David Bowie’s spectacular afterlife

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David Bowie in 2002 | Photo by Rring Huang via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1W09M0G)

David Bowie in 2002 | Photo by Rring Huang via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1W09M0G)

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring,” David Bowie told an audience at Madison Square Garden on his 50th birthday. It’s probably the quote that will be used most today to pay tribute to the singer/songwriter, who died of liver cancer yesterday at 69, and it’s a fitting tribute to the man whose music kept everyone–even himself–guessing about what was next.

READ: Saint David Bowie? Not yet, but faith leaders pay respects to dead rocker

David Bowie in 2002 | Photo by Rring Huang via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1W09M0G)

David Bowie in 2002 | Photo by Rring Huang via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1W09M0G)

It was Bowie’s strangeness that, paradoxically, made him the beloved figure that sold millions of records and headlined sold-out arena tours. In writing, there is a trick that the more specifically you describe a person, the more deeply certain readers will identify with them–finding the universal in the particular. That is what David Bowie did better than almost any other artist out there.

Born David Jones in south London, Bowie broke onto the music scene with Young Americans–his ninth album–in 1975. He described himself as “not quite an atheist”–someone for whom the hold of religious imagery and power could not be entirely broken. “Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing,” he said in an interview with Anthony DeCurtis. “‘There’s just one niggling thing [standing between me and atheism]. Once I shave that off, we’ll be fine and dandy, and there won’t be any questions left.’ It’s either my saving grace or a major problem that I’m going to have to confront.”

The 2013 video for Bowie’s song “The Next Day” picked up on some old literature that criticized the hypocrisy of the church. Set in a bar called “The Decameron,” named for the 15th-century book by Boccaccio that satirized the Roman Catholic church and its priests, the video features Bowie as a Christ-like figure, Gary Oldman as a bishop, and Marion Cotillard as a prostitute. Bowie was criticized by Christians for being obscene and by others for not taking his criticism of the church far enough. Regardless of how it landed with critics, Bowie offered a scathing (if unoriginal) critique of the church, an insight into how an institution created by God but perpetuated by humans often does what Proverbs 4 warns against: speaking out of both sides of its mouth. The church warns against lust and condemns infidelity, but pastors have affairs and priests abuse children. The church exhorts Christians to care for the poor, but leaders build lavish homes and use church resources for their own gain. David Bowie understood what too many Christians don’t, which is that if you continue to say one thing and do another, the people who trusted you will leave. He enacted satire through music as well as he enacted dreams.

“I’m in awe of the universe,” Bowie told Esquire in 2013.  “I don’t necessarily believe there’s an intelligence or agent behind it. I do have a passion for the visual in religious rituals, though, even though they may be completely empty and bereft of substance.” There is a thin line between faith and certainty, and Bowie’s words betray him here–necessarily. May be. Whatever he did believe in, Bowie created a world that included any kind of person, especially the outsider, even as his popularity skyrocketed. It’s a testament to his universal appeal that Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, a Vatican official in charge of the Pope’s Council for Culture, tweeted lyrics to “Space Oddity” to mark Bowie’s death today. If the church he criticized couldn’t embrace him in life, perhaps they can in death.

  • Larry

    The man even timed his death to come after the release of his last album and a really freaky-grim music video.

    David Bowie turned his own demise into performance art!

    “Ashes to Ashes, fun to funky” 🙂

  • Tom Sporman

    A night (at the) templ(er), anyone?

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Wait, what?

  • Ground control to Major Tom…

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  • R. Butler

    “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1John 1:8

  • Larry

    This is why nobody likes Evangelicals. They never have anything nice to say about people. Always delivering passive-aggressive declarations of their personal faith and try to belittle those who do not ascribe to their beliefs.

    “if there is time left, pray for Bowie”
    “I will pray for you” is generally an insult in Evangelical-speak. Its plain speaking translation is, “I detest you, but don’t want to appear overly p1ssy about it”.

    Will, go pray for yourself. Your remarks are rude.

    David Bowie was a talented, well respected and prolific artist. A man who by all accounts that we know of, was not a horrific human being.

  • Larry

    At least you are honest enough not to use the “But I am telling the spiritual truth, therefore I don’t need to be civil” excuses.

    I’m sorry, speaking ill of the dead in order to proclaim your religious belief is tasteless, offensive and demonstrates low character.

    “How many lives were screwed up because of him? ”

    Is there a personal story you would like to share here? How did David Bowie ruin YOUR life. I am all ears here.

    Nobody was forced to listen to his music or watch the various media he was in. They did so because it appealed to them. His work was enjoyed by a broad spectrum of people (but not you or other Bible thumping self-righteous rude people). If his work offended you, tough luck. Nobody has to care.

    All art is an expression of the artist. There is no such thing as evil music, art or literature. People like yourself, who seek to burn books usually are also willing to burn authors as well. As for Hitler’s artistic talent, his landscapes were boring.

  • He wasn’t an activist urging people to do this or that.

  • Aharon

    I just want to say I am a believer in Yeshua (Jesus) and I truly appreciate and respect David Bowie as an artist. Whether he was good or bad, who isn’t? We all have sinned and we all have fallen short. No one can judge David as no one knows his heart. It’s between him and God. I hope he will experience peace in the afterlife. Not all believers are judgmental creeps. Just keep that in mind.

  • DIANE

    let he who is without sin cast the first stone…get over it Will

  • larry

    So what he did was record a number of well received albums, acted in a few films, and was a patron of various artists and the fashion industry.

    If that is shameful, you don’t know the meaning of the word

  • larry

    Frankly people who denounce art works as “degenerate” or “perverse” have more in common with Hitler and Stalin than anyone who opposed such people.

    I am still waiting for the story as to how David Bowie screwed your life up? 🙂

  • Guy

    I think his was a true Christian death. I was raised a Catholic in Rome by a converted anglican mother. I left the Church in 2008, and I became much more a “seeker” like Bowie. I was never a fan of Bowie, I pretty much ignored his existence, apart from a couple of tunes I appreciated. The day he died I felt no sorrow, or at least , just for the artist , not for the man. Then something clicked in me. I started grieving, I cried deeply. I started thinking about him , like he is present. I wanted to stare this story with others and that made me realise that’s what happens when people fall in love with Jesus, they want to testify the prodigy. So, concluding: David Bowie’s death brought me to feel a new meaning of Jesus. If one day I’ll be dying in my bed, I’ll definitely ask for strength from God, Jesus, saints, souls, AND David.

  • Stacey

    May The Lord bless you Aharon! We are all sinners but Yeshua (Jesus) gave His life for us, all are welcome to believe in Him, and the God that we serve is awesome!

  • Dandelo

    Nice. Astute. Thanks for sharing this.