The Thin White Duke aka The Best Dressed Rock Star Ever
(Note: Some NSFW links included)
I was and truthfully, still am extremely hesitant about writing this blog post given that social media sites are awash with Bowie articles and tributes after his untimely, recent death and I really don’t want to add to the overblown nature of how the media and music poseurs (who never liked Bowie before but suddenly do now) have been reacting. So I’m going to try to keep this as simple as I can. Wish me luck.
Bowie in the famous Masayoshi Sukita pantsuit. Bowie had a love affair with avante-garde Japanese designers.
I’m going try to attempt to look at Bowie’s spiritual evolution in a nutshell (a real examination would be worthy of a PhD dissertation), the influence it had on others and then end with how he affected me and the indirect contact I had with him. I know there’s a lot of dirty laundry about him coming out now, but if anything it paints him as an extremely complicated individual and a reminder there really is no such thing as black and white when it comes to individual souls and personalities.
It would seem that from the very beginning, right with the midwife who delivered him, he was acknowledged as an old soul. This doesn’t surprise me in the least. If you look at his earlier work and his obsession with outer space, being an alien and the emphasis on stars, alienation, isolation, being an outsider and of being utterly alone and disassociated from humanity, I think deep down inside he knew he really wasn’t from here either.
Bowie as the Starman
First Nation’s people maintain that we originally came from the stars, recent theories on evolution and the origins of life seem to confirm it and I think Bowie knew it too in his heart and tried channeling it through his work. All you need to do is listen (or read the lyrics) to songs like “Starman”, “Life on Mars”, “Space Oddity”, “Ashes to Ashes”, “Moonage Daydream”, watch “The Man Who Fell to Earth” or even when he decided to tackle “Elephant Man” on Broadway. The clues and hints are all there if you look for them.
This very lengthy and thorough essay is probably the best thing you can read on Bowie’s interest in spiritual matters and the occult. It’s all there. Like lots of English rock stars from the hedonistic 1970s, Bowie was obsessed for a while with the works of Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune and her book “Psychic Self-Defense”, Fortune’s assertion that the Glastonbury area is intimately associated with the Arthurian legends, how he studied Hebrew Kabbalah and the Sephoric Tree of Life (and even inserted a lot of these ideas in his 10th album “Station to Station”).
The Kabbalistic Tree of Life in Jewish mysticism, with the different energy centers and expressions of God’s energy, the 10 Sephirot
This was at the height of his cocaine addiction in the 1970s, which fueled a cocaine-induced paranoia in many areas of his life, when he was going through all sorts of weird phases like his all-white diet (which consisted of drinking milk and snorting coke and eating a few peppers), when he had an exorcism performed on his LA swimming pool by a mysterious New York City white witch named Walli Elmlark, how he stopped performing live for a while because he was convinced someone from the audience was going to shoot him, how he feared flying and would take the Trans-Atlantic Queen Mary 2 ship liner instead of airplanes or the Concorde. Later in life, after he had cleaned up and gone sober, he took to Buddhist meditation, supported the Tibetan cause and married Muslim-Somali supermodel Iman Abdulmajid.
The supermodel and the rock star – and one of the best looking biracial couples in the world.
I even suspect he had a bit of the earth energy reader himself, meaning I think he picked up on ley lines and places on earth which had higher-than-normal frequencies. His taste in real estate shows that. In the 1980s, he fell in love with Bali, long before it became the obnoxious tourist hub it is today, when it still was considered a spiritual place to be. In fact he re-created a Balinese villa on the exclusive Caribbean island of Mustique.
Bowie in an Indonesian sarong, at his Balinese-inspired retreat on Mustique.
When Mustique became too much, he bought a place in the most mystical of all the Greek islands, Patmos, where the Cave of the Apocalypse is and admitted to the island’s charms. (I’ve been there and I can attest to it to). While he mostly lived in New York in the artistic (but now completely gentrified) Soho district, his favorite spot in NYC was Washington Square Park but to escape the summer heat, he also had a mountain retreat in hippy-dippy Woodstock, NY, site of the famous music festival.
Bowie in three versions of drag in the “Boys Keep Swinging” video. Bowie’s female muses which he based these personalities on included Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo.
Much has been said and written about his sexual experimentation and quasi-bisexual lifestyle, how his gender-bending androgynous personas like Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane, helped many persons from the LGBTQ community to either come out, or accept their orientation or anyone accept their own personal weirdness.
Bowie as Ziggy Stardust
In my opinion, his basic message was that its OK to accept your own inner freak and be comfortable with your own weirdness and uniqueness as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, you don’t need to justify it to anyone else. After all, there is no such thing as “normal” since normalcy is completely relative. Bowie however made it cool to be different and if you were someone who was different, whether because of your sexual orientation, your ethnicity, your race or even if your interests, tastes and preoccupations were different from everyone else in your cultural milieu. Somehow, Bowie and his music made you feel like someone really understood you and had your back and that it was all OK.
That meant a lot to me. My adolescence was spent in an annoying-as-fuck, socially claustrophobic, peer-pressured, cookie-cutter, affluent, white suburban ghetto of Montreal known as the West Island, where all the girls were generic, indistinguishable, white, blonde, dime-a-dozen idiots with names like “Kelly”, “Jennifer” or “Heather” who had identical clothes, hairstyles and opinions, all the guys were jocks who were into hockey or soccer, listened to Bon Jovi and all the supposedly cool kids hung out at the pool or park and “got wasted”. When you don’t fit that mold and couldn’t stand living in such a dead-end cultural cul-de-sac, Bowie was a Godsend and a sign that real life, real art and real music existed outside of those walls.
Bowie during his GQ phase – Bowie was the only man I know of who can pull off a pompadour and a yellow suit, and still managed to look amazing.
In my experience, it’s the people who corner themselves and their personalities into neat, square boxes, identical haircuts, identical suits and act out what being a conformist “normal” is supposed to look like who end up being the craziest, creepiest people in private – just look at Republicans and Conservatives.
It was also one of the worst-kept secrets Bowie spent A LOT of time hanging out in Montreal during the late 1980s and 1990s. He recorded his 1984 album “Tonight” up in Morin Heights, at Le Studio, about 70 km north of Montreal. He befriended Edouard Locke, creative director of Montreal’s legendary modern dance troupe, La La La Human Steps. Locke and principal dancer Louise Lacavalier were instrumental in choreographing Bowie’s 1990 “Sound + Vision” world tour.
Bowie during the Sound + Vision tour
Bowie also liked hanging out in Montreal’s various underground music clubs, notably La Sala Rossa and Casa del Popolo where he first got wind of local musical heroes Arcade Fire which then led to the friendship and numerous collaborations between him and the band later on.
As for me, I came to Bowie indirectly. I was 10 years old when I first heard “Let’s Dance” and freaked out when I watched his naughty “China Girl” video where you could see him having sex on the beach. When I became a teen, all, and I mean ALL my favorite 1980s alternative bands cited Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan of T-Rex and Roxy Music as their primary influence. Everyone from Depeche Mode and The Cure to The Smiths to Def Leppard to Bauhaus worshipped Bowie.
David Bowie and Queen’s Freddie Mercury backstage during 1985’s Live Aid concert. (That’s Coco Schwab in between in the blue shirt. She NEVER left Bowie’s side and was literally his right hand person from the 1970s right to the end.)
I also had older cousins who had all his albums from the 1960s and 70s so it made me listen to his earlier stuff with a newer and deeper appreciation. While I was listening to “Hunky Dory”, The Berlin Trilogy or “Scary Monsters”, the suburban cretins in my high school were listening to Poison or Michael Bolton. (I’m also fairly certain Bowie, along with Rick Springfield, Duran Duran in their heyday and The Professor from “Gilligan’s Island” , molded my preference for very tall, thin, chisel-featured, hyper-intelligent, intellectual but cultured, worldly men. Bonus: The fact that a stunning rock god like Bowie absolutely LOVED women of colour – yes!)
Bowie was in the short-lived band Tin Machine.
I saw Bowie twice in concert, first during the “Sound + Vision” tour and then when he came to Montreal as part of the group Tin Machine and I saw him play in a club instead of a stadium or arena. I almost met him once since I used to work as a very prominent rock radio station in Montreal while I was a university student. I was the morning receptionist and Bowie was coming in one afternoon after my shift. One of the stipulations by his manager and personal assistant, Corinne “Coco” Schwab, was that there should be absolutely no one there, no fans, no extra staff, just a skeleton crew when Bowie came for his interview, which meant that I couldn’t hang around and wait. So I left some of my copies of his various album covers with the station manager to get autographed including a rare copy of his earlier work with his early bands, The Manish Boys and The Lower 3rd. He signed everything except the rare album because it turned out to be some kind of bootleg, which I honestly didn’t know at the time. Oh well.
David Bowie when he was still David Jones. I have a copy of this EP but Bowie wouldn’t sign it. I wonder if his fingerprints are still on it.
I’ve written this before but Aquarius IS the sign for androgyny and nonconformity and I do think on some level Bowie was a forerunner of the incoming Age of Aquarius when gender lines, gender issues and gender identity are going to get even more blurred than ever before. At the end of the day, we’re human, that’s what counts. We just need to treat each other as such. Bowie knew it too. He just used his art and his life to show it.
Rest in peace, Goblin King. Bowie in the Jim Henson film “Labyrinth”.
And if you ever doubt that Bowie wasn’t connected to something otherworldly, have a listen to this. It’s what he chose to be played during his wedding to Iman, a Bulgarian folk-song which sounds like angels could be behind it. He’s probably jamming with them now.
Godspeed David Robert Jones!