art words ideas
Routledge’s new paperback edition of David Bowie : Critical Perspectives with a brand new cover featuring my Bowie Russian Nesting Dolls.
Grab it here:
Containment builds on the suburban gothic oeuvre, exploring the dichotomy between the external and internal worlds and the hidden parts of the human condition. The installations in containment are constructed from raw paper bags, wire, feathers, bowls and paper and develop the iconography of previous work. Yet where burn explored the nature of pain and scarring through the tangible physicality of the mutilated surface these works push beyond, into the interior states of confinement, repression and restraint.
The obsession with the visceral is played out through recurring archetypal images; a kitchen knife, a colt revolver, an antique padlock, crows talons, singular feathers and sets of wings; and imbue the installations with suggestions of sexuality, spirituality and a latent, yet pervasive aggression.Whilst employing a visual language that is ephemeral in nature, the context of the exhibition is grounded in contemporary existence.
not drown lowdown 1
Not drowning, drifting
Not drowning, drifting integrates zen-like minimalism with subtle allusions to Greek mythology and Judeo-Christian imagery. 42 solitary feathers contained in 42 white porcelain bowls float upon the surface tension of the water within, positioned before a small ‘corpus christi’ stove element icon/assemblage. An Icarus association is drawn out through the winged corpus christi, and in the single feathers contained in the bowls – perhaps referencing icarus’ drowning in the ocean on falling from the sky, but in this instance, drifting, not drowning in holy water, contained within a feminine space/vessel.
An assemblage/installation constructed from wire mesh, bolts, crow wings and talons, and a metal box filled with tiny black ceramic birds plays with the idea of the containment of the (suburban)‘shadow’. In this work the torso and head of the crow has been removed, replaced by a wire mesh ‘cage’ leaving the wings and talons bolted within. Beneath them, a black metal box sits on the floor and can be opened by the viewer to reveal dozens of small black birds. With its reference to Pandora’s box the work questions our capacity or desire to ‘control or repress the shadow.
I use brown paper bags as a symbol for the torso. In this piece I’ve scrawled professional case notes drawn from actual cases on to the surface these paper bodies. There are mystery objects and words concealed inside, but they are never revealed.
subcutanea kneeling naked
Subcutanea is an installation of 110 brown paper bags suspended in rows in a progressive decline, suggesting figures in a womb like space. As the viewer proceeds through the work they are forced to assume a foetal crouching position reinforcing the allusion. The torso-esque bags are randomly printed with recurring images of crows, kitchen knives, guns, with some cut open to reveal black feathers, or antique padlock images.
The work references an ordered suburban existence where external presentation conceals hidden complexities, motivations and desires, in this case, suggested by black motifs and cryptic symbols..
Prince, the artist and musician had the Sacred Disease as a child. So too did Dostoyevsky and his character the Prince in his classic novel The Idiot.
When the young (purple) Prince was Seven he told his mother that he had been visited by an Angel and he had been cured of his seizures.
“I’ve never spoken about this before but I was born epileptic. I used to have seizures when I was young. My mother and father didn’t know what to do or how to handle it but they did the best they could with what little they had…My mother told me one day I walked in to her and said, ‘Mom, I’m not going to be sick anymore,’ and she said ‘Why?’ and I said ‘Because an angel told me so.’ Now, I don’t remember saying it, that’s just what she told me…From that point on, I’ve been having to deal with a lot of things, getting teased a lot in school,” he said. “And early in my career I tried to compensate by being as flashy as I could and as noisy as I could.” Prince interviewed by Travis Smiley
His Song for Victor seemingly makes allusion to his childhood epilepsy, Victor being perhaps less of an alter ego and more a personal state of triumph over struggle.
Song for Victor
I was born on a blood stained table
Cord wrapped around my neck
Epileptic ’til the age of seven
I was sure Heaven marked the deck (We sacrifice)
…Lord, I might get tired But I, I’ve got to keep on (We sacrifice)
Walkin’ down this road (We sacrifice)
Keep on walkin’ down this road (Joy around the corner)
When I reach my destination (We sacrifice)
My name will be, Victor. Amen.
My long term fascinations with epilepsy ( a disease symbolised internationally by the colour purple – see Purpleday.org) as an artist growing up with a father with Complex Partial Seizures has sparked a lifelong curiousity about the relationship between creativity, spirituality and altered states of consciousness.
So often there is something nebulous and otherworldly about those artists with epilepsy and/or mental illness that compels them into deep and passionate explorations of symbolism, mysticism, sexuality and spirituality.
“…he remembered that during his epileptic fits, or rather immediately preceding them, he always experienced a moment or two when his whole heart and mind and body seemed to wake up to vigor and light, when he became filled with joy and hope and all his anxieties seemed to be swept away forever. these moments were but presentments, as it were, of the one final second–it was never more than a second–in which the fit came upon him. that second, of course, was inexpressible. when the attack was over, and the prince reflected on his symptoms, he used to say to himself, ‘these moments, short as they are, when i feel such extreme consciousness of myself and consequently more of life than of other times, are due only to the disease–to the sudden rupture of normal conditions. therefore, they are not really a higher kind of life but a lower.’ this reasoning seemed to end, however, in a paradox and lead to the further consideration, ‘what matter though it be only disease,–an abnormal tension of the brain–if when i recall in to analyze the moment, it seems to have been one of harmony and beauty in the highest degree–an instant of deepest sensation overflowing with unbounded joy and rapture, ecstatic devotion, and completest life.'” Prince Myshkin in Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot”
There is an illuminating article from 2012 on The Higher Meaning Behind Prince’s Love Symbol by Gabriela Jimenez which looks into the seminal symbolism inherent in an early ‘visionary-esque’ cover artwork that would later evolve in to Prince’s iconic Love Symbol. Intriguingly Jimenez notes:
“…In the same P where a mane suggests Prince’s masculinity, the Love Symbol began its genesis, making its first appearance with its first configuration. The widely used emblems for peace (☮), femininity (♀) and masculinity (♂) emanate separately from a sun. After traveling through the letters spelling Prince, the three icons return as one, O(+>, following the phallic 1 at the bottom of the 9, as if the product of ejaculation. The melding of the three convolutes gender by implying that multiple can exist in one entity—simultaneously and without much turbulence. In that way, the Love Symbol cruise-controls on sexual ambiguity. 1999’s cover shares paradigm-altering eccentricities with artists from a former time and space.”
Undoubtably, the androgyny, sexual union, sigils and solar imagery throw us into that deeply archetypal territory that is the realm of visionary art with it’s alchemic undercurrents and close links to mystic experience. Jimenez even links Prince’s symbolic expression to that of the Dadaist’s with that most delicious of Greek words ‘syzygy’ – a concept Jung used to describe balanced sexual unification of masculine and feminine that was originally used in relation to the alignment of celestial bodies and male-female pairing of spiritual emanations in Gnosticism. If you are thinking this sounds a lot like esoteric Bowie territory, you would be right. And perhaps unsurprisingly, Bowie too had close genetic proximity to epilepsy, as a young boy watching his half-brother suffer violent seizures and hallucinations, together with as a strong family history of psychosis.
Bowie famously was another artist fascinated with the androgyne, sexuality and spirituality who swam deeply in the waters of liminality and symbolism, his work oozing with imagery of angels light and dark. But if at the end of Bowie’s life his creative expression around spirituality was cryptic and ambiguous, Prince was more cautionary. “You know there are bad angels as well as good angels.” he observed in 2010 discussing his serious commitment to his Jehovah’s Witness’ faith in later life that incredibly also included the JW staple of door-knocking neighbourhoods to share his belief.
So today, as the world faces the death of yet another iconic pop cultural figure in 2016, I can’t help but think of all the visionary artists and mystics who struggled with epilepsy and mental illness, forever wrestling angels good and bad.
“…suddenly in the midst of sadness, spiritual darkness and oppression, there seemed at moments a flash of light in his brain, and with extraordinary impetus, all of his vital forces suddenly began working at their highest tension. His mind and heart were flooded with extraordinary light. All his uneasiness, all his doubts, all of his anxieties were relieved at once. But at this moment these flashes were only the prelude of the final second with which the fit began.” Prince Myshkin in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot.
Which brings me to Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division and his profoundly intense struggle with epilepsy and depression which ended his life reminding us that for all the poetic insight, the disease can be very difficult to live with, taking an enormous toll on the sufferer. When Curtis committed suicide, Iggy Pop’s vinyl record The Idiot, produced by Bowie, was found playing on the stereo. The title of Pop’s album The Idiot was inspired by Dostoyevsky’s story of the spiritually sensitive Epileptic Prince who by the end of the novel, was driven mad by the tragic and violent society in which he lived.
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You’re on your own
And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy, punch a higher floor”
(Lets Go Crazy – Prince)
Today Prince, the young epileptic boy visited by angels, driven throughout his life by passion for sexuality, spirituality and music was found dead in an elevator, something he used as a very powerful spiritual metaphor. Ironically today is also Iggy Pop’s 69th Birthday, one of the last of the old rock guard standing.
Vale to the Epileptic Princes who swim in liminal waters of the sensual, sublime and the subterranean.
Don’t let the elevator bring you down. Go Crazy and Punch that Higher Floor.
Burn – a series of work 1999 – 2002
Burn explores the physical and metaphorical nature of pain and scarring in images created by branding, burning and marking of surfaces with heat, fire or charcoal. Pared back to its essential elements the gentle simplicity of the images belies the inherently complex and uncomfortable content of the series. Comprised of works in sculpture, installation, photography, and drawing, the large series of work makes repeated veiled and explicit reference to the themes of destruction, abuse, consumption, sacrifice and redemption in the context of the body and the spirit.
My initial concept began as sort of a cathartic expression of trauma.
One of the most difficult images I have seen were scars of an infant that had been held down upon an electric stove element. Burnt into the tender skin was the unmistakable spiral ‘coils’ of an electric hotplate – the child was so small the wound covered much of her back, a spiral scar she would wear forever.
It was from this point that I became obsessed with burns, and the imagery and form of the coil and its inherently cryptic swirl. It was as if each black spiral carried with it an aura of its potential energy and a mysterious history of heat.
The familiar domestic object with a sinister undercurrent. The metal stove coil motif evolved into a metaphor for isolation, alienation and abandonment…the works like scars on a fractured and isolated humanity; where abandonment, exploitation, even torture lurk painfully close.
A mysterious synchronicity
But the creation of this series of work was to become as personally visceral as it was metaphorical. In some bizarre, macabre twist, several months into the process of creating this series of work around burning and scarring, as the images below were laid out in my Cairns studio, my father sustained serious full thickness burns to 40% of of his body. The accident occurred when he had a seizure in the shower, unable to turn off the hot water.
I had spoken to him the night before, as he prepared to fly to the Austin Hospital Neurology Unit in Melbourne for surgery on his brain the following morning. Instead, he was evacuated to the Royal Brisbane Hospital Burns Unit. My sister and I flew down from Cairns, where I now found myself watching the weeping, blistering, dying skin of my father.
This accident profoundly affected my vision.
The central image of the series is the poignant sculptural image ‘Corpus Christi’, a winged Christ crucified upon an electric stove coil which is exhibited individually and also as a component of the larger ‘element’ installation. Exuding an archetypal quality the piece simultaneously references traditional spiritual iconography and 1950’s suburban kitsch; at once both reverent and ironic. The hand made wings are made from the collected feathers of battery hens – nature imprisoned to feed human demand – while the physical interplay between the plastic, metal and organic media mirrors the simple conceptual balance of the piece.
In the re-configuration of the familiar domestic object as an instrument of torture ( of the child and of the Christ) this work alludes to the sinister undercurrents of the everyday while becoming a type of post-modern crucifix. The representation of a Winged Christ visually recalls a despondent Icarus, the plastic sheen on the synthetic figure exuding a wax like quality, reinforcing the mythic association; the intersection of icons throwing up interesting implications around ascension and decent, obedience and fleshly destruction. Icarus’ waxed winged ascension was sabotaged by flying too close to the sun in direct disobedience to his father’s wisdom, whilst the Son’s alignment (Christ) with the Father seems to predicate his heavenly ascension toward the Sun. Are we grounded by wings created by the subordination of nature and youthful hubris? Do our shadows crucify the energies that will transform us? Forgive us father, for we know not what we do.
In Flesh jagged pieces of paperbark branded with text line white walls like nameless patients in a hospital ward; burn, weep, crust, maim, sear, scrape, welt, brand, bleed, scab, scar. The inherent characteristics of paperbark, with its subtle variations in colour and texture has an uncanny parallel to the layers of human skin and I was part way through the creation of this piece when my father was burnt during his seizure. This lead to my work evolving from the rhelm of conceptual metaphor to one infused with concern for texture and surface, form and tangibility.
Burn Part 2.
“I want Eagles in my Daydreams, Diamonds in my Eyes” Bowie swoons on his enigmatic new work Blackstar. His soulful longing follows a hubristic rant as a trickster God enticing the faithfully enslaved to sacrifice themselves for him. He’ll take your passport and shoes, your valium and your worship. You might make a martyr, but you’re a flash in the pan, he’s the Great I AM, and he’s laughing as all the Pretty Things are going to Hell.
According to rumours by musicians who worked with Bowie ( but denied by ‘official sources’) the song references Isis. Who knows? I have previously suggested Bowie’s work on both Outside and Loving the Alien explores this territory in “Confronting Bowie’s Mysterious Corpses” in the Bloomsbury book Strange Fascinations.
“Bowie’s linking of violence, spiritual belief and death, and the lack of contemporary, culturally resonant frameworks to meaningfully process these powerful energies explored on Outside is intriguing, particularly when considering why people are attracted to violent expressions of belief, such as “Islamic State”. (Bowie had previously explored the ancient clash of religious ideology in his 1985 song “Loving the Alien”, singing of terror and torture from the crusades through to modern times: “Watching them come and go, the Templars and the Saracens…Torture comes and torture goes …terror in the best laid plans…Christians and the unbelievers, hanging by the cross and nail”).
Grace’s corpse on Outside seemed the end result from the convergence, subversion and dysfunctional channeling of these primal drives. Bowie sang in several guises across the 1995 album, from Detective Nathan Adler, who had undertones of a cryptic “Grand Inquisitor” figure (Dostoyevsky, 1880), [xiii] to murder suspect, Leon Blank, a reversal of Noel, herald of emptiness, a Holy Fool cutting esoteric zeroes into the fabric of time and perceiving hidden mysteries through “These Architects Eyes”, a name for God in the mystery traditions. [xiv] Deliberately ambiguous, the project possibly intimated the Detective himself could be the Minotaur serial killer who murdered Baby Grace, a theological implication perhaps cryptically reflected in “The Next Day” single and film clip with its contempt for exploitative religious leaders who “work with Satan while they dress like saints” and corrupt institutions of power that exploit and destroy the Grace they should protect and illuminate.” Confronting Bowie’s Mysterious Corpses, Stark July 2015
Blackstar was released the week following the Bataclan Slaughter at the Eagles of Death Metal concert. The killing began during their song Kiss the Devil. It was recorded long before. They had already played Don’t Speak, I came to make a Bang.
“Don’t move, don’t speak, even whisper/There’s something happenin’ but don’t be scared/I’m too smooth, you never see me coming … I’m your fabulous weapon/ I’ll hit your target… but don’t be scared/I’m in too tight, gonna feel it tonight, yeah/Baby girl, gonna take your whole world/I came to make a bang, yeah” Eagles of Death Metal (setlist here)
According to a witness, music journalist Pierre Janaszak those lyrics seem to have played themselves out at the Bataclan:
“[The terrorists said] in French, of course, to the free hostages – one woman, her boyfriend and another guy – “Why are you crying? Why are you crying?” And the guy said: “Because I’m scared” He said – “You don’t have to be scared, you will be dead in few minutes, so don’t worry”… This girl just stopped crying, instantly…”.
At the time of the slaying the Blackstar symbol, seen on Bowie’s ‘holy’ book was everywhere. Most curiously, it showed up on the hand of the Josh Homme, playing drums years earlier in the film clip for Speaking in Tongues. That song came to lead singer Jesse Hughes in a dream, he claimed. Fully formed.
“The first songs I ever wrote, like “Speaking in Tongues” and “Flames Go Higher,” they came in my dreams. I shit you not. I woke up with the whole song lyric and everything in my head. That was really easy.” Jesse Hughes
This idea of the synchronistic manifestation of symbolism in the dreams and visions of seers and artists is something I’ve explored in depth across the past 4 years. Jung’s manifestations of the collective unconscious, if you will. And what I’ve learned is not to dismiss it offhand. Much of this territory is archetypal and open to interpretation, to be sure, but thats why it’s in the subjective realms of poetry, art and spirituality.
“I suspect that dreams are an integral part of existence, with far more use for us than we’ve made of them, really. I’m quite Jungian about that. The dream state is a strong, active, potent force in our lives…the fine line between the dream state and reality is at times, for me, quite grey. Combining the two, the place where the two worlds come together, has been important in some of the things I’ve written, yes” David Bowie in Crashing Out with Sylvian Stark 2015
The Deftones were in the Bataclan audience as well, scheduled to play songs from their album Diamond Eyes the following night. That album is full of eerily prescient songs, including This Place is Death that once again, references the liminal world of dreams.
I want Eagles in my Daydreams, Diamonds in my Eyes?
This Place Is Death (from Diamond Eyes)
You arrive in my dream Beside me every night…You and me, we explode through the scene, We try to drain the night empty….No one goes off in every way…Like you do… We spray the scene in red…No one else has a hold over me…Like you do… This place is death, I know you feel the same.
The Prince ( Diamond Eyes)
The mindset/Of a killer…With your gaze/You paint the room/Blood red/ With tears/Pouring from the stage……Now open your empty hands/Cause here comes the fun here comes the end…Then clear out the room/Blow kisses, wave them goodbye…Goodnight.
Rocket Skates (Diamond Eyes)
You’re red soaking wet… I’m right next to you…You’re red soaking wet…Let’s writhe, Let me see you trip. One move that will keep you wet/Let’s fall in a long sadistic trance…Put the keys in our hands…GUNS! RAZORS! KNIVES!
I have no idea why The Eagles of Death Metal seemed to be linked with Bowie and Blackstar, but the moment the Paris massacre happened, there seemed to be weird synergies about.
I’ve come to the working hypothesis, that, as mysterious as they are, synchronous occurrence of archetypal and more specific imagery is a real phenomena that some people are particularly sensitive to perceiving.
Advocate, adversary or acolyte of angels or devils, those mortals with antennae perpetually tuned to the zeitgeist -the prophets, the madmen and the artists – swim in prescience and synchronicity. Perhaps what Jung called the Collective Unconscious could arguably be called the Powers and Principalities referred to in the New Testament, or Energies to New Agers. I guess it depends on your perspective. There are enough reports throughout history on visionary experience, madness, temporal lobe epilepsy and mysticism to know something is going on. (See Javier Alvarez-Rodriguez’s concept ‘hyperia’ in Psychic Neuronal Hypersynchronies: A new Psychiatric Paradigm, for example. ) The challenge is perhaps less one of credibility, but of how to hold this extra sensory awareness in balance and not fall into hysteria, depression, psychosis or mania, or at least, stay there.
When David Bowie portrayed Pontius Pilate in the controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ, right wing Catholic extremists in Paris bombed the St Mitchel Theatre where the movie was playing. Allegations of blasphemy so stoked the angry flames in the hearts of the devout, some decided the best way to avenge Christ’s honour was through murder. (And they literally used sulphuric acid as the trigger). Sadly it sounds all too familiar.
“Before the film opened, the Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, condemned it without having seen it. He said, ”One doesn’t have the the right to shock the sensibilities of millions of people for whom Jesus is more important than their father or mother.” After the fire, Cardinal Lustiger condemned those responsible for what the police suspect was arson. ”You don’t behave as Christians but as enemies of Christ,” the prelate said. ”From the Christian point of view, one doesn’t defend Christ with arms. Christ himself forbade it.” New York Times, Oct 1988
Based on Nikolas Kotzankiszis book, Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is theologically intense and confronting and throws up complex questions around personal agency, the character of god and the devil, good and evil, and our capacity for delusion and self deception. There are intriguing conflations of psychosis with visionary experience, destiny and desire. Classic Bowie territory. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s an important one.
Bowie’s portrayal of Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ is much like that of Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquistor who, in turn, seems to reflect the character Bowie is portraying/channelling in Blackstar. When confronted with an imprisoned and silent Christ incarnated in Spain, the Inquisitor berated Christ for his follies of freedom.
People don’t want freedom, he taunted, they want bread, tricks and someone to blindly tell them who to worship and what to do. They desire to be Slaves. Not joint heirs of the kingdom. You failed all three tests of the Devil in the wilderness, he accused. Who wouldn’t want Power, Wealth and Magic?
“I believe this…” David Bowie 2002.
Give me peace of mind at last/Show me all you are…I would give you all my love/Nothing else is free/Open up your heart to me/And I would be your slave
Skulls and Crucifixes.
In The Last Temptation of Christ, Bowie as Pilate sent Christ off to Golgotha, the Place of Skulls to be crucified. In Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamokov, when the Inquisitor finished his admonishment, Christ silently walked over and kissed the Inquisitor on his cold lips. Seemingly rattled, instead of sending Christ to his death, he released him out into the dark alleys of the city. Significantly, “The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea”.
Who will kiss the Devil? the Reverend Jessie Hughes, nicknamed ‘the Devil’ was singing when ISIS stormed the Bataclan. “I will kiss the devil on this tongue” he gleefully replied, seemingly oblivious that Old Nick might take him literally.
Bowie has always had a thing for that ol’ gospel call and response. Remember Width of a Circle with Bowie’s “tongue swollen with devils love”? “Turn around and go back”, warned the lyrics to little avail. “Wanna stay underground” Bowie’s gospel choir sang in Underground, the soundtrack to Labyrinth.
“…the hallways became a labyrinth…” Jesse Hughes describes his desperate attempt to outrun the terrorists.
Descents, Nekyia’s, Night Sea Journeys what ever you want to call them, are all archetypal ways of describing the journey into the darkness of ones (and perhaps societies) soul. They are pivotal and important, but however mesmerising or despairing the process, shamanic or otherwise, you have to resist the temptation to remain in the subterranean netherworlds. You must find your way back to the light. If “Something happened on the day he died, spirit rose a metre and then stepped aside” then perhaps a psychopomp is in order. Eternal hovering, strung out in heavens high, is no good for anybody.
Bowie is definitely a Seer – some intriguing mix of prophet, madman and visionary artist. Whether he is a liar, well, again, who can tell. Reviews of Blackstar the album have noted its similarity in tone to Station to Station. That album marked an apex of creativity, but personal abyss of addiction, spiritual confusion and mental hell that he barely survived. It was the time of The Man who Fell to Earth, (the ‘prequel’ to Lazarus) from Kether to Malkuth, of glowing visions and occult headfucks. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s “David Bowie Is…” exhibition reveals an aborted line from Station to Station as “You love like a bomb/You smell like a ghost’. Weird.
Incidentally I’ve got an image in that exhibition. It’s a shot of Bowie Matryoshka’s at Trinity College, Dublin. Layers upon layers of Bowie personas that stack inside themselves. “Something deep inside of me, a yearning deep inside..”
In 1976, a manically inflated Bowie was interviewed for Rolling Stone by a young Cameron Crowe. Yet, in what may have seemed like nonsense 30 years ago looks pretty damn prescient in the face of ISIS now.
“I think we are due for a revival of God awareness. Not a wishy-washy kind of fey, flower-child thing, but a very medieval, firm-handed masculine God awareness where we will go out and make the world right again. I’m feeling more and more that way.”
Bowie continues: “…Rock & roll has been really bringing me down lately. It’s in great danger of becoming an immobile, sterile fascist that constantly spews its propaganda on every arm of the media. It rules and dictates a level of thought and clarity of intelligence that you’ll never raise above. …Rock & roll too — it will occupy and destroy you that way. It lets in lower elements and shadows that I don’t think are necessary. Rock has always been the devil’s music. You can’t convince me that it isn’t…
…I have to carry through with my conviction that the artist is also the medium….I believe that rock & roll is dangerous. It could well bring about a very evil feeling in the West. I do want to rule the world. There’s always a pendulum swing, right? Well, we’ve had the high with rock. It’s got to go the other way now. And that’s where I see it heading, bringing about the dark era… I feel that we’re only heralding something even darker than ourselves…”
Jesse Hughes from the Eagles of Death Metal mades some striking similar comments in 2015:
“I’m sorry, but I’m going to take full fucking credit right now for fucking the destruction of everything good, OK? Because it’s true,” he says. “Everything that the Bible thumpers said about Elvis is fucking true. It destroyed everything: Intimacy, the ability for people to be married — society at large is gone. [Pop culture] brought us the Internet, mass pornography, the death porn of Quentin Tarantino. It’s all fucking darkness and evil and has one goal, dude. And it’s not anything good for us. That’s the fucking reality of it, dude…”
Back in 1976, Bowie went on to say:
“I have this dream. I’d like to host a satellite television show and invite all the biggest bands onto one stage. Then I’d come out with a great big wheelbarrow of machine guns and ask them, ‘Now how many of you are gonna do anything? How many are going to pick up a gun and how many of you are gonna cling to your guitars?'”
Bowie got damn close to seeing this dream in Paris.
Amidst the inflation, the delusions of grandeur, and the smatterings of paranoia, perhaps redolent of bi-polar or drug induced mania or psychosis I still ask is there something else going here? And my answer, after years of pondering the intersection between madness, genius, creativity and mysticism, is yes. And it seems the best psychiatrists agree. Some people, especially those at risk of going ‘mad’ are literally channeling the zeitgeist at levels their rational minds cannot process. Be clear I’m not drawing causative link here. This is a very important distinction. Much of this stuff functions at the level of instinct and unconsciousness, bubbling to the surface. Weather vanes do not cause the weather, do they?
Bowie claims that Mark Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon, had him next on the list. Bowie was acting on Broadway at the time, playing Elephant Man. Bowie says Chapman had tickets to the show beside John and Yoko, and the night following the murder he was confronted by three empty seats in the front row. Who knows? Whatever the case, Lennon and Bowie’s collaboration Fame takes on an eerie tone knowing Chapman held his gun, Valentine style, in his scrawny hands and tiny heart, and waited for Lennon to return in his limo before shooting him in the back.
“Fame, what you want is in your limo, Fame what you get is no tomorrow”.
But beautifully, it’s not always dark stuff than seems to push through the veil. Moments after Lennon was pronounced dead, Dr Lynne, who desperately cut open his chest to physically pump his heart with his hands recalls “All my Loving” came across the hospital speakers as he prepared to break the news to Yoko Ono.
“Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true, And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day, And I’ll send all my loving to you…”
Try and listen to that and not cry.
To all those who were slaughtered by evil at the Bataclan, Rest in Peace. Know Everyone Says Hi. To those who lost loved ones at the Bataclan may you honour their lives through freedom and love. To the Eagles of Death Metal – Peace, Love and Life. And yes, you are right, Reverend Jesse “..a great reason why so many were killed is because so many people wouldn’t leave their friends…So many people put themselves in front of people.” That’s what real Saints looks like.
There is no greater love.
Speaking in tongues, synchronistic phenomenon, prophetic energies, symbolic mysteries, blackstars or white… whether any of this is real or not, well, it’s all pretty moot in the end.
Love trumps it all.
1 Corinthians 13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
“In the Villa of Ormen, stands a solitary candle.”
Bowie Blackstar 2015
“I’ve got to do this,” [Bowie] says, pulling a shade down on the window. A ballpoint-penned star has been crudely drawn on the inside. Below it is the word “Aum.” Bowie lights a black candle on his dresser and immediately blows it out to leave a thin trail of smoke floating upward.” Rolling Stone 1976
Walk in Freedom.
After years of oblivion this hymn written by my distant relative James McCorkindale in 1928 has re-entered the zeitgeist. Thinking about the bizarre concept of synchronicity and being ‘tuned in’, I went googling for more info about this song today. World, I present Peter Taylor singing “My Wonderful Wireless Set”
And with this, Old Uncle James joins the rich heritage of artists, writers and composers, such as Dostoevsky, Blake, Bowie and Burroughs who have spoken of sensitivity and visionary connection to ‘other realms’.
Can’t get enough of Peter Taylor? Listen to his cautionary advice around the perils of alcohol: “The Man Trap.” You’re Welcome.
Perhaps somewhere in the liminal spaces between Word on a Wing, Loving the Alien, Bowie’s Lets Dance film clip shot in Aboriginal Australia – where he feared that Grace would fall – and the anguish of a silent God on I Would be Your Slave lies Gurrumul, the blind seer.
Playing as part of Supersense, a festival that includes performances of Brian Eno’s music and John Cale, Gurrumul is something special.
“Aboriginal singer Gurrumul is a stunningly unique voice in the contemporary global landscape, and in this world premiere he pays tribute to the spiritual richness of north east Arnhemland and the gospel songs of his youth. As a child on Elcho Island, Gurrumul’s musical world was influenced not only by the traditional music of his clan but by the gospel hymns he heard at the local Methodist church. Now those songs are reimagined through the unique voice of one of our most treasured artists. Joined by a choir and expanding the sounds he heard as a boy, this concert is a deeply human encounter between cultures and across time. “There’s something preternaturally soothing about the voice of Gurrumul… His music is as approachable as it is otherworldly.” – The New York Times”