could be called spiritual sustenance.
“I have found over these last few years, that the one continuum that is throughout my writing is a real simple, spiritual search. Everything that I seem to have written, in some way or other, keeps refocusing on the idea that in the late 20th Century, we are without our God. That what we’re heading for is an era where we have to completely demobilize our religious organizations and reinvent God in some form or other. We really have to reinvent God. I think that our religious philosophies trail so far behind the way that we actually live today that we find ourselves in a spiritual void, and I think it affects the young very much indeed. I think that that does intervene with Outside in that way. What it does do to resurrect the theme of Outside is that we continually try and find ritual, but we have no religious order to connect that ritual to. Yet we go through the actions of ritualization. We go though pinning ourselves and tattooing ourselves, developing a pagan, tribal kind of authenticity to a religious life that we don’t actually have. So we have to reinvent God, I think, in our own new way of life to give ourselves another form of spiritual sustenance. And everything I’ve written is about ‘Who is my God? How does he show himself? What is my higher stage, my higher being?'” (David Bowie, Music Paper, 1997)
In an article by Ian Penman particularly regarding the record 1.Outside, “The Resurrection of Saint Dave” for Esquire Magazine (October 1995), Bowie said:
 “My input revolved around the idea of ritual art—what options were there open to that kind of quasi-sacrificial blood-obsessed sort of art form? And the idea of a neo-paganism developing-especially in America-with the advent of the new cults of tattooing and scarification and piercings and all that … people have a real need for some spiritual life and I think there’s great spiritual starving going on. There’s a hole that’s been vacated by an authoritative religious body—the Judeo-Christian ethic doesn’t seem to embrace all the things that people actually need to have dealt with in that way—and it’s sort of been left to popular culture to soak up the leftover bits like violence and sex.”
 ["A bird sings best in its family tree" - Jean Cocteau]

[“A bird sings best in its family tree” – Jean Cocteau]

(To steal the words that the family of itinerant entertainers use to describe all human beings that do not belong to the circus in Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s psychomagical investigation of his own family tree, the semi-autobiographical novel, Where the Bird Sings Best (public library), Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust often seemed to shout intimately, with compassion and humor at his audience: “We are pure and they are false, like slips of paper stacked to look like money.” A major portion of Bowie’s appeal is not that he was radically different, but that he was radically self-expressive.
[The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate 11. 1790]

[The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate 11. 1790]

At times Bowie’s work does seem to reflect directly a complicated statement made in the Proverbs of Hell section of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (public library) by perhaps the most visionary of Britons, William Blake:
Exuberance is Beauty.
[Surgeon to Queen Victoria and serial killer "Jack the Ripper," William Withey Gull encounters his Masonic god Jahbulon in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, which explores how this ritual murderer served as midwife to the birth of the Twentieth Century where a male hegemony has societal dominance over women and the rstern, ational, Apollonian conscious mind dominates over the fertile irrational, Dionysian unconscious.

[Surgeon to Queen Victoria and serial killer “Jack the Ripper,” William Withey Gull encounters his Masonic god Jahbulon in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell‘s From Hell (published in serial form from 1989 to 1996), which explores how this ritual murderer served as midwife to the birth of the Twentieth Century where a male hegemony has societal dominance over women and the stern, “rational,” Apollonian conscious mind dominates over the fertile, “irrational,” Dionysian unconscious.

     “The voice of our Right Brain, the mind’s Atlantis,” as he is called by Alan Moore‘s Sir William Gull/Jack the Ripper in the ingenious graphic novel From Hell (public library), I’d like to momentarily use William Blake as an orientation point for the following, as I try to approach Bowie’s art from yet another tangential angle.
[Art by James Harvey, 2016: "David Bowie taught us how to be. Searching, inquisitive, open, compassionate, curious, provocative, and challenging. Looking back on his life as a whole, though, he taught us how to be."]

[Art by James Harvey, 2016: “David Bowie taught us how to be. Searching, inquisitive, open, compassionate, curious, provocative, and challenging. Looking back on his life as a whole, though, he taught us how to be.”]

Instinctively theatrical, Bowie believed in “creating a sense of the cultural spin by amalgamating all these different threads” as he said on a March 31, 1998 episode of The Charlie Rose Show. Bowie’s mind was spectacularly omnivorous. Perhaps he did make distinctions between Pop and Avant-garde, but he certainly delighted in where the two could meet. Using the immediacy associated with pop and rock mediums, Bowie could deliver a range of strange and powerful emotions and ideas rarely conveyed in popular music.
When the David Bowie Is touring exhibition (an unprecedented access to the artist’s personal archive) arrived at the Art Gallery of Ontario it coincided with the curators (Geoffrey Marsh and Victoria Broackes) releasing a list of David Bowie’s Top 100 Must Read Books.
[Bowie's 1987 poster for the American Library Association's READ campaign to promote literacy.]

[Bowie’s 1987 poster for the American Library Association’s READ campaign to promote literacy.]

David Bowie’s top 100 must-read books
The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby (2008)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz (2007)
The Coast of Utopia (trilogy), Tom Stoppard (2007)
Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945, Jon Savage (2007)
Fingersmith, Sarah Waters (2002)
The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens (2001)
Mr Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler (1997)
A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1890-1924, Orlando Figes (1997)
The Insult, Rupert Thomson (1996)
Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon (1995)
The Bird Artist, Howard Norman (1994)
Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir, Anatole Broyard (1993)
Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective, Arthur C Danto (1992)
Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Camille Paglia (1990)
David Bomberg, Richard Cork (1988)
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, Peter Guralnick (1986)
The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin (1986)
Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd (1985)
Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, Gerri Hirshey (1984)
Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter (1984)
Money, Martin Amis (1984)
White Noise, Don DeLillo (1984)
Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes (1984)
The Life and Times of Little Richard, Charles White (1984)
A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn (1980)
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester (1980)
Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler (1980)
Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess (1980)
Raw, a “graphix magazine” (1980-91)
Viz, magazine (1979 –)
The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels (1979)
Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz (1978)
In Between the Sheets, Ian McEwan (1978)
Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, ed Malcolm Cowley (1977)
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes (1976)
Tales of Beatnik Glory, Ed Saunders (1975)
Mystery Train, Greil Marcus (1975)
Selected Poems, Frank O’Hara (1974)
Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, Otto Friedrich (1972)
In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture, George Steiner (1971)
Octobriana and the Russian Underground, Peter Sadecky (1971)
The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Charlie Gillett(1970)
The Quest for Christa T, Christa Wolf (1968)
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock, Nik Cohn (1968)
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
Journey into the Whirlwind, Eugenia Ginzburg (1967)
Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr (1966)
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1965)
City of Night, John Rechy (1965)
Herzog, Saul Bellow (1964)
Puckoon, Spike Milligan (1963)
The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford (1963)
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea, Yukio Mishima (1963)
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin (1963)
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)
Inside the Whale and Other Essays, George Orwell (1962)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark (1961)
Private Eye, magazine (1961 –)
On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious, Douglas Harding (1961)
Silence: Lectures and Writing, John Cage (1961)
Strange People, Frank Edwards (1961)
The Divided Self, RD Laing (1960)
All the Emperor’s Horses, David Kidd (1960)
Billy Liar, Keith Waterhouse (1959)
The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)
On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1957)
The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard (1957)
Room at the Top, John Braine (1957)
A Grave for a Dolphin, Alberto Denti di Pirajno (1956)
The Outsider, Colin Wilson (1956)
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (1949)
The Street, Ann Petry (1946)
Black Boy, Richard Wright (1945)
Among these titles is George Steiner‘s 1971 work of essays In Bluebeard’s castle: Some Notes Towards a Redefinition of Culture (public library).  It is this book that, as Dr. Kathryn Johnson writes, “first introduced Bowie to an idea that would later become a central tenet of postmodernism: the conflation of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture.”
steiner
Bowie himself would say that Steiner’s book “was the first thing I read on post-modernism.” In a 2003 interview with Ingrid Sischy he continued, “That book just confirmed for me that there was actually some kind of theory behind what I was doing with my work…I have an undiminished idea of variability. I don’t think there’s one truth, one absolute.” In an ’95 interview with Ian Penman, Bowie shared these thoughts:
“I see no way we can go back, philosophically, to a world of absolutes. Which I feel very comfortable with and I always have done….I think seeing the problems that historians themselves have with revisionism of history it seems almost nonsensical for the layman to even bother to try and analyze history any more in a straight narrative way. In a way history almost ceases to exist—possibly we can’t really entertain the idea of a future in the same way. Which may be not a bad thing.”
bowiemickrock

[1972 photo by Mick Rock of Bowie holding the cover of Hunky Dory released the prior year in December of 1971]

 Steiner perceived Western culture as “irremediably shattered,” or comprised, as Bowie would describe it, of a “pluralistic vocabulary.” Steiner points out that In a world such as this, where cultural references and tastes become personally framed, “much of the mental performance of society now transpires in the middle zone of personal eclecticism.” There is no longer much of a common canon inherited as automatically of value over other cultural artifacts. This being a modern cultural fact, I can’t help but believe that the most visionary of our artists no longer attempted to work within a certain medium but strived to become mediums themselves.
Blake_Jerusalem_Plate_26_copy_E

[Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion, William Blake, 1820]

William Blake, who proclaimed “The Eternal body of Man is The Imagination, that is, God himself,” certainly bypassed the conundrum of canon and became a medium of himself. As he writes in Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion:
I must Create a System. or be enslav’d by another Mans
I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create
[The Archer, avid Bowie on the Station To Station tour at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Feb 1976. Photo by John Rowlands]

[The Archer, David Bowie on the Station To Station tour at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Feb 1976. Photo by John Rowlands]

Personally, I believe David Bowie accomplished the same in the end, and this was an aim stated by him in an interview by Stuart Grundy for BBC Radio in 1976:
  “I wanted to turn people on to the new things and new perspectives…I always wanted to be that sort of catalytic kind of thing.” […] “I had to govern everything around that and I just…decided to use the easiest medium to start off with which was rock ‘n’ roll, and then to add pieces to it over the years and so that really by the end of it I was my own medium…I mean hopefully that’ll happen one day…that’s really why I do it…to become a medium […] I guess I was one of the first to come out and say I’m using rock n roll, it’s not my life…I’m only using it as a medium.”
"Jung the foreman prayed at work / Neither hands nor limbs would burst" - "Drive-In Saturday" released as a single off of Aladdin Sane on April 6 1973]

“Jung the foreman prayed at work / Neither hands nor limbs would burst” – “Drive-In Saturday” released as a single off of Aladdin Sane on April 6 1973]

      With respect to the imagination and creativity as the essence of life and becoming one’s own medium as well, this returns my thoughts to Jung and Tanja Stark’s essay. In it she stresses how Jung “encouraged individuals to embark on their own process of engagement with the unconscious to discover their own myth.” Is not a culmination of all his decades of work The Myth of David Bowie?

SOZA16Z-H: Exterior of Étant donnés. Credit: Photo by Jason Wierzbicki, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

[Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau / 2° le gaz d'éclairage (or in English, Given: 1. The Waterfall / 2. The Illuminating Gas) is Marcel Duchamp's last major art work. Begun in 1946 and completed in 1966, it was visible only through a pair of peep holes in a wooden door]

[Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau / 2° le gaz d’éclairage (or in English, Given: 1. The Waterfall / 2. The Illuminating Gas) is Marcel Duchamp’s last major art work. Begun in 1946 and completed in 1966, it was visible only through a pair of peep holes in a wooden door]

This line of thinking seems to reflect a statement made by the artist Marcel Duchamp (Frida Kahlo once described Duchamp as “a marvelous painter who is the only one who has his feet on the earth, among all this bunch of coocoo lunatic son of bitches of the surrealists). Two years before his death in 1968, in the summer of 1966 the Belgian director, Jean Antoine, filmed an interview with Duchamp in his Neuilly studio where Duchamp states:
“Using painting, using art, to create a modus vivendi, a way of understanding life; that is, for the time being, of trying to make my life into a work of art itself, instead of spending my life creating works of art in the form of paintings or sculptures. I now believe that you can quite readily treat your life, the way you breathe, act, interact with other people, as a picture, a tableau vivant or a film scene, so to speak. These are my conclusions now: I never set out to do this when I was 20 or 15, but I realize, after many years, that this was fundamentally what I was aiming to do.”
[originally Published by New York’s Maecenas Press-Random House in 1969]

[Down the Rabbit Hole by Dalí, originally Published by New York’s Maecenas Press-Random House in 1969]

Recently I was reading the Mark Burstein penned introduction essay to the Salvador Dalí illustrated edition of Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (public library) and in it he references another quote by Marcel Duchamp that I found intriguing and enlightening. Where as Bowie asked “Where Are We Now?” (on his penultimate, 2013 album, the violent and chthonic The Next Day) Duchamp asked at a March 1961 Symposium at Philadelphia Museum College of Art: “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
“Therefore I am inclined, after this examination of the past, to believe that the young artist of tomorrow will refuse to base his work on a philosophy as over-simplified as that of the ‘representative and the non-representative’ dilemma.
“I am convinced that, like Alice in Wonderland, [the young artist of tomorrow] will be led to pass through the looking glass of the retina, to reach a more profound expression.”
Where_Are_We_Now_video

[still from the video for “Where Are We Now?” created by Bowie & artist Tony Oursler, released on January 8 2013, Bowie’s 66th birthday: A man lost in time/Near KaDeWe/Just walking the dead/As long as there’s sun/As long as there’s rain/As long as there’s fire/As long as there’s me/As long as there’s you]

    When attempting to analyze Bowie’s “more profound expression”–words seem to fail me. Despite my obvious inadequacy and desultory approach to art theory and critique, I do fully feel the whole of David Bowie’s work. It is a work that is to be experienced and appreciated on a cerebral stage as well as on the more ineffable level of the psyche, or soul, or wherever we call that place that sings out in response to some objet d’art. Bowie was attempting to disseminate exquisite abstractions through an imaginative manipulation of high art, camp, pop, humor, consumer capitalism, spiritual concerns, and the relationships between the more superficial aesthetics and an interior reality. Bowie’s work was one of both the stars and the intestines as they are situated in the soul.
BlackstarBooklet03
starfield
letsdance
I did grow up with a regular radio rotation of Bowie’s tight hits of the 1980s like “Modern Love” and “Let’s Dance,” and at 6 years old my uncle Raul introduced me to Jareth, the Goblin King when he took me to see the fantastic film created by Jim Henson, George Lucas, and Terry Jones (of Monty Python): Labyrinth.
Labyrinth
peterwolf
bing
Likewise I was raised with the yearly presence of the 1978 recording David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and what in retrospect is the surreal 1977 duet of Bowie and Bing Crosby performing “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” for the television special, Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas. I would not learn until years later that around the same period of my childhood Bowie was given unanimous praise for his role as John Merrick in the 1980-81 theatrical run of Bernard Pomerance‘s stage play The Elephant Man, performed the titular anti-hero role for a 1982 BBC television production of Bertolt Brecht’s play Baal, and played Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese‘s controversial film of 1988 The Last Temptation of Christ.
Elephant
baal
lasttemptationchrist
Entering my teens I was an intense fan of David Lynch‘s Twin Peaks and knew that it was a David Bowie cameo when we meet missing FBI agent Philip Jeffries in the series’ 1992 prequel film, Fire Walk with Me.
firewalkwithme

“Who do you think this is, there? I found something… and then there they were!”

However, in many ways my first true introduction to him as a living artist was when David Bowie released the album 1.Outside in 1995.
Bowiesmoke
(I had just turned 15 and was obsessed with Nine Inch NailsThe Downward Spiral. Christmas of that year I received as gifts from my parents and aunt the cds, The Best of the Velvet Underground: Words and Music of Lou Reed; The Best of Blondie; and two Bowie compilations, Changesbowie and Essential – Best of 1969 – 1974. Whether an admonitory statement or perhaps a clue towards a key, I’ll always recall how my aunt Stela said to me that wintry day, “You know Bowie is not like the other music we listen to. He’s not a musician. He’s an artist. Es un artista totalmente.”)
Bowiemask
With its subtitle of the Ritual Art-Murder of Baby Grace Blue: A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle, I’ve always found 1.Outside to be quite enthralling, particularly in the insidious manner in which its dense grit and reeling textures work to distress and derange the listener.
outsideera
On his fantastic blog Pushing Ahead of the Dame for a post concerning the three lengthy and improvisational Leon suites that would mutate into OutsideChris O’Leary writes:
Outside would be aptly named. While the album featured some of Bowie’s finest songs of his later years, they were hard to discern. The bizarre quasi-narrative that Bowie created to frame the record was a ruse, just David Lynchian window-dressing, but it also was a crazy quilt of Bowie’s various obsessions—Arthurian legend, Gnosticism, Aleister Crowley, etc.—a stream of associations flooding into the work, as if a dam had burst. Outside was defined by, and consumed with, interpretation and perception. It seemed to be nothing but a frame, a frame that housed smaller frames and circus-house mirrors. Its underlying tension (it’s Bowie’s most claustrophobic album, which is saying something) came from the collision of the public image of “Eno and Bowie” and the pair’s thwarted desires to erase themselves. So Bowie called himself an author, creating a set of characters in a narrative that intentionally made no sense, while Eno wrote a set of science fiction scenarios and made a group of rock musicians act them out.”
[photo by John Rankin Waddell, 1995]

[photo by John Rankin Waddell, 1995]

Bowie’s hand-scrawled notes for this album are on display near the entrance to the The Victoria and Albert Museum’s internationally touring exhibit David Bowie Is, and in them you can read:
“Taking the present philosophical line we don’t expect our audience to necessarily seek an explanation from ourselves. We assign that role to the listener and to a culture. As both of these are in a state of permanent change there will be a constant ‘drift’ in interpretation. All art is unstable. Its meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author. There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings.”
bowie-Heart's-Lesson
To riff off of one of George Steiner’s views, creativity is essentially a diasporic condition. It is exactly this unstable condition that both allures me to Bowie’s work and that makes it difficult for me to write about. He is a moving target (and I a poor marksmen).
david-bowie-berklee-college-music-commencement-speech
As Bowie said in his speech at a 1999 graduation ceremony where he received an honorary doctorate from the prestigious Berklee College of Music:
 
“So it seemed that authenticity and the natural form of expression wasn’t going to be my forte. In fact, what I found that I was good at doing, and what I really enjoyed the most, was the game of ‘what if?’ What if you combined Brecht-Weill musical drama with rhythm and blues? What happens if you transplant the French chanson with the Philly sound? Will Schoenberg lie comfortably with Little Richard? Can you put haggis and snails on the same plate? Well, no, but some of the ideas did work out very well.
[…]
“And then I went on a crusade, I suppose, to change the kind of information that rock music contained. I adored Coltrane, Harry Parch, Eric Dolphy, Velvet Underground, John Cage, Sonny Stitt. Unfortunately, I also loved Anthony Newley, Florence Foster Jenkins, Johnnie Ray, Julie London, the legendary Stardust Cowboy, Edith Piaf and Shirley Bassey.
[…]
“From which I learned that mixing elements of bad taste with good would often produce the most interesting results. So, in short, I didn’t feel comfortable as a folk singer or an R&B singer or a balladeer. I was drawn more and more to the idea of manipulation of signs, rather than individual expression—a concept that really had its start in the late 50s with Pop Art and by the early 70s I found myself making what British writer Simon Fricke described as ‘art pop.’
“It wasn’t so much about how I felt about things, but rather, how things around me felt.”
Head in Box, photo by Albert Watson, 1996

Head In Box, photo by Albert Watson, 1996

[Box On Head, photo by Albert Watson, 1996]

[Box On Head, photo by Albert Watson, 1996]

[Illustration by Joanna Neborsky, 2013]

[Illustration by Joanna Neborsky, 2013]

In December of 2013 The New Yorker published a fascinating piece by Adam Gopnik called TWO BANDS: Duke Ellington, the Beatles, and the mysteries of modern creativity. This article is an examination of the possible fluid exchange between inspiration, creativity, innovation, intuition, excitement, syncretism, eclecticism, and (as Dylan put it) Love and Theft. It does this through the lens of two (certainly in my opinion) geniuses of music, Duke Ellington and The Beatles. However, this is a discussion that I feel could have easily incorporated David Bowie. Of Ellington Gopnik writes:

“Ellington’s ear, his energy, his organizational abilities, the sureness of his decisions are a case study for management school. (Consider the way he fired Charles Mingus for fighting with Tizol, fondly but with no appeal: “I’m afraid, Charles—I’ve never fired anybody—you’ll have to quit my band. I don’t need any new problems. Juan’s an old problem. . . . I must ask you to be kind enough to give me your notice.”) These are not ordinary or secondary gifts. They were the essence of his genius. Ellington had an idea of a certain kind of jazz: tonal, atmospheric, blues-based but elegant. He took what he needed to realize the ideal he had invented. The tunes may have begun with his sidemen; the music was his. This is not a secondary form of originality, which needs a postmodern apologia, in which “curating” is another kind of “creating.” It is the original kind of originality.

“There’s a reason that Duke’s players mostly complained of being cheated only of the dough. Originality comes in two kinds: originality of ideas, and originality of labor, and although it is the first kind that we get agitated about, we should honor the second kind still more. There is wit, made by the head and spun out into life; and work, created mostly by fingers engaging tools as various as tenor saxes and computer keyboards. It is an oddity of our civilization, and has been since the Renaissance, to honor wit more than work, to think that the new idea “contributed” by the work matters more than the work itself.

“What mattered was the band. Duke Ellington was a great impresario and bandleader who created the most stylish sound, and brand, in American music, and kept a company of musicians going for half a century. That this description seems somehow less exalting than calling him a “major American composer” or a “radical musical innovator” is a sign of how far we have to go in allowing art to tell us how to admire it, rather than trying to make it hold still in conventional poses in order to be admired.”

Then concerning The Beatles:

“If one thing stands out as the source of their originality, it is the theft of improbable parts, and the sheer range of their stealing. They must have been the most eclectic band at work in the world in 1960: they imitated girl bands without seeming to understand that their songs were meant for girls, did Goffin & King and Meredith Willson and Little Richard and Marlene Dietrich—all sung with that unique Beatles mix of irony and intensity, John and Paul smiling at each other at the absurdity of being in show business while still making it sound as though it mattered. The eclecticism that distinguishes their late great recordings—so that “Revolver” includes Baroque, Indian, cool-jazz, Broadway-ballad, and sea-chantey styles, and that’s just Side 1—was intuitive from the start. They mixed up Broadway show songs with Latin rhythms, speeded up Roy Orbison licks, and lifted the bass part for “I Saw Her Standing There” straight from Chuck Berry. But then Chuck Berry, as Keith Richards insists in his “Life,” had borrowed many of his riffs from his own piano player, Johnnie* Johnson. Everyone was lifting from everyone; the difference was that the Beatles were lifting more from more people, with less shame. Theirs was a triumph of the eclectic ear, and proof that eclectic ears make electric music.”

Gopnik then knits the two with:

“A Beatles-Duke playlist, folded together, has a common quality (which took me by surprise, but shouldn’t have), and that is excitement. Go from “Please, Please Me” to “Take the A Train,” and you hear the shared fervor of musicians not just making a new sound but listening to themselves as they do. It’s the sound of self-discovery.”

[David Bowie : Face Masks, by David LaChapelle, 1995]

[David Bowie : Face Masks, by David LaChapelle, 1995]

.
equinox
  One way for me to describe Bowie’s work would be to borrow Samuel R. Delany‘s introduction to his own (quite disgusting) 1973 novel of hardcore erotica, most exquisite language, and cartoon, occult pornography, Equinox:
 
“This is an artificial, extravagant, and pretentious book […]. But it is honest before its artifice; and in this age of extravagant expressions, honesty is the last pretension.”
[Bowie performing “Cracked Actor” during the 1974 Diamond Dogs tour]

[Bowie performing “Cracked Actor” during the 1974 Diamond Dogs tour]

Bowie worked where artifice and honesty meet. He was a creative force and held the process of creation in highest regard.
“It’s the process that matters, isn’t it? Rather than getting your information – or redemption – easily and directly you must go through this long stubborn painful trek. As with alchemy, the end result isn’t as important as the long process whereby all the inessential aspects of ‘you’ have been stripped away…” (Bowie in October 1995 interview with Ian Penman “The Resurrection of Saint Dave” for Esquire).
[Bowie's 1995 painting, "Hearts Filthy Lesson"

[Bowie’s 1995 painting, Hearts Filthy Lesson]

[Trump XIV: Art in The Thoth Tarot created by Lady Frieda Harris according to instructions from Aleister Crowley. An alchemical allegory of inner equilibrium between the polarities of silver Imagination & gold Will]

[Trump XIV: Art in The Thoth Tarot created by Lady Frieda Harris according to instructions from Aleister Crowley. An alchemical allegory of inner equilibrium between the polarities of silver Imagination & gold Will]

In an interview with Michael Kimmelman published by the New York Times in June 14, 1998, Bowie is quoted as saying:
[…] the most interesting thing for an artist is to pick through the debris of a culture, to look at what’s been forgotten or not really taken seriously. Once something is categorized and accepted, it becomes part of the tyranny of the mainstream, and it loses its potency. It’s always been that way for me: The most imprisoning thing is to feel myself being pigeonholed
David Bowie's mugshot, dated March 25, 1976 after his arrest for marijuana along with James Osterberg, Jr. (a.k.a. Iggy Pop) by the Rochester, N.Y. Police Department]

David Bowie’s mugshot, dated March 25, 1976 after his arrest for marijuana along with James Osterberg, Jr. (a.k.a. Iggy Pop) by the Rochester, N.Y. Police Department]

    Then when asked to discuss his own work in music, particularly in the 70’s, Bowie went on to say:
We were all pretty excited about letting people know what went into our work, that we weren’t all trying to be Chuck Berry. […] We were excited by set design, by the way we dressed, by trying to create a whole landscape for the music we were making. […] We would talk about the books we were reading, you know, by the Beats and people like that. We would talk about Kabuki theater. We would talk about artists. I was interested in the Expressionists. And there was an awful lot of Dada in what we were doing. I remember being impressed by, you know, the collages… .
[Die Rationalisierung marschiert (Rationalization Is On The March!) by John Heartfield (1927)]

[Die Rationalisierung marschiert (Rationalization Is On The March!) by John Heartfield (1927)]

Roquairol by Erich Heckel (1917)

Roquairol by Erich Heckel (1917)

[Clown am Spiegel (Clown on Mirror) by Erich Heckel , 1958]

[Clown am Spiegel (Clown on Mirror) by Erich Heckel , 1958]

    Kimmelman goes on to ask Bowie about his admitted admiration for German Expressionism (he is well known as a fan of the group movement formed in Dresden in 1905 called Die Brücke, with members such as Erich Heckel and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner):
M.K. […] You mean artists like George Grosz?
D.B. No. I had a thing for Murnau and Fritz Lang. Grosz was too direct for me. I always want a certain abstraction. Art should be open enough for me to develop my own dialogue with it.
[still from F. W. Murnau's 1922 film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror]

[still from F. W. Murnau‘s 1922 film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror]

Then asked about his own work in the medium of the visual arts, the following exchange ensues:
D.B. […] painting for me was private, and it really was about problem solving. I’d find that if I had some creative obstacle in the music that I was working on, I would often revert to drawing it out or painting it out. Somehow the act of trying to recreate the structure of the music in paint or in drawing would produce a breakthrough.
M.K. How so?
D.B. It’s very hard for me to put this into words. I’m not quite sure what the process is. It’s a real “Eureka!” thing. I’ll put together a peculiar set of instrumentation, or I’ll combine sounds that are kind of unusual, and then I’m not quite sure where the text should fall in the music, or I’m not sure what the sound conjures up for me. So then I’ll go and try and draw or paint the sound of the music. And often a landscape will produce itself, then I’ll identify locations within the landscape. Suddenly I’ll realize where things go in the music.
M.K. Literally landscapes?
D.B. Well, it’s all figurative art. I call it landscape, but location, I think, is a better word.
M.K. I’m still not sure I understand.
D.B. That’s the trouble talking about art, isn’t it?
[Child in Berlin by Bowie, 1977]

[Child in Berlin by Bowie, 1977]

Bowie's set design model for the 1974 Diamond Dogs tour]

Bowie’s set design model for the 1974 Diamond Dogs tour]

[Preparatory sketches by David Bowie for an unrealized film set in Hunger City, 1974.]

[Preparatory sketches by David Bowie for an unrealized film set in Hunger City, 1974.]

[Preparatory sketches by David Bowie for an unrealized film set in Hunger City, 1974.]

[Preparatory sketches by David Bowie for an unrealized film set in Hunger City, 1974.]

[Bowie's hand-drawn story boards to the video he and David Mallet co-directed for his 1980 nursery rhyme epitaph to the 1970s, "Ashes to Ashes"]

[Bowie’s hand-drawn story boards to the video he and David Mallet co-directed for his 1980 nursery rhyme epitaph to the 1970s, “Ashes to Ashes“]

    One can clearly see that despite a celebrity musician’s need for yet another “hit single,” this depth in dimensions, textures, and characters has long been a central concern for Bowie when creating music by listening to him speak in 1974 during the tour to promote the release of Diamond Dogs, captured on film for the Alan Yentob‘s BBC documentary Cracked Actor.
I always found that my material… I felt that it was more three dimensional. I wanted to give it dimension. I wanted to give it some other dimension other than that of just being a song.
ArtTheoryForBeginners
Again in regard to Blake’s statement of “my business is to Create,” with Bowie’s business there is a real resonance with Eastern philosophical ideas, particularly with Zen Buddhism and Taoism. As Richard Osborne, Natalie Turner, and Dan Sturgis explain in their delightfully informative book Art Theory For Beginners (public library):  “Confucius makes it clear that art is essentially about the activity of doing or making, and this is similar in both Taoism and Buddhism. It is in the actual making of art that perfection lies.”
[One of the works on Bowie's list of his 100 Favorite Books: Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn]

[One of the works on Bowie’s list of his 100 Favorite Books: Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn (public library)]

When it came to Bowie’s making he did begin, like he said, with the medium of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Folk, West End Theatre, and Pop forms (and then expanded to include all he could and all that interested him), but he seemed to always understand that wild Dada inherent in Little Richard‘s 1955 phrase Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom!
[Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Parole in Libertà (Words in Freedom), 1915]

[Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Parole in Libertà (Words in Freedom), 1915. Marinetti once said “Poetry is an act.” ]

On July 9th 1916, Hugo Ball, (who–along with his wife Emmy Hennings and several other salient figures of early 20th century art–was one of the co-founders of the “Dada” art movement that was birthed in the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich) recorded in his diary (Flight out of Time: A Dada Diary (public library)) his reaction to Futurist writer Filippo Tommaso Marinetti‘s latest work of parole inlibertà (words in freedom”):

There is no language anymore…it has to be invented all over again. Disintegration right in the innermost process of creation. It is imperative to write invulnerable sentences.

[Ball reading his nonsense, sound poem "Karawane", Club Voltaire, 1916]

[Ball reading his nonsense, sound poem “Karawane”, Club Voltaire, 1916]

    As music journalist and cultural critic Greil Marcus points out in “The Art Of Yesterday’s Crash” section of his marvelous book Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (public library), Ball’s poetic sentence is just as functional when the first and last words are swapped:

Disintegration right in the innermost process of creation, creation right in the innermost process of disintegration–no one, the dadaists least of all, has ever been able to figure out if Dada was absolute affirmation or absolute negation, only that the absolute was present, as present as Ball’s sentence was reversible.

This chiasmus, I believe, can serve as a fine approach–if not an attempt at summation–of David Bowie’s work as an artist.

[photo by Terry O'Neill, 1974]

[photo by Terry O’Neill, 1974]

In How Art Became Irrelevantan interesting (if at times rather reductive) article for Commentary magazine published on July 1st 2015, Michael J. Lewis wonders how in our modern times one might set out to make serious and lasting art:
 “To make such art—art that refracts the world back to people in some meaningful way, and that illuminates human nature with sympathy and insight—it is not necessary to be a religious believer. Michelangelo certainly was; Leonardo da Vinci certainly was not. But it is necessary to have some sort of larger system of belief, a larger structure of continuity that permits works of art to speak across time. Without such a belief system, all that one can hope for is short-term gain, in the coin of celebrity or notoriety, if not actual coins.
[…]
 “We hear much about art enriching the human experience, which is an agreeable platitude. But it is the other way round. The human experience is needed to enrich art, and without a meaningful living connection to the society that nurtures it, art is a plucked flower.”
[photo by Ellen von Unwerth, Oct. 2003]

[photo by Ellen von Unwerth, Oct. 2003]

Bowie himself has expressed despondent attitudes about the zeitgeist of our modern world, such as this statement in Esquire in 2004:
“The depressing realization in this age of dumbing down is that the questions have moved from, ‘Was Nietzsche right about God?’ to, ‘How big was his dick?’ Make the best of every moment. We’re not evolving. We’re not going anywhere.”
[photo by Markus Klinko, 2002]

[photo by Markus Klinko, 2002]

Yet, Bowie did have a “living connection” to society. He was looking to participate in our culture. As he said in a 2002 interview with GQ, “I suppose for me as an artist it wasn’t always just about expressing my work; I really wanted, more than anything else, to contribute in some way to the culture I was living in.”
[Bowie and Tilda Swinton as the settled couple haunted by a succubus and incubus from the realm of celebrity, in the Floria Sigismondi directed video for 2013 single "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" ]

[Bowie and Tilda Swinton as the couple settled into their “nice life” but haunted by a succubus and incubus from the realm of celebrity, in the Floria Sigismondi directed video for 2013 single “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” ]

 One example of this connection–and to borrow the title of the 1990, Alan Tomlinson edited collection of essays that explore the roles played out by consumer culture in our post-industrial leisure society–Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust project was a brilliant theatrical device used to camber the archetypal bombast of rock & roll towards a concern for the concepts of Consumption, Identity and Style: Marketing, Meanings, and the Packaging of Pleasure (public library).
ziggy_Sukita

[photo by Masayoshi Sukita, 1973]

Of course, his art was equally concerned with the usual result of these concepts: alienation. Yes, alienation and the “maladaptive behaviors” (as psychologists call them) that result from the structure of civilization–all the unhealthy patterns you have been taught, all the shrapnel we carry, our Identity Disturbance.
[photo by Brian Ward, May 1971]

[photo by Brian Ward, May 1971]

Bowie also more than flirted with a “larger system of belief.” As he put it with more than a little self-deprecation to Ellen DeGeneres in 2004:
 
I was young, fancy free, and Tibetan Buddhism appealed to me at that time. I thought,  “There’s salvation.” It didn’t really work. Then I went through Nietzsche, Satanism, Christianity, pottery, and ended up singing. It’s been a long road…
[photo by Steve Schapiro, 1974]

[photo by Steve Schapiro, 1974]

[photo by Tim Bret Day for 'Hours...' ]

[photo by Tim Bret Day for ‘Hours…’ ]

[photo by Markus Klinko]

[photo by Markus Klinko]

But with Bowie a yearn for and a struggle with a “larger system of belief” is often tantamount to a “larger system of belief” itself. Again and again Bowie has asked “Where Are We Now?” Such as this 2000 interview with Stefan Chirazi for Soma Magazine as he was promoting his 1999 record ‘hours…’ where he says:
“[…] this whole search for a new spiritual life that’s going on, because of the way we’ve demolished the idea of God with that triumverate at the beginning of the century, Nietzsche, Einstein, and Freud. They really demolished everything we believed. ‘Time bends, God is dead, the inner-self is made of many personalities’… wow, where the fuck are we? I wonder if we have realized that the only thing we could create as ‘God’ was the hydrogen bomb and that the fall-out from the realization that as gods we can only seem to produce disaster is people trying to find some spiritual bonding and universality with a real nurtured inner-life.”
[photo by Ellen von Unwerth, 2003]

[photo by Ellen von Unwerth, 2003]

One afternoon in June 2003, as a 56-year-old Bowie was in the process of completing the stunning Reality in time for its September 16th release date, he spoke with Rolling Stone’s Anthony DeCurtis and had this to say concerning that album’s title—and the title songs’ intermittent allusions and moods of, if not necessarily posing specific questions in order to determine “what is reality” then at least attempting to sketch-out what these questions could possibly implicate on a more personal level of “reality”:
“It’s the old chestnut: what is real and what isn’t? It’s actually about who’s stolen this world. […] I honestly believe that my initial questions haven’t changed at all. There are far fewer of them these days, but they’re really important ones. Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. I don’t think that’s changed at all, because it’s not a question that can be answered. It can only be re-posed again and again throughout one’s lifetime. It’s because I’m not quite an atheist and it worries me. There’s that little bit that holds on: ‘Well, I’m almost an atheist. Give me a couple of months. [Laughs] I’m almost there now. I’ve nearly got it right. There’s just one nagging thing. Once I shave that off, we’ll be fine and dandy, and there won’t be any questions left.’ It’s either my saving grace or a major problem that I’m going to have to confront. […]”
Gervais & Bowie, June 2006, on the set for a hilarious episode of the series Extras where Bowie serenades Gervais with an impromptu tune describing him as "chubby little loser"]

Gervais & Bowie, June 2006, on the set for a hilarious episode of the series Extras where Bowie serenades Gervais with an impromptu tune describing him as “chubby little loser/ He’s banal and facile, he’s a fat waste of space.” Photo by Ray Burmiston]

Then, just after the album’s release, Bowie participated in a question-and-answer type of discussion with comedian Ricky Gervais that touched upon the same issues, albeit with a much more prominent sense of humor:
Ricky Gervais: Both the new album and current tour are called “Reality.” Why is that, and do you think a man like yourself can keep the same reality as the rest of us or didn’t you have that in the first place?
David Bowie: “Reality” was among the first tracks that I wrote for this album and the word itself seemed a reasonable simulacrum for the various topics on the album. A bit of an arbitrary choice really. Of course, the reality thing is completely subjective. It’s all very well for those of us with an excess of cable channels to talk of no absolutes and synthetic realities and such, but some poor sod in South London with no rent money and not enough food to feed his family has a pretty good idea of what reality means to him.
Ricky Gervais: Does David Jones still exist anywhere and would he recognize you?
David Bowie: I will always be fundamentally just a Jones. The moment I close the door behind me, slip off my crushed velvet skateboard shorts and throw myself into our heated Olympic size, three level swimming pool, I think to myself, “Self, is there a Jones next door that I should be keeping up with?” And do you know something? There always is. Though actually it’s the Prestons in our case but you know what I mean (Gervais, 2003).
[from the insert booklet of Reality]

[from the insert booklet of Reality]

Again in 2003–this time for an interview with the magazine Sound On Sound alongside his brilliant producer Tony Visconti (who, when auditing Bowie’s discography, could be said to be his greatest artistic partner, and this for a man whose foremost talent might have been his collaborative abilities)–Bowie was quoted as saying:
“I don’t keep changing just for the sake of it, but there is a desire to change, even though probably the subject matter remains much the same from album to album. I don’t think I write about a terribly wide range of subjects. My excitement is in finding a new way of approaching that same subject, and at heart I think that is what most writers do. They have, maybe, only a small basket of subjects that they write about, but they re-approach those subjects differently every time, and that’s what I tend to do as a writer. I invariably deal with the same senses of isolation and lack of communication and all these kinds of negatives, and I’ll probably deal with them to the end of my life. There’ll be certain spiritual questionings and all that, and it won’t change very much, because it never has, it appears, from ‘Major Tom’ to Heathen. It really is all about the same thing, and obviously my big four or five questions are in there somewhere.”
Then when asked if he is any closer to getting them answered:
“Abso… of course not! One takes these questions to the grave. The human instinct is to always try to make a connection between one fact and another and try to make sense of two different things. I’ve just made that a writing process.”
treeoflife

[photos by Steve Schapiro, 1974. Used for the 1976 LP Station to Station]

 steveschapiro.
Yes, as he concluded that interview with the summation, “it is only fucking art.” But still Bowie was passionate about the creative functions in man, and has hinted numerous times at spiritual, mystical beliefs concerning these processes. Let’s take for example the brilliant and brutal ten minute title track from his 1976 LP Station to Station. “Station” refers to the fourteen Stations of the Cross, but Bowie then equates these to the eleven Sephirot of the Tree of Life in the Jewish Kabbalah when he sings “one magical movement from Keter to Malkuth,” Here he evokes and invokes an ascent and descent–an exchange really–from the Crown of Creation (Keter or Kether) to the Physical Kingdom (Malkuth). He appreciates that the creative process involves a “movement” from one end of the tree to the other.
[some of J. H. Williams III's incredibly inventive art for Alan Moore's mystic masterpiece of the comic book medium, Promethea (published from 1999 to 2005)]

[some of J. H. Williams III‘s incredibly inventive art for Alan Moore’s mystic masterpiece of the comic book medium, Promethea (published from 1999 to 2005)] promethea14a

Here, I’d like to return to genius writer Alan Moore once more, an author who has stressed numerous times that we need to remember that “Art is Magic / Magic is Art.” In October of 2015 Moore answered 75 questions given to him by readers at the site Goodreads. During this Q&A (read it it’s great) he provided this simple explanation of kabbalah and its involvement with an artist’s creative process:
 “In kabbalah’s circuit-board for the human personality, the Tree of Life, the sphere at the bottom of the central pillar, Malkuth, represents the whole of your material world and existence. The sphere immediately above that, the lunar sphere of Yesod, represents your faculty for imagination and dream. The sphere above that, the golden, solar sphere of Tiphereth, represents your highest self, and your will. Clearly, having an imagination isn’t enough: only when our trained and developed will is brought to bear upon our imagination will we have the ability to bring our immaterial ideas down and manifest them in this physical reality. My advice is to start with something small and well-defined, ideally a short story. Whether it is good or bad is unimportant: it represents you starting to do the mental exercise and building up your immaterial muscles until you have the ability to bring a bigger, better idea down into manifestation. This may sound like a simplistic answer, but I can assure you that some version of this simple process is responsible for bringing everything you’ve ever read, looked at or listened to into being.”
[Papilla Estellar (Celestial Pablum) by Remedios Varos, 1958. Varo depicted a woman seated in an octagonal tower, her meat grinder churning out food from the stars to feed the moon, which is enclosed in a cage. This woman is camouflaged as a housewife, but on an esoteric level she is nurturing the cosmic powers connected to the moon and to the feminine principle of creation" - Gloria Feman Orenstein]

[Papilla Estellar (Celestial Pablum) by Remedios Varos, 1958. “Varo depicted a woman seated in an octagonal tower, her meat grinder churning out food from the stars to feed the moon, which is enclosed in a cage. This woman is camouflaged as a housewife, but on an esoteric level she is nurturing the cosmic powers connected to the moon and to the feminine principle of creation” – Gloria Feman Orenstein]

[Bowie with a puppet produced by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, in the video for 2013 single, "Love Is Lost." Assisted by photographer Jimmy King and long-time personal assistant Corinne "Coco" Schwab, Bowie wrote, shot, and edited the music video himself for a cost of US$12.99, the cost of the flash drive he had to buy to save the video on his camera.]

[Bowie with a puppet produced by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, in the video for 2013 single, “Love Is Lost.” Assisted by photographer Jimmy King and long-time personal assistant Corinne “Coco” Schwab, Bowie wrote, shot, and edited the music video himself for a cost of US$12.99, the cost of the flash drive he had to buy to save the video on his camera.]

Through a commitment to cross-pollinating the arts and the mutative process of all I’ve tried to intimate above, David Bowie could create an astonishing music with sincere presence. Yes, Sincere. Wondrous in its incongruity: by incorporating various and obvious facades, identities, and stylistic genres that danced past self-aware and into self-conscious, Bowie would produce a truth. This truth is at once a phenomenal truth and a spiritual truth; or, as I from time to time come to understand more and more as of late, where these truths coalesce: a truth of mood.
[Bowie by Victor Skrebneski, December 1991]

[Bowie by Victor Skrebneski, December 1991]

VictorSkrebneski2

[Bowie & his wife Iman by Victor Skrebneski, December 1991]

[Bowie & his wife Iman by Victor Skrebneski, December 1991]

[Bowie & his wife Iman by Victor Skrebneski, December 1991]

      On this truth, as I posit it, I’d like to make several references to a writer I only recently discovered, Simon Critchley (philosopher; author; Hans Jonas Professor at the New School for Social Research in New York; the moderator of The Stone, the philosophy series on The New York Times’ Opinionator blog; and apparently an enormous fan of Bowie). First, in August of 2003 The Believer magazine published an interview with Critchley conducted by Jill Stauffer (assistant professor of philosophy and the director of the concentration in peace, justice, and human rights at Haverford College, who states in this interview, “Philosophy is the pursuit of possibility”). Here, Critchy explains:
“phenomenology is not an empiricism. Empiricism would be another version of theory that phenomenology would want to reject. Phenomenology is about the uncovering of a layer of acquaintance with the world that we know but that, in a sense, we conceal through our scientific and theoretical activity. […] I think I would say that phenomenology is the power of reflection brought to bear on the fact of being-in-the-world.”
20 Apr 1971, London, England, UK --- David Bowie at his home, Haddon Hall, at Beckenham, Kent, 20th April 1971. --- Image by © Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Corbis

[20 Apr 1971, London, England, UK — David Bowie at his home, Haddon Hall, at Beckenham, Kent, ]

anthologyfrench
Of course, along with this conceit when considering Bowie I’d advise you keep in mind this statement regarding the function of poetry made by editor Angel Flores in the preface to her The Anchor Anthology of French Poetry (public library): “[…] poetry as a search for the mystery of reality which underlies and interpenetrates the world of phenomena.”
Critchley
Along with illustrator Eric Hanson, in 2014 Critchley published a slim but brilliant meditation on the artist titled simply, Bowie (public library). Within the text itself he probably provides the book’s best description with the term “episodic blips.” This term appears as Critchley presents his opposition to the view of “narrative identity,” writing:
            “Against this and with Simone Weil, I believe in decreative writing that moves through spirals of ever-ascending negations before reaching… nothing.
            “I also think that identity is a very fragile affair. It is at best a sequence of episodic blips rather than some grand narrative unity. As David Hume established long ago, our inner life is made up of disconnected bundles of perceptions that lie around like so much dirty laundry in the rooms of our memory. This is perhaps the reason why Brion Gysin’s cut-up technique, where text is seemingly randomly spliced with scissors—and which Bowie  famously borrowed from William Burroughs—gets so much closer to reality than any version of naturalism.”
 
bowie-beneath-bowie-and-burroughs-718x1024

[Three Men In Hats, photo by Jimmy King 2013]

      Then, on this truth, Critchley writes:
           “Bowie’s truth is inauthentic, completely self-concious and utterly constructed. But it is still right, es stimmt as one can say in German, or it has the quality of feeling right, of being stimmig. We hear it and say “yes.” Silently, or sometimes out loud. The sound of Bowie’s voice creates a resonance within us.
“It finds a corporeal echo. But resonance invites dissonance. A resonating body in one location–like glasses on a table–begins to make another body shake and suddenly the whole floor is covered with broken glass. Music resounds and calls us to dissent from the world, to experience a dissensus communis, a sociability at odds with common sense. Through the fakery and because of it, we feel a truth that leads us beyond ourselves, toward the imagination of some other way of being.
          “Bowie’s genius allows us to break the superficial link that seems to connect authenticity to truth. There is a truth to Bowie’s art, a moodful truth, a heard truth, a felt truth, an embodied truth. Something heard with and within the body. The tone of the singing voice and music is felt in the tonus or musculature of the body. Musical tension is muscular, rising or falling, in progressive wave-beats of pleasure.”
[outtakes from the photo session that yielded the Heroes cover, shot by Japanese photographer and designer Masayoshi Sukita in 1977. ]

[outtakes from the photo session that yielded the “Heroes” cover, shot by Japanese photographer and designer Masayoshi Sukita in 1977. ]

Heroes_outtake1
Heroes1
heroes2
heroes_outtake2
Elsewhere Critchley writes:
“Art’s filthy lesson is inauthenticity all the way down, a series of repetitions and reenactments: fakes that strip away the illusion of reality in which we live and confront us with the reality of illusion. Just as Bowie seemingly reinvented himself without limits, he allowed us to believe that our own capacity for changes was limitless. Just for an instant, for the duration of a song, a seemingly silly, simple, puerile pop song, we can decreate all that is creaturely (or Critchley) about us, and imagine some other way of existing, something utopian.”.
As staff writer at In These Times Sarah Jaffe put it for her review of Critchley’s book
“Embracing that ‘reality of illusion’ allows us to find freedom and pleasure in trying on different identities and casting them off when they no longer fit.
Bowie’s multiplicity of characters and worlds, his offering up of not just one alternative, but many, makes the few, circumscribed choices we’re offered seem woefully inadequate. In change, alienation and even destruction, we discover our infinite potential for creation.”

[art by Mick Haggerty, 1984]

[art by Mick Haggerty, 1984]

Or, as as John Huntington writes in the Utopian and Anti-Utopian Logic: H.G. Wells and his Successors section of his scholarly work The Logic of Fantasy: H.G. Wells and Science Fiction:
“to transform a dystopia to a utopia requires discovering a different set of images.”
David Bowie's The Next Day
It might at times appear like Bowie’s “chutes and ladders….from nowhere to nothing” (as he sings from within the blister and vertigo of the dead-center pivot point to 2013’s The Next Day, “If You Can See Me“).  Yet, behind the facade of Bowie is not an opportunistic void, but a disorienting territory of flux–where the weight of interior and exterior seek form in Sound and Vision. With Bowie there is a recognition, a hint at the true state of everything: ALL IS FLUID.
[photo by Sukita, 1973]

[photo by Sukita, 1973]

[Bowie performing for his Isolar Tour (Feb.-May 1976) in support of the album Station To Station, photo by Andrew Kent]

[Bowie performing for his Isolar Tour (Feb.-May 1976) in support of the album Station To Station, photo by Andrew Kent]

However, to dart your attention back to the top of this stretched rhetoric and to directly counter any “cold” appraisal aimed at him, I feel that as an artist David Bowie not only confronted the sour truth and distortions of nature exposed through the statements made by R.D. Laing that I opened this essay with ([…]Our alienation goes to the roots[…]), but he willfully embraced them as well. In terms of the root aphorism of active magick (or one could say alchemy, art, creativity, experience, etc,) “Solve et Coagula” (or one could say “Analysis and Synthesis,” or “Dissolve and Coagulate”), Bowie skillfully applied these principles to these wounds. Moreover, he utilized them and the anxieties they produce to create beautiful art.
[still from the Mick Rock directed video for "Life on Mars?" filmed on May 12 1973]

[still from the Mick Rock directed video for “Life on Mars?” filmed on May 12 1973]

[watercolor by Martina Marzullo]

[watercolor by Martina Marzullo]

His art spoke to and of the anomic in all of us; as with the sensitive young woman growing painfully aware that she’s become dissociative–even from the trick of entertainment–in Bowie’s sublime, surrealist sing-along “Life on Mars?” (or, as with and to appreciate the generous acceptance that is the crux of the Möbius strip groove of “Rebel Rebel“). I am certain that we all have suffered at some social gathering or other moment the anxious but ambiguous sensation of being nothing but a deficient insect concealed in human skin, or a perverted mutate unfit for life. There are those of us who do not know what is wrong. To you he sings on the intense epic “Blackstar” that opens his final album:
[still from the Blackstar video directed by Johan Renck]

[still from the Blackstar video directed by Johan Renck]

I can’t answer why 
But I can tell you how
We were born upside-down 
Born the wrong way ’round

This act, I believe, requires a colossal quality of empathy for the human condition. To express this compassion, to create, to communicate–to not explain why, but how–in our modern world–this is an extraordinarily brave endeavor. Bowie was brave to remain an artist in the face of families, civilizations, cultures, realities that continually attempt to inoculate us with an identity disturbance and assert in our psyches the sad sentiment that the world doesn’t need artists: It might need bankers, it might need despots, it might even require entertainers from time to time, but it does not need artists–it doesn’t need us. And yet, still, David Bowie is.

[last known photoshoot of Bowie before his sudden demise, photo by Jimmy King]

[last known photoshoot of Bowie before his sudden demise, photo by Jimmy King]

Within that same strange song his voice quivers as he confesses:
I want eagles in my daydreams, diamonds in my eyes
Everything
Sensitive, you might discern that he wants that for all of us as well. Yet at the end of the album, on the mesmerizing and oddly inspirational “I Can’t Give Everything Away” he does not deny the somber facets and facts inherent and inherited in our condition:
I know something is very wrong
The pulse returns the prodigal sons
The blackout hearts, the flowered news
With skull designs upon my shoes
Bowie was an artist that knew he had to tread “with skull designs upon [his] shoes” but still he walked on with a need to create and sought an arrival.
lazarus1
lazarus2
    This bravery I speak of was not one of the poptimist chart-topper variety, where a celebrity singer declares the scripted broad strokes of their triumph over adversity as just another disposable survivor. In the September, 1967 issue of the International Times (it) William S. Burroughs advised:
“Abandon all nations, the planet drifts to random insect doom.”
Bowie for the most part chose to create art from within that drift. David Bowie was brave enough to tell you that he often saw the world as a brutal territory where “Heaven is on the pillow, its silence competes with Hell.” In the album The Next Day he asks:
How does the grass grow?
A chorus of frogs croak a reply:
Blood…Blood…Blood…
[There were two videos released for "I’d Rather Be High" in its "Venetian Mix" form (featuring the music director of Bowie's stage musical “Lazarus,” Henry Hey on harpsichord). The first was a Romain Gavras directed clip part of an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton which featured Bowie and model Arizona Muse, at a surreal costume ball held during the French Enlightenment.]

[There were two videos released for “I’d Rather Be High” in its “Venetian Mix” form (featuring the music director of Bowie’s stage musical “Lazarus,” Henry Hey on harpsichord). The first, titled L’Invitation Au Voyage, was a Romain Gavras directed clip part of an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton which featured Bowie and model Arizona Muse at a surreal costume ball held during a quasi-French Enlightenment.]

Elsewhere on that record in “I’d Rather Be High” he informs us with:
I stumble to the graveyard and I
Lay down by my parents, whisper
Just remember duckies
Everybody gets got
[the 2nd video for "I'd Rather Be High" was a much more dissonant affair. Directed by Tom Hingston, it features manipulated images from more than 100 clips of archived wartime footage that juxtaposes between soldiers at the front and them enjoying themselves at dances and parades behind the lines while typographic details of keywords from the lyrics flash across the screen.]

[the second video for “I’d Rather Be High” was a much more dissonant affair. Directed by Tom Hingston, it features manipulated images from more than 100 clips of archived wartime footage that juxtaposes between soldiers at the front lines and them enjoying themselves at dances and parades behind the lines while typographic details of keywords from the lyrics flash across the screen.]

Bowie was courageous enough to admit that this world terrified him. There is a rich negativity to all of his work. He does not shy from being immersed in our alienation and probing its profoundness…again, this being an “alienation [that] goes to the roots.”  
[Family Of Saltimbanques, painted in 1905 during the 24 year-old Picasso's Rose Period.]

[Family Of Saltimbanques, painted in 1905 during the 24 year-old Picasso’s Rose Period.]

[ Jeune homme et cheval (Boy Leading A Horse) by Pablo Picasso, 1906.]

[ Jeune homme et cheval (Boy Leading A Horse) by Pablo Picasso, 1906.]

I’d like to look at this honest artistic expression through the lens of a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
I’m not…I mean it’s been fairly well recorded…my family’s pretty rampantly……What’s the word? I think I’m not so sure you can call it madness…I think it is…There’s a lot of…There’s an awful lot of emotional and spiritual mutilation goes on. And I think to a certain extent it’s touched me in various ways over the years.
[…]
I think that I felt–often–ever since I was a teenager–so adrift, and so not part of everyone else. There are so many dark secrets about my family in the cupboard that I probably…it kind of made me feel very much on the outside of everything. And because of that…I felt that there was no basis to my life, like everyone else seemed to have. Which of course is ridiculous. But you don’t know, and therefore, probably, I would do things to prove that I had some emotional substance, you know…and that I knew what I was doing. When, in fact, I didn’t have a clue.

I wanted to be a fantastic artist, see the colours, hear the music, and they just wanted me turned down.
I had to grow up feeling demoralized and thinking, “they are not going to beat me.”I had to retreat into my room;

so you get in the room and you carry that ruddy room around with you for the rest of your life.

(Bowie quoted in Any Day Now: David Bowie, The London Years: 1947-1974 by Kevin Cann)

[illustration by Quentin Blake]

[illustration by Quentin Blake]

I am sure that for certain children it is known that the world is owned by the villains of Roald Dahl‘s The Witches (public library), with their motto concerning all children being:

“Squish them and squiggle them and make them disappear.”
[Photo-collage by David Bowie of manipulated film stills from The Man Who Fell to Earth 1975-6]

[Photo-collage by David Bowie of manipulated film stills from The Man Who Fell to Earth
1975-6]

Bowie, like everyone, had a yearning to feel woven into the world, and he addressed that need through song, through art. Convalescent at home after a minor surgery, I have been reading through the beautiful book that corresponds with the first international exhibition of art created by female surrealists in Mexico and the United States, organized in 2012 by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City: In Wonderland: Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States (public library).
[Quería ser pájaro (I wanted to be A Bird), a 1960 work by one of that book's most interesting subjects , Leonora Carrington (6 April 1917 – 25 May 2011)]

[Quería ser pájaro (I wanted to be A Bird), a 1960 work by one of that book’s most interesting subjects , Leonora Carrington (6 April 1917 – 25 May 2011)]

 
"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" -Lazarus (2016)

[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] -“Lazarus” (2016)

Within the book In Wonderland there is a reference to art historian Professor Whitney Chadwick‘s statement that, “Surrealism offered many women their first glimpse of a world in which creative activity and liberation from family imposed social expectations might coexist, one in which rebellion was viewed as a virtue, imagination as a passport to more liberated life.” Now, not to detract or subvert whatsoever from that feminist and factual thought, that plight, but I see how that might also be true of a boy named David in a Bromley bedroom, just as it’s true for many. One can appreciate how art, literature of all sorts, and the erotic, even oneiric energy of music can serve not only as a solace from the tragedies of youth but present a hint at some indefinite other to the oppressive that insists it is the only option, the sole reality. This suburban bedroom, the restless imagination that transcends it, the one that must carry it, the fear, angst, escapism, and excitement that are part of a pursuit for change are major elements to the impressionistic retrospective that is perhaps Bowie’s most neglected record: The Buddha of Suburbia.
The-Buddha-Of-Suburbia-cover
This interesting album is even less discussed than those of the 80s that are seen by critics (and Bowie himself) as indifferent or merely “product.” Released as a soundtrack in 1993 to the 4-part television serial adaption of the fun but wistful novel of the same name by Hanif Kureishi, Bowie writes in the liner notes that these songs were composed by utilizing a “stockpile of residue from the 1970`s.”          
[The 1990 novel The Buddha of Suburbia (public library), by Hanif Kureishi]

[The 1990 novel The Buddha of Suburbia (public library), by Hanif Kureishi]

Elsewhere in the liner notes Bowie writes:
“A major chief obstacle to the evolution of music has been the almost redundant narrative form. To rely upon this old war-horse can only continue the spiral into British constraint of insularity. Maybe we could finally relegate the straightforward narrative to the past.”
As a possible answer to Picasso’s riddle: there are those that take their “first glimpse” and cultivate it into a path–one not necessarily with a “straightforward narrative.”
david-bowie-elephaant

[digitally manipulated image from Bowie’s stunning performance in the role of John Merrick in the 1980-81 theatrical run of the stage play The Elephant Man]

 
Bruges-la-Morte

[Bowie makes several references and allusions to the atmospheric author Georges Rodenbach and his 1892 novel Bruges-la-Morte in The Next Day]

However, as the Belgian Symbolist writer Georges Rodenbach warns of this path in the opening line to his story The Lover of Mirrors:
“Sometimes madness is nothing other than the paroxysm of a feeling that in the first instance seemed to be purely subtle and artistic.”
[July 1974]

[July 1974]

All too aware of his family’s history, Bowie worried about his own psyche and admitted that artistic expression was both a kiss and a curse. In 1993 he said:
“One puts oneself through such psychological damage trying to avoid the threat of insanity, you start to approach the very thing that you’re scared of. Because of the tragedy inflicted especially on my mother’s side of the family – there were too many suicides for my liking – that was something I was terribly fearful of.
“I felt I was the lucky one because I was an artist and it would never happen to me because I could put all my psychological excesses into my music and then I could always be throwing it off.”
 
[David Bowie photographed by Steve Schapiro in Los Angeles in 1974.]

[David Bowie photographed by Steve Schapiro in Los Angeles in 1974.]

[Time Disintegrating, Hollywood, California, 1942, by Ruth Bernhard]

[Time Disintegrating, Hollywood, California, 1942, by Ruth Bernhard]

[Alejandro Jodorowsky , now 87 years-old, pictured with the Tarot de Marseille deck he helped design. photo by Evan Sung ]

[Alejandro Jodorowsky, now 87 years-old, pictured with the Tarot de Marseille deck he helped design. photo by Evan Sung ]

It is all part of the process of life; it’s all part of Jung’s individuation. Visionary filmmaker, writer, and developer of the shamanic model of therapeutic self-healing called Psychomagic, Alejandro Jodorowsky has expressed numerous iterations of this comment he made in Jodorowsky’s DuneFrank Pavich‘s 2013 documentary that explores the director’s ambitious but doomed film adaptation of that science fiction novel:

 “What is the goal of the life? It’s to create yourself a soul. For me, movies are an art, more than an industry. And it’s the search of the human soul, as painting, as literature, as poetry. Movies are that for me.”

Perhaps aligning with that sentiment, a 55 year-old Bowie sings on Heathen‘s “Afraid“:

I believe my little soul has grown 

But with the chorus that follows he gives weight to the human anxiety that is a constant:
And I’m still so afraid
 
Yes, I’m still so afraid
Yea, I’m still so afraid on my own
slowburn2
 With Bowie’s death there has been a glut of simple headlines and well meaning but clichéd in memoriams that stress the mysterious Major Tom who drifted off into space “in a most peculiar way” and the strange Starman who fell to Earth to dance and sing on the stage and screen of the entertainment industry. While these sorts of comments do begin to approach the otherness that Bowie’s art expressed, they gloss over his profound psychological and spiritual empathy in favor of the curious luster that his dramatic devices employed (David Bowie itself being one of them for Davie Jones). As Rod Tweedy put it so succinctly in his recent post David Bowie: Alienation and Stardom for Karnacology: “David Bowie didn’t come from the stars: he came from Brixton, south London.” Further down in this article (which I highly recommend as it does an extraordinary job of exploring the psychological significance of Bowie’s work) Tweedy writes:
What makes his work so compelling I think, is that he gave voice to these feelings, this sense of being psychically damaged. Not to recognize that this is the dynamic driving the imagery of space, stars, and distant worlds, is both to undervalue his artistic and personal contribution to the exploration of these dispersed worlds, and to ignore what he has to offer others also experiencing similar alienations.  And what is remarkable is that Bowie himself recognised this, and very early on: “that’s the subject matter that I deal with,” he noted, “the content of most of what I write – there’s been a continuity of alienation and isolation throughout everything I’ve written.”  Throughout all his celebrated “endless reinventions”, critics often miss this continuing thread that unites his various incarnations and relentless disguises. The list of Spaceboys, extraterrestrials and Major Toms disconnected and floating in empty space that haunt his verse have their origins not in some transcendent incarnation of the stellar universe, but in the fragmented and isolating universe of his upbringing, and in particular the schizophrenic family into which he was born.
[Scotland, May 1973, photo by Mick Rock]

[Scotland, May 1973, photo by Mick Rock]

 As Pam Thurschwell put it in her article for the Los Angeles Review of BooksI don’t think we know we are in this song: “In recent years I’ve noticed the way his work always embodies a relationship between individual desire and alienation, and the communal negotiation of these feelings.”
[Floria Sigismondi - Portrait of David Bowie, 1997]

[Floria Sigismondi – Portrait of David Bowie, 1997]

    In The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg references a 1997 interview where Bowie addresses the extraterrestrial personae and sci-fi subject material that characterized really only a narrow portion of this artist’s large body of work:
 “they were metaphysically in place to suggest that I felt alienated, that I felt distanced from society and that I was really in search of some kind of connection.”
FloriaSigismondi2

[Floria Sigismondi – Portrait of David Bowie, 1997]

Pegg then goes on to comment:
This distance — the “otherness”, contrived or otherwise, that has defined so much of Bowie’s work — is perhaps the keynote in any attempt to appreciate his creative priorities. Time and again it is the vessel which articulates an apparent dread of time, mortality and oblivion that runs like a seam through Bowie’s songwriting. It’s detectable in the Blakeian cries for lost childhood that riddle his earliest compositions, it’s there in the chilling mortal angst of Scary Monsters, and it’s there in the middle-aged regret and spiritual anguish that infuse the melancholic musings of ‘hours…’, Heathen and Reality. Perhaps most obviously it rampages through his early 1970s work, a darkening force that looms over a whole parade of famous songs.
smoke
    There is very little of the final victory to Bowie’s art. If there are heroes, they are bound in quotations and endure for one day. Yet, despite the anxiety, Bowie’s art has never been confined by the mode of depression; in fact it is often quite the opposite. There is comfort to be found in his work. He was no nihilist.
heroes
    David Bowie worked against limits; nihilism being just another manner in which to circumscribe life. Bowie’s art was conflicted but it worked in contrast to nihilism.
lipsticktraces
Conducting a marvelous investigation with hopscotch-like gambols between the recondite traditions, phenomena, art movements, and demands that have had a force in shaping modern culture, in 1989 music journalist and cultural critic Greil Marcus published Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century. At several points within this book he writes:
“Nihilism is the belief in nothing and the wish to become nothing: oblivion is its ruling passion.”
“Nihilism can find a voice in art, but never satisfaction. Nihilism means to close the world around its own self-consuming impulse […].”
“The nihilist, no matter how many people he or she might kill, is always a solipsist: no one exists but the actor, and only the actor’s motives are real.”
“When the nihilist pulls the trigger, turns on the gas, sets the fire, hits the vein, the world ends.”
 Bowie was no nihilist. Bowie could make you feel that “just for one day” was all that was needed; one day could be “forever and ever.” He stretched his fingers towards his audience, howled and shrieked:
[3rd July 1973, Photo by Steve Wood]

[3rd July 1973, Photo by Steve Wood]

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
Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone (wonderful)
Let’s turn on and be not alone (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Oh gimme your hands
[photo by Norman Parkinson, 1977 for Vogue]

[photo by Norman Parkinson, 1977 for Vogue]

  To return to philosopher Simon Critchley and The Stone blog he moderates for the New York Times, upon Bowie’s sudden death he posted a poignant piece titled, Nothing Remains: David Bowie’s Vision of Love. I quote this article at length below but you should check it out yourself.
Critchley quotes lyrics from the final track of Blackstar, and in essence Bowie’s final song, “I Can’t Give Everything Away”:
Saying no but meaning yes
This is all I ever meant
That’s the message that I sent.
Critchley then responds to it with:
“Within Bowie’s negativity, beneath his apparent naysaying and gloom, one can hear a clear Yes, an absolute and unconditional affirmation of life in all of its chaotic complexity, but also its moments of transport and delight. For Bowie, I think, it is only when we clear away all the fakery of social convention, the popery and jiggery-pokery of organized religion and the compulsory happiness that plagues our culture that we can hear the Yes that resounds across his music.
“At the core of Bowie’s music and his apparent negativity is a profound yearning for connection and, most of all, for love.
“What was being negated by Bowie was all the nonsense, the falsity, the accrued social meanings, traditions and morass of identity that shackled us, especially in relation to gender identity and class. His songs revealed how fragile all these meanings were and gave us the capacity for reinvention. They gave us the belief that our capacity for changes, was, like his, seemingly limitless.
“Concealed in Bowie’s often dystopian words is an appeal to utopia, to the possible transformation not just of who we are, but of where we are. Bowie, for me, belongs to the best of a utopian aesthetic tradition that longs for a “yes” within the cramped, petty relentless ‘no’ of Englishness. What his music yearned for and allowed us to imagine were new forms of being together, new intensities of desire and love in keener visions and sharper sounds.”
[Aladdin Sane, photo by Duffy 1973]

[Aladdin Sane, photo by Duffy 1973]

[DAVID BOWIE, THE STARS (ARE OUT TONIGHT)Edward Kinsella illustration]

[DAVID BOWIE, THE STARS (ARE OUT TONIGHT) , Edward Kinsella illustration]

Bowie presented himself as something tense, confused, and as a creative force: a glamorous boy cracked by psychic lightning and a moribund Blackstar. Like life, his work was open to confusion. All this presented with certainty, confidence, and defiance.
[Bowie in Paris, 1977. Photograph: Christian Simonpietri]

[Bowie in Paris, 1977. Photograph: Christian Simonpietri]

But in that presentation, in the externalization, the dramatization–he was immersed in “Art Therapy” (two words that together are certainly compatible if not seen as synonymous). In a 2003 interview with Ken Scrudato for the July issue of the magazine Soma, Bowie discussed a purpose for the darker territories his work has explored, particularly then as a fifty-six year old man attempting to raise a three-year-old daughter with a sense of ontological security (to utilize a term coined by R.D. Laing), all in a world where he accepts “chaos as our basic premise.” I present you a sizable section from this interview interspersed with photos from the gorgeous yet somewhat disturbing photo session Is this concrete all around or is it in my head?, which Bowie created with photographer Steven Klein for the September 2003 issue of  L’Uomo Vogue.L'Uomo1png
SCRUDATO: Back to your music, with the way things have evolved, clearly you do it now just for the joy of it. You must, however, have a sense of the recontextualization of what you do. Because there was the idea in ’77 that music could change the world, and no one gets that privilege anymore as a rock band… to change the world. So, does it feel daunting now?
BOWIE: “Hmm, I just think that maybe there were several of us dealing in this newly found pluralistic vocabulary, this whole George Steiner-ism of life, you know? (note: Steiner is the author of a 1971 book titled ‘In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards The Redefinition Of Culture’) But I think that the world caught up really quickly, and everybody is so totally aware of the kind of vocabulary that we were throwing around at that time, that one feels kind of superfluous now. I still enjoy what I do. But I don’t think what I do is terribly necessary… at all. And I’m really not doing much that’s terribly different from what I was doing back then. But it’s for…”
SCRUDATO: For the love of it.
BOWIE: “Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.”
L'Uomo2
SCRUDATO: Well, when you look at even contemporary conceptual art, is it hard not to feel a sense of futility?
BOWIE: “Yes! Of course! But I’d rather turn that futility into… well, I think it becomes a futility if you give credit to the idea that we are evolving, or supposed to be evolving. It looks like futility if you think that there is some system that we should be standing by. A religious system, or one of civilization’s philosophies, something that we should hold by and say this will get us through and all that. But I think if you can accept – and it’s a big leap – if you accept that we live in absolute chaos, it doesn’t look like futility anymore. It only looks like futility if you believe in this bang up structure we’ve created called “God,” and all. It’s like, don’t tell me that the whole system is crumbling; there’s nothing there to crumble. All these structures were self-created, just to survive, that’s all. We only have a moral code because, overall, it helps us survive. It wasn’t handed down to us from anywhere.”
SCRUDATO: Well, there is that story…
BOWIE: “I know. I’ve heard that story (laughs).”
L'Uomo3
SCRUDATO: Mankind has God for hope. We trade faith for hope.
BOWIE: “I know. It’s a kind of a tragedy, and it’s probably a hindrance, really. I think what we’re going through right now, what people are beginning to feel, is that there’s a transition taking place. We’re leaving all those old structures behind, whether we like it or not; they are all crumbling. And it’s not a moral decay. This is the way the world is evolving, the way we are changing.”
L'Uomo4
SCRUDATO:I wonder sometimes if we’re just supposed to destroy the world; that we don’t possess the ability not to.
BOWIE: “I don’t think we are. I don’t think we are going to destroy it at all. I’m not that pessimistic. I just believe we’re going through a transition where we will become a humankind that accepts chaos as our basic premise. Accepts that it’s how we exist. And I think that we’re halfway between the structures and the chaos theory at the moment. You really see it evolving.”
L'Uomo5
SCRUDATO: But I’m not sure the Earth can hold up to it. It may actually not survive our progress.
BOWIE: “Oh, shucks” (laughs)”
L'Uomo6
SCRUDATO: Oh, but you and I will be long gone!
BOWIE: “Well, I’m not going to tell my daughter that. I’m going to tell her that she’s going to have a great life, and it’s a terrific world, and that she should embrace all experiences… carefully. You see, I HAVE to do that. It’s really important for me to work hard on developing a positive attitude. Because it’s not for me anymore, and I’m very keenly aware of that. I just can’t get that selfish. And it’s very, very easy for me to vacillate over into the more depressing, nihilistic, and dark side of life. It’s always been too easy for me to do that; and I just don’t need to do that right now. It comes through in my writing because it’s the only space I allow myself to function in that particular way.”
SCRUDATO: It’s where you’re working it out.
BOWIE: “Yeah. And it’s like that old adage that Brian [Eno] uses: ‘In art you can crash your plane and just walk away from it,’ which you can’t do in real life, of course. You present a darker picture for yourself to look at, and then reject it, all in the process of writing. There are some songs on [the new album] that I just don’t agree with. The fact is, I’ve written them. It’s come out.”
SCRUDATO: It’s like you’re having a dialogue with yourself.
BOWIE: “And I think that’s what’s left for me with music. I thought I had something to say before; I must have had something to say. I was young! (laughs) And I knew everything then. Now I really find that I address things with myself. And that’s what I DO. Where would I focus if I couldn’t do what I do? If I hadn’t been able to write songs and sing them, it wouldn’t have mattered what I did. I really feel that. I HAD to do this.!”
L'Uomo7
SCRUDATO: That’s very existentialist. Which is something that I’ve always gotten from your work. People will tend to focus on the nihilism in your work…
BOWIE: “But it is more existential than nihilist.”
SCRUDATO: I’ve always seen you as embracing the idea that your possibilities are your own.
BOWIE: “I’ve always felt comfortable with writers like Camus. But people would read that as being so negative. And it wasn’t! It is just made absolute sense, what he had to say.”
SCRUDATO: They say that there’s no actual human nature, that human nature is just this mountain of everything that we’ve ever done.
BOWIE: “Yeah. A style mountain! (laughs) We are about style. Style is our choosing what we wish to have represent us. And that will make us who we are. It’s such a peculiar thing. I don’t want the table with metal legs, I want wood legs. And it goes from the table to your philosophy of everything you do and touch. You make a choice about the style of it.”
L'Uomo8
SCRUDATO: But going back to your period of exploring different levels of pretense, people would tend to see you as someone who was afraid of the world. And instead, I saw you as someone who was not afraid of going as far into yourself as possible to discover those choices.
BOWIE: “I thought it was very courageous, yeah. At the time, I didn’t really realize how deep in it I was. But in immediate retrospect, I would think, fuck, I’m really pushing myself out on the boat. But I was just going my own way. The only people I knew were strange, anyway, Iggy and all. There weren’t too many good ol’ boys around me.”
———–
strange1
strange
Yes, as I said, “art therapy,” and through these mediums Bowie did create therapeutic communities. In its peculiar sense of an intimate alliance between strange, festive abandon and undeniable sorrow–this aspect of his work brings to my mind one of Franz Kafka‘s brief “Contemplations” published in 1912: Der Ausflug ins Gebirge (Excursion into the Mountains). You can read the entirety of this odd, concise piece translated below by Willa and Edwin Muir:
nobodies

A gorgeous, fluid black-and-white illustration by London-based fine artist Rohan Daniel Eason for Matthue Roth‘s children’s book My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs (public library).

‘I don’t know,’ I cried without being heard, ‘I do not know, If nobody comes, then nobody comes. I’ve done nobody any harm, nobody’s done me any harm, but nobody will help me. A pack of nobodies. Yet that isn’t all true. Only, that nobody helps me – a pack of nobodies would be rather fine, on the other hand. I’d love to go on an excursion – why not? – with a pack of nobodies. Into the mountains, of course, where else? How these nobodies jostle each other, all these lifted arms linked together, these numberless feet treading so close! Of course they are all in dress suits. We go so gaily, the wind blows through us and the gaps in our company. Our throats swell and are free in the mountains! It’s a wonder that we don’t burst into song.’
[Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) ]

[Nicolas Roeg‘s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) ]

Bowie questioned the artistic impulse on his March 31, 1998 appearance on Charlie Rose as:
Charlierose
“You know, I’ve often wondered if being an artist in any way, in any nature, is a sign of a social dysfunction. It’s an extraordinary thing that I’ve wanted to do: to express yourself in such rarefied terms, I think it’s a loony thing to want to do. I think the saner and rational approach to life is: survive, steadfastly and create a protective home, and create a warm, loving environment for one’s family and get food for them… That’s about it. Anything else is extra, all culture is extra. Culture—I guess it’s a freebie. We only need to eat, we don’t need particular white chairs or particular plates, I mean, anything would do, but we insist on making 1,000 different kinds of chairs, and 15 different kinds of plates: it’s unnecessary and it’s a sign of the irrational part of man. We should just be content with picking nuts. Not mine, I might add.”
[Jean-Michel Basquiat, Air Power, 1984 - owned by David Bowie]

[Air Power, by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1984 – owned by David Bowie]

Beginning in the mid-nineties David Bowie served as a board member to the magazine Modern Painters. As a frequent contributor to the magazine he conducted various interviews with the likes of Tracey Emin, Jeff Koons, Balthus, and Julian Schnabel, as well as writing several op-eds.
[Jeffrey Wright & David Bowie as Basquiat & Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel 's 1996 film Basquiat]

[Jeffrey Wright & David Bowie as Basquiat & Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel ‘s 1996 film Basquiat]

In the Spring of 1996, the same year Bowie played Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s brilliantly performed film Basquiat, Modern Painters published his op-ed on that film’s subject, a piece titled Basquiat’s Wave.  Wonderfully communicating one artist’s response to the life and art of another, there are a few segments that I feel could just as well be applied to Bowie’s own work:
 “This NOT Black Art, I maintain, and this is not ART, well no, this is STUFF and I like it, yeah, yeah, yeah. This STUFF rocks. A two-headed Janus of an approach, vomiting and questioning at the same time. A squash of Schwitters sound and nonsense, leering tabulations of pre-Socratic philosophers’ jostle, or rubber ‘gainst Penk. Like a baad reading of Lautrémont’s ‘Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table’. But nothing surreal here. The dreaming is force-fed into the dawn of our consciousness. Confuse me, sir? Well bless you, yes please. Chance juxtaposition. Your chance is not the same as my chance.
“Waking up every day to a world of pieces and bits we spend the remaining hours putting it into some kind of form we can deal with. No order, no function. Basquiat takes a cursive swipe and re-establishes the disorder that is reality. The pure joyful chaotic miasma of it all. Goo-goo-ga-joo. Refracting fact fractions facting refact. He’s milking the diction-dairy, wiping up the puddles of Anglo detritus and scoffing the lot. He’s stealing us limb by word.
[…]
“He seemed to digest the frenetic flow of passing image and experience, put them through some kind of internal reorganisation and dress the canvas with this resultant network of chance. Word ensnared by colour. Shape qualified by phrase.
[…]
“The wave he would have liked us to see was the surf-wave of free-association, uninhibited and loaded with a new fractured language, a street-map for a city not yet designed, a dialogue with our sub-present.
“His STUFF is the continually dividing cell of our future-past. Embryos with all the cross-referenced features in place.”
[Basquiat in his NYC studio, 1988.]

[Basquiat in his NYC studio, 1988.]

byetata

[Photo by Jimmy King, March 2013 in New York City]

starfield
Bowie’s art was an ART IN FRAGMENTS & an ART OF FRAGMENTS. Yet it was created thus as it was yearning to embrace resolution, to reach a new synthesis.
As philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche phrased it:
One must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.
[Time May Change Me by Helen Green]

[Time May Change Me by Helen Green]

―————-__________________________
[Diamond DogsTour, July 1974]

[Diamond Dogs Tour, July 1974]

Now in an attempt to conclude this prolix narrative I need to address the work by Bowie that actually appears on this MixTape; the Sweet Thing Medley can be heard as Bowie at his most theatrical. Likewise it can be taken as him at his most committed to a performance. In fact it comes across as a multitude of egos pulling, contorting, and tearing forward to perform and be heard, however briefly. I once read that the album Diamond Dogs could be seen as Bowie’s Guernica, and with its limits stressed with fractured hurt that is a sentiment I understand.
[Guernica by Pablo Picasso completed in June 1937]

[Guernica by Pablo Picasso, completed in June 1937]

[art by Guy Peellaert, 1974]

[art by Guy Peellaert, 1974]

The bulk recorded between January and February, then released in May: 1974 is the year of the Diamond Dog. (Only recently have I thought to ask: “if diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and dogs are a man’s best friend, what are Diamond Dogs?”).
There are perhaps three facts that are the most profound germs in the development of this mutant album.
[David Bowie; Moscow, 1 May 1973]

[David Bowie; Moscow, 1 May 1973]

In April 1973, after finishing the Japan leg of his Ziggy Stardust tour, David Bowie returned to Europe via the Trans-Siberian railway. There through the Soviet Bloc it seems all that is flat, brutal, and bureaucratic about a civilization under a totalitarian regime would inspire his take on a dystopian musical. Soon on July 3 at the final show after touring for a year and a half, on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon in London Bowie would announce the end of his “packaged [and] totally credible plastic rock star” and began disbanding the “Spiders from Mars.”
[The 1950 & 1959 edition of 1984]

[The 1950 & 1959 edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four]

Bowie had been attempting to create an extravagant TV musical adaptation of a book that would later appear on his list of 100 booksGeorge Orwell’s disturbing and brilliant 1949 novel of totalitarian science-fiction: Nineteen Eighty-Four (public library). Yet this work had to be lifted, shuffled, and shifted when Orwell’s widow Sonia Brownell refused permission.
[David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974, Photograph by Terry O’Neill with colour by David Bowie]

[David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974, Photograph by Terry O’Neill with colour by David Bowie]

In November 1973 Rolling Stone magazine arranged for Bowie to meet the author that writer Norman Mailer described in 1962 at the Naked Lunch obscenity trial as “the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius,” William S. Burroughs. (This conversation would be printed as Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman in February of the following year).
nova-trilogy
Introducing Bowie to that author’s experimental novels in The Nova Trilogy (The Soft Machine; The Ticket That Exploded; and Nova Express), Bowie would largely abandon any linear narrative threads to his songwriting and begin employing in earnest the cut-up technique that Burroughs developed. Burroughs would credit his friend and collaborator, the late avant-garde painter and poet Brion Gysin for the idea of the cut-ups, saying:
“He was, of course, the inventor of the cut-up method, which did introduce an element of chance into selection of material for writing. And of course then he realized that life is a cut-up. Every time you walk down the street or look out the window, you’re conscious is being cut by these random factors. So it’s really closer to the actual facts of perception.”
[Cut up lyrics for ‘Blackout’ from “Heroes” 1977]

[Cut up lyrics for ‘Blackout’ from “Heroes” , 1977]

Bowie’s method generally involved cutting and reassembling his own writing as opposed to utilizing external input from say newspapers and magazines. He would later describe the inspirational and compositional use of this technique with: “I suppose it’s a very western Tarot.” A year on from Diamond Dogs, in May and June of 1975, the ever mercurial Bowie who had just released his earnest and beautifully limber delve into “plastic soul,” Young Americans, gave an extensive interview to Cameron Crowe for an article that would be printed in a February 1976 issue of Rolling Stone. Bowie–undoubtedly consumed in a cocaine mania from which would escape his masterpiece of cold funk and dense decadence Station To Station–nevertheless gave the reporter this insight into what he perceived as this technique’s benefits on his creative process: