Bowie: Bad, Mad, or just Sad?

Posted: 6 March 2016 in Cultural, Understanding Others
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david-bowie-blackstar-2Enjoy David Bowie’s last album “Blackstar” album? I do, but should I? I hear the sniping from the sides. Denounced as Satan exposed.  Yes of course, say defenders.  He lived in an occult universe.  As a fellow London lad I am now intrigued. As a Christian, I am now concerned. So – what’s it all about?

Someone calling himself The Vigilant Christian posted on YouTube a scalding denunciation (see here).  He says Bowie’s Blackstar message is one from the Occult, full of occultic symbols and elevation of Satan himself.  He says it has a blasphemous take on Christianity.  His YouTube contribution generated a tidal wave of intemperate comment.

Is Blackstar demonic? Defenders like Kyle B Stiff chime up, yes it is.  But it is classic post modern mash-up.  Johan Renck directed the Blacsktar video states it uses occult images (see interview).  There are clearly influences from Alistair Crowley, the well known British Satanist (1875-1947), and Bowie recognised that some of the imagery would cause a storm of protest.  But Bowie, and many of his peers, have a long long history of seeking to provoke reactions from bastions of “traditional morality”, and also from pillars of “good taste”.  Johan Renck denies Bowie wanted material “to shock”, but admits if it does – it can only be good publicity.  As another commentator noted, was not Bowie “a brilliant entertainer with a penchant for dramatics?”  Goodness yes!

There are two interesting threads within Blackstar video and Lazarus video: a reflection on a life’s work as the end of life beckons; a wish and an anxiety about what comes next, after death.

“I do think that there’s reason to believe if you’re a prolific artist and going into your late 60s you’d at least start to think about mortality. In doing that you start thinking about your own relevance to history in a different way. And when you get older, you think about the things you want to do and how it will be perceived by your children one day “ Renck.

But Bowie was looking forward too.  What happens next?  When the heart tops and brain functions cease.  There are layers and layers of allusions in the music and the visual material.

But if the overarching story is about metaphysical alternative worlds, it is the pop culture version.  There is no overtly propositional truth being asserted, just a mood or feeling.  And that feeling is one of anxiety and unease. Of self justification.  In the face of cancer, one reflects on the past, and consider the future over the cancer-event-horizon.  When I had cancer, I certainly did. And I may have to do so again.  The reflection is a good thing.  Not to do so is to be in denial of the ultimate statistic. And many are in just that denial.

As a Christian, as a disciple of Christ, I read the critique of Christian social commentators, and while I shudder at what some of Bowie’s material, I also shudder at what some write in the name of Christ.  This type of critique repeatedly fails to make an impact because many are “tilting at windmills”.  Like Don Quixote, they are fighting the wars of the past, seeing monsters where there are just windmills.  They then miss the real monsters this generation faces.  Too easily spooked by unsettling aesthetics. Unwilling to examine the layered media messages. Looking for propositions and direct messages where there is none.  Instead they find ambiguities and double meanings, and are unable to pick up main themes.  They need to be sharper to pick up the zeitgeist, to see where people of Faith might engage, and not “tilt at windmills”.

What then?  Into the bin with my Blackstar CD?  I think not.  While I liked Pink Floyd’s elegiac The Endless River it is just that –misty melodies of old boys looking back.  Blackstar has zest even at the last gasp of earthly life.   The occultic references are foolish and led Bowie into a dead-end.  But they are not the central thrust of CD.  That this creative mind was looking for, and expected “something beyond” at the very end of his life, is a sign of the times for this age.

Bowie sings “I’m in heaven” – well I hope he is.  Perhaps others will think about The Beyond too.  He was sad and melancholic too (not new – the 2013 single “Where are we now”, and the bluebird in Lazarus, see “The Blubird” Stanford).  This is the Christian’s opportunity ……… that after The Flatline, there is A Pulse.

SO: Bowie’s last testament?  Perhaps Sad, rather than Bad or Mad.



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