Starman Showman Shaman

I'm not a prophet
                              or a stone age man.
                                                              Just a mortal
                                                                                    with the potential of a superman...

 

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With the shades drawn, my friend’s shag rug-floored bedroom took on an eerie eclipse-looking otherworldly orange hue even though it was 3:30 on a warm late April afternoon. I am 16, and a Junior at Lafayette High School, in Brooklyn. It is after school in Harvey’s bedroom. Me, Nora and Carmen are starting to do a ritual, a ritual that many of my age, before and after me, would experience.  It is an initiation into the great mystery.  And as every ritual has it’s fetish objects, this one has weed, strawberry flavored Bambu rolling paper, blacklights, a lava lamp, and most importantly, the Axis Mundi of it all: the sacred circular disk of black as night VINYL! 

Harvey places it on the sacrificial turntable from Radio Shack with the reverence of a high priest. The room is becoming cloudy with the dank, and sickly-sweet smell of pot and artificial strawberry scent. Nora seductively passes me the joint, but as the good boy I am, I pass it along to Carmen. I only care about one thing. Not the Sex, not the Drugs - but the Rock and Roll. The music begins.

A howling echo-filled deranged bass, dissonant horns, garbled humanoid sounds, and the voice! A voice of great articulation, and yet speaking words that I could barely understand. Or perhaps I am trying to block it out, as the voice is speaking of some horrible future vortex that I am slipping into, gasping to hold on to my sanity and yet wanting to go under with every cell in my body. My DNA is being rearranged into a configuration that changes me forever. Then the mood shifts and the voice says: "This ain’t rock and roll, this is Geeeenoooocideee!!!”

I gasp out loud my thoughts. “ I’ve never heard anything like this.”

Harvey says; “You never heard Diamond Dogs? What the hell are you? Some kind of PUSSY?”  The girls laugh in a stoned out way. Harvey is looking satisfied, having firmly establishing his alpha male position. I don’t give a hoot. I am under the spell of the great David Robert Jones, AKA David Bowie.

Recently I wake up to a text from a friend who asks me if I heard Blackstar. He remarks that the music seems like the soundtrack for a script I wrote. I write back that that is all too kind of him, to be compared to such a master. I already did hear some of the music, and saw the video for the title track of the album. As amazing as the music and the clip are, I did not hear the connection. “Perhaps I really should listen with an open mind,” I say to myself.  Somehow all day long I feel such unexplained sadness and grief.

That night, at 2 a.m., I watch the video for Lazarus. Wow! David looks so old and sick in that piece. I take it as it’s his way of dealing with aging and loss as a creative expression. Nevertheless, I am shaken by it. I go on facebook as soon as it is over, to read something distracting, like the latest shenanigans of the famous, or to see the latest cute kitty dance. Instead on the top of my feed I see it. “Bowie! OH NO!”  My core drops into a pit of despair. As I scroll down I see over and over again, the reality of the announced death of David Bowie. His video was no metaphor. It was his last goodbye; the last curtain call of the Starman, Showman, Shaman.

“Here are we. One magical movement from Kether to Malkuth.

                                                    There are you. You drive like a demon from Station to Station.”

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Over the next few days I am overcome with such grief. It feels like a family member has died. Yet it was even closer, like a part of me was ripped away. Why, I wonder? I have lived through the deaths of Jim, Lennon, Marley, Cobhain, Amy, and unfortunately many others. David Bowie did not join the 27 Club, or wasn’t murdered. 69, although a relatively young age to pass, was indeed a respectable amount of living. And though I know we all will take that final walk into the dark closet of mystery (unless the Singularity says otherwise), and that his passing puts me in touch with my mortality, and nostalgia, for my younger Moonage Daydream, I still could not fathom the despair of loss I and many others felt. This passing felt different. Why?  Perhaps it was that David Bowie was a true Shaman.

Shaman? Really? That word has been so bandied about in rock culture since the days of The Lizard King, Carlos Castenada, and countless New Age configurations and crystal readings. If that word does not speak to you, then try on that David Bowie was a fucking magician, perhaps the greatest one in pop history. His passing was the blowing out and releasing of a great and powerful light onto the world.

A Shaman is a human who undergoes great turmoil, stress and near death experiences in order to face the great void of other worlds. They receive visions, and healing from the spirits beyond. They take back to the normal world of the living the gifts and wisdom from the other side, to individuals, communities and the human race.

Being a shaman is an ordeal. Don’t believe anyone who says they want to be a shaman. They are full of shit.  Why would anyone want to deal with such madness of being in order to create the works that Bowie did?

From what vortex of swirling insanity did Bowie dive into, to bring back to us Halloween Jack being pulled out of the oxygen tank asking for the latest party. Knowing there were only 5 years left, and yet being torn apart at the end of your life by a black hole jumping infinite Starman; being chased by Scary Monsters and Superfreaks; being an Alien-loving Young American - A man who wanted to sell, and rule the world; An oddity, a hero just for one day, wild as the wind, ashes to ashes, an outsider, a “Blackstar.”

Many say they would have loved to have lived his life, but who would have wanted to go to such planes of extremes? How many of us would have even survived that existence, especially in the hot burning years of his 20’s. His genius was not that he wrote about Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, and the Thin White Duke, but that he BECAME them. And that was beyond anything anyone had ever done before in pop music. 

Bowie became a shape shifter, fueled by his hunger to break away from his working class background. He created a magickal cauldron filled with the rock and roll beats of Yoruba’s grandchildren. In it he mixed in the unabashedly sexual expressions of a liberated time. He sprinkled in a stardust potpourri of Mod, proto freak folk, drag, fashion, Egyptian symbols, poetry, the avant garde of  Warhol, and the wisdom of his mime/dance/theatre teacher, Lindsay Kemp. He spiked it all with the wild and wooly rituals of that proto rock and roll OG, Alistair Crowley. David became a Holy Artist and an Un-Holy Queen Bitch! Perhaps he was a prophet.

He wrote:

The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There's no electricity to play it. Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a Starman, which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make them real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song 'Rock 'n' roll suicide'. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible.

“Station to Station” was the album that sealed my connection to Bowie. Although I indeed knew about his music, was swayed by his Serious Moonlight and seduced by his Gene Genie, it was that album that grabbed me forever. I got into this masterpiece when I was going through my own dark night of the soul. I mean who wants to stay alive when they are 25?

I was living in a strange city, with an even stranger girlfriend, in a large apartment in San Francisco. A neighbor, who knew I was going through a rough time so far away from my home, showed up at my door. She handed me the album and a huge spliff and said “Smoke this, Play this, Dance all night and call me in the morning.” 

That night I made an altar with all kinds of crystals, candles, bones, mirrors, and personal objects. I smoked the joint. Holy Shit, that Cali Chiba was strong! Waaayy stronger then the dried up swag we smoked in Brooklyn. I felt an energy wave rise up in me, a wave that would have made a surfer jump on his board, and ride that sucker into an infinite California Dreaming. 

At exactly midnight, I dropped the needle onto the vinyl. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, for the first note of the song to begin. What I heard was a wooshing sound emanating from one corner of the room, moving through the center of my being, and pulling me through to the other side. It was a goddamn train! I was being taken for a ride that I knew was taking me to Hell. I freaked out. “OH my God, I will never smoke pot again, I want to go home, why did I listen to that crazy hippie punk rocker girl, my brain is broken.....”. Guitar feedback blared on the right channel. I got my bearings. It was a familiar sound, and yet brutally strange. Other sounds, guitar, bass, kick drum stabbed their way into my head. The song really took shape. I felt a Danse Macabre rise up within me. Slowly, and flowing like a snake I moved, in perfect coordination, even in my smoky state. I was in trance, and ready to go anywhere: to heaven, to hell, and back. Then out of nowhere, the voice of my shaman for tonight’s flight speaks: “The return of the Thin White Duke. Throwing darts in lovers' eyes.”

I was ready to follow that voice anywhere. And I danced, dance to lives lived and lost. I danced like a madman to shake off all the decayed dust of my teenage and college years. I danced on mountains, soared with birds, searching, and believing I could be connected with love. Yes! I drank with men, I hollered praise, and raised an imaginary glass to all that was before, and all that will be.

And then.

And Then.

AND THEN!

The song becomes the greatest disco song I have ever heard in my fucking life. I didn’t care if it was all just the side effects of the cocaine (or in my case pot). I am going wherever the song takes me, and never coming back. The music picks up tempo, and intensity. I become a blur of flash and movement. I dance with a wildness that is bigger then me, bigger then my sorrows and fears. I am in ecstasy. As the song ends I fall down to the ground in release. It is just the first song. I get up and travel in sound and vision till the record ends.

I wake up at dawn, a new day, birds singing, and a wicked smile on my face.

Station to Station was Bowie’s almost-suicide letter. It was the record that ended his ultimate rock star era. It started him on his path to inspire, influence and illuminate the rock music scene for the next 15 years-until one of his protégés snatched the golden ring of fame, and sang about Teen Spirit.

That night was when I first felt music really could save lives; that the sprits of music can indeed possess, dance, and heal me, and you. Because David Bowie perfectly showed me his demons and deamons, darkness and wonder, I knew I could also travel those roads, and return to life, a better person.

I did see Bowie perform during his last tour in 2003. When it was announced that he had a serious heart condition, it felt like he would fade away. As the years rolled by, I found myself listening to his “classic works” and not paying attention much to his newer stuff. But Blackstar did floor me.

The Blackstar and Lazarus’s videos kicked me with an otherworldly, and hallucinogenic two step double punch to my stomach. I felt nauseous watching Blackstar when it was released. I felt this way only twice before, when I first saw “The Matrix,” and when I saw “The Holy Mountain,” by Alejandro Jodorowsky. What all three projects have in common is a connection to mystery so deep, with symbols so awe inspiring, it was like having ayahuasca pumped directly into my eyes into the center of my soul. They are so powerful that the ego hides in fear of the infinite truths being displayed.

The night of Bowie’s death I find out that we were neighbors. I lived 5 blocks from where he spent his last years in NYC. I go at midnight to the front of his building. There are hundreds of candles, flowers, photos and offerings to the great man. I pay my respects and go home to watch Lazarus again.

I almost fall off my couch when I realize that the outfit he is wearing in the video is the same one that he wore on the back of the Station to Station album, where he is drawing the Tree of Life, of the Kabbalah. The circle is complete as he crosses over into the great abyss. If there were anyone who traveled all the points of the Sephirots laid out on the tree, the full depth and breadth of human existence, David Bowie did. And those among the living will always be grateful for such a guide as he was.


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
Let's turn on and be not alone
Gimme your hands cause you're wonderful

Gimme your hands cause you're wonderful

Oh gimme your hands....

The  David Bowie memorial in front of his apartment in Soho