David Bowie – The Hysteria, the Sorrow, the Frustration and the Hope

This is my article on David Bowie in Christian Today   – it is slightly amended because I wanted to tidy up a couple of things.  The article came as a result of a conversation with my wife, Annabel, as she gave me a lift down to the church.  And then all these ideas just popped into my head, so I wrote them down and quite surprizingly it has gone, as they say, ‘viral’.  There are so many ‘Bowies’ out there – who need to hear the Good News!  As always comments appreciated.

Its great that The Scotsman has put much of this on their website!

And The Herald

David Bowie’s death, grief, and the frustration of a society that has nothing to offer the lonely

It was a shock. Of course it was. Make your coffee, switch on the radio and you hear Life on Mars on Radio 4. What had happened? Had Bowie died? Indeed he had. An unconventional celebrity life, with an unconventional celebrity death. In this age of social media, gossip columns and photographers desperate for that one image, it is astonishing that David Bowie had cancer for 18 months and it never once got into the media. No one – apart from close friends and family – knew. He did something really unusual for a modern celebrity. He died privately.

Bowie Bingo

 But now everyone wants to have their say. I played Twitter Bingo that morning. David Cameron – check. Nicola Sturgeon – check. Media stars – check. Church leaders – check. It wasn’t long before I had a full house. Even the Vatican got in on the act – its newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, paid tribute. “One might even say that, beyond the apparent excesses, the legacy of David Bowie… is enclosed in its own sort of personal sobriety, expressed even in the lean physique, almost threadlike.”

I’m sure that many people were genuine in their tributes and did feel a real sorrow. Others may just have been playing the game; saying something for the sake of being seen to say something and show that they ‘cared’. God alone knows. I suspect the wall-to-wall coverage combined with the political, religious and cultural leaders’ interest was largely because those who are now in charge grew up with David Bowie as part of the soundtrack of their life. And to lose that is a sorrow.

Heaven 

But what really interested and saddened me was the number of spokespeople who made comments about him being in heaven. I hadn’t realised that so many of the great and good believed in heaven – and surely they would not be lying to us? Or just using heaven as an excuse to make a corny pun about ‘starman’ now looking down on us? And that set me thinking – what do we really think about heaven? I thought that in this naturalistic, materialist world we could be all grown up and just say, “He’s gone, he had a good life, did a lot of daft things, did a lot of good things, we will miss him, but he’s gone”. I haven’t checked but I almost expected Richard Dawkins to tweet, “He’s gone. There is nothing left of him but his music and family. He’s not in heaven”. But it appears that in popular culture, we still cannot face up to the nihilist existentialism of atheistic naturalism. It seems that the Bible was right about eternity being in our hearts. “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end”(Ecclesiastes 3:10-11).

So those who were happily singing “Imagine there’s no heaven” a few months ago are now telling everyone that David Bowie is in this heaven that they imagine does not exist? And those who want to say something nice and believe that everyone goes to heaven, think that Bowie is up there along with Lemmy, Hendrix and of course Stalin, Hitler and Jack the Ripper. That is, after all, the logic of their position. And again I have not looked, but I am sure that in the bloggersphere somewhere, there are some ‘Christians’ who are taking the opportunity to tell everyone he is in hell and how as a bisexual rock star drug addict he is a warning to us all. And there will be those who are writing about how he was converted on his deathbed and they can tell this because of a) something Bowie said, b) a dream they had or c) a very reliable source, a friend of a friend, who is ‘in the know’.

Sorrow

All I can say is that I feel a real and frustrating sorrow. Let me explain. Bowie, like most human beings was a complex man, who experienced many changes in his life. For example he moved from being gay/bisexual to being heterosexual. In an interview with Tony Parsons in Arena magazine in 1993 he said, “In the States, towards the end of the Seventies, I think the gay body was pretty hostile towards me because I didn’t seem to be supporting the gay movement in any kind of way. And I was sad about that. Because I had come to the realisation that I was pretty much heterosexual”.

He cannot just be simply pigeonholed according to what we want to be true. I didn’t know David Bowie and I am in no position to pass any judgement upon him. I do think he was a musical genius and much of his music was also part of the soundtrack of my early life. But the sorrow comes from what I heard him express, and the pathetic solutions offered to him by a society that he helped create.

Believer?

Firstly, there is no doubt that he was not an atheist. He said so. In that interview with Tony Parsons he explained why he had said the Lord’s Prayer at the Freddy Mercury tribute concert. “In rock music, especially in the performance arena, there is no room for prayer, but I think that so many of the songs people write are prayers. A lot of my songs seem to be prayers for unity within myself. On a personal level, I have an undying belief in God’s existence. For me it is unquestionable.”

Incidentally, I personally found that moment of saying the Lord’s Prayer absolutely extraordinary. It was so unexpected and somewhat surreal. Did Bowie not realise it was a public ‘secular’ event? How dare he bring religion into it! Did he not care how many people he would offend? Probably not.

 

Does this mean that we can claim him as a card-carrying Christian? Not at all. As far as I know he never professed to be one. But like all intelligent and creative people, he did show a great interest in the Bible, in Jesus Christ and in the great questions that Christ is the answer to. In his 1993 Album, The Buddha of Suburbia he wrote the following lines in the song, Sex and the Church:

Though the idea of compassion
Is said to be
The union of Christ
And his bride, the Christian
It’s all very puzzling.

All the Lonely People

The most poignant moment in the Parsons interview was when Bowie explained his collapse into drugs, sex and despair by saying, “I felt totally, absolutely alone. And I probably was alone because I pretty much had abandoned God.”

And that is where the frustration part of the sorrow comes. Because Bowie himself was clearly a seeker. He recognised that the ‘hole within’ would not be filled by ‘sex and drugs and rock ‘n’roll’. He needed to know that there is “a way back to God, from the dark paths of sin, there’s a door that is open and you may go in; at Calvary’s Cross is where you begin, when you come as a sinner to Jesus”. A society that has itself abandoned God has nothing to offer the person who is lonely because they feel they have abandoned God.

I mourn for David Bowie. As I mourn for ‘all the lonely people’, whose need for fulfilment, forgiveness, faith and a future can only be met by Christ.

Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, realised this month, has a poignancy about it that is painful. Especially this from the song Lazarus:

Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now.

Life to the Living 

Bowie is gone. I know not where. Who knows what happened in the last years, months and moments of his life? We mourn his passing. Let the dead bury their dead. Meanwhile our task is to bring Life to the living. Let us bring the Good News to those who are lonely because they feel they have abandoned God, that He has not abandoned them.


20 thoughts on “David Bowie – The Hysteria, the Sorrow, the Frustration and the Hope

  1. Brilliant article. It is the sanest, most balanced and perceptive commentary I have read or heard the last few days. I wouldn’t mind using this material on Sunday if you don’t mind a heretic quoting you!

  2. Creative, confused? Lost, found? Intensely private in his latter years. It was wonderful that his closest, friends, colleagues and family lovingly honoured him with their confidentiality. Extremely rare today

    From what I’ve seen, heard (National News) and read (The Times, yesterday)) at the end of his life, he had a fear of death. The snippets of the video with his last album seemed to me searingly bleak, achingly black ending with climbing into a black wardrobe. Echoes of Narnia? Perhaps, but He was recorded as saying people read into his work things that were never there in the first place.

    Will many understand the reference to Lazarus, and Bowie’s quoted words. If they are not a reference to Bowie’s own life, they can certainly be said of Jesus in the Rich man and Lazarus. By His wounds we are healed, in His resurrection, raised to life.

    Tom Bradbury on ITV National news. at Ten last night said something about Bowie’s death raising questions about death of all of us . Truly, God has placed (a longing for) eternity in our hearts.

    As a Christian I can not really celebrate the life of my loved ones unless in the midst of grief I can be celebratory in their death, secured in the knowledge of their welcoming embrace by Jesus

    This isn’t a prayer for him, but may there be rejoicing before the Angels.

    Geoff

  3. Apologies David. Didn’t mean to restate your point about eternity, Skim read your posting, went out, returned and posted a comment without re-reading.

    Amazed you pulled it all together so quickly, had it at your fingertips as it were. Much appreciated.

    Geoff

  4. I don’t care either way, but thought this was important.

    “According to The Christian Post , “Bowie told Ellen DeGeneres in a 2004 interview that he experimented with a number of religions including Christianity before finding his place as a singer. ‘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,’ he said.”

    In his search for meaning, Bowie admittedly tried pretty much everything this culture offered, but did not find the meaning he sought. He was filled with questions throughout his life.

    Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/david-bowie-heaven-154752/#eDvZAUDXdYrBpo9O.99

    Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/david-bowie-heaven-154752/#kiD9qUlwgdBHtdcd.99

    Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/david-bowie-heaven-154752/#oCLh4Dx1tGk082hh.99

  5. There are some really good points, and I’m glad the writer does not fall into the typical Christian stance of thinking everyone, no matter what kind of life they’ve lived, goes to this ethereal place called heaven where they continue to observe what goes on here below.

    On the other hand, I think the closing line — “Bowie is gone. I know not where.” — is needlessly ambivalent. On his own admission, Bowie led a promiscuous life, had abandoned God, and said he was almost an atheist. Perhaps Bowie had some change towards the end of his life that only he knew about. But short of this it would not seem this leaves us with much hope when measured against the call of the Gospel, namely that we must repent if we would enter the kingdom of God.

    By the way, the quote where Bowie says the existence of God is unquestionable comes from a 1993 interview. From an interview ten years later, he confesses he is all but an atheist.

  6. Very interesting with what you say about the Lord’s prayer and quote about lyrics in songs.

    A few that come to my mind:

    “Help me Jesus, show the way
    I can’t hold on another day

    I was hungry, felling low,
    I just couldn’t make out which way to go
    Chasing rainbows that have no end,
    The road is long without friend

    Be my friend, be my brother,
    Be the piper, play the call” Whitesnake “Blindman”

    “hand of god has struck the hour.
    Day of judgement, god is calling,
    on their knees the war pigs crawling.
    Begging mercy for their sins,” Black Sabbath “War Pigs”

    “You’re the Jesus that didn’t get nailed
    I know you got a Jonestown mind
    I couldn’t change it if I tried
    Trained to drain
    Why you can’t explain
    You’re everything that
    You don’t want to be
    You’re just chocking on your coca-cola
    Chocking on your dreams” The Almighty “Jonestown Mind”

  7. I wrote my post before reading this, although I did hear your dulcet tones on the Radio today. You should probably check that I’m not misquoting you and the Sister-lady from the Church with the craziest name I ever heard. Oh no, it was not quite as enjoyable as “Hardley Pentecostal Church” or “Boring Assembly of God,” not to mention “St Peter’s, in the chains of his most holy bondage”!

  8. Good heavens! True, nobody knows where David Bowie ‘has gone’ but the YouTube presentations ‘Blackstar’ and ‘Lazarus’ are very dark indeed. I am led to understand that they are full of occult symbolism and having just watched them I can well believe it.

  9. Re. your comments above, in the 2nd paragraph after the heading, Heaven, I think John Lennon’s line, ‘Imagine there’s no heaven’ was/is intended to highlight the very real damage which has been done to humanity by the man-made construct of institutionalised religion – the promise of a reward in heaven is what has motivated many murders in the name of religious fundamentalism; the intense focus on an afterlife which will be so much better than what we have here and now has resulted in a collective failure to value this existence for the wonderful things that it is, intrinsically and for its own sake; the concept that we will go to heaven if we are ‘good’ has infantalised us as human beings and robbed us of the sense that being compassionate, kind and generous to others can be reward in itself, at the time, and generate happiness right now . . . So it’s perfectly possible that someone who relates to Lennon’s meaning can still talk about heaven in a very different context and sense. I personally don’t think that Christians have the monopoly on heaven – but then again I realise that one of the tenets of institutionalised Christianity is of course that they do!! Just my thoughts, for what they are worth . . .

  10. Susan,

    One of the difficulties of blogs and tweets is the simplistic reductionism they can foster or espouse.

    You have raised some interesting points which to do justice to may require a lengthy discussion not possible here.

    What is institutionalised Christianity to you? In fact what is Christianity to you? What is the central message of Christianity? It is far from a “man made construct” which Freud and others have sought to reduce it to. Who on earth could or ever has constructed the triune God of Christianity.

    I fear that you may not have heard it, especially with your comment about getting to heaven if we are “good”. That is the polar opposite of the good news of Jesus Christ, of Christianity.

    If you want to know what Christianity is look to Christ, read the gospels. Do you see compassion, kindness, generosity? Do you see Him infantilising , humanity? Is God the Son becoming a human being a demonstration of God Infantilising humanity ? Do you really not see, compassion, kindness, generosity from Christians, with a focus on the here and now? Because if you don’t I suggest you don’t know any.

    If God created you in His image are you thereby infantilised? Is it not a humbling honour?

    As I’ve said in other posts, I was an atheist until 47 and would have embraced most of your your stated views, especially heaven being a human idea. And I really liked Lennon’s song “Imagine”.

    As a Christian, I now see it as deeply shallow seeing “only sky.” and lacking in knowledge and understanding of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ..I now see “heaven” as God’s idea, a life of eternity, in union with Him. What could be more glorious?. More life affirming ? An eternal life which can start now in Christ Jesus. This is not embraced by any other belief system/religion.

    Could I suggest you read the gospel of John chapter 17 as a good place to start.

    Geoff,

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