CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

David Bowie, Fame, and Eternity

Jan 11, 2016

As an ex-hippy, and an old guy to boot, I could not but help take keen interest in tonight’s news item: ‘David Bowie dead at 69’. I was heavily into the rock scene from the mid-60s until my conversion to Christ out of a wild counter culture life in 1971, age 18.

English rocker David Bowie was of course already big stuff even by then. He had four albums out up to that point, and big hits included titles such as “Space Oddity” (1969), and “Changes (1971). I of course did not really follow his career as much after my conversion, nor that of any of the other rockers I was so much into as a youth.

bowie 6But let me offer a few brief reflections here. Rebellion was of course such a big part of the counter culture and the rock music scene during the late 60s and early 70s. This was especially evident in the way social, sexual and moral conventions were challenged, flouted and rejected. David Bowie certainly fit right into all of this.

He was certainly a “musical chameleon,” known for pushing social rebellion and sexual androgyny. Indeed, pushing boundaries was always a big part of his earlier persona, and his many differing looks highlighted the radically changing times in which he lived.

In 1972 he introduced his alter ego Ziggy Stardust. It would take his career even further into the stratosphere. His 1974 hit “Rebel Rebel” was a good expression of all this. As one write-up about it goes:

This song is about a boy who rebels against his parents by wearing makeup and tacky women’s clothes. It was a defining song of the “Glam Rock” era. Characterized by feminine clothes and outrageous stage shows, Glam was big in England in the early ’70s. Bowie had the most mainstream success of the glam rockers.
Three years before this was released, Bowie admitted he was bisexual. The announcement seemed to help his career, as he gained more fans and wrote more adventurous songs. In 1972, Bowie produced “Walk On The Wild Side” for Lou Reed, which is another song celebrating transgender individuals.

He had earlier claimed that he was bisexual, but later he said that this was “the biggest mistake I ever made” and “I was always a closet heterosexual”. He admitted that he was driven more by “a compulsion to flout moral codes than a real biological and psychological state of being”.

In 1975 he had the hit song, “Fame”. In a 2003 interview he said this about the subject:

“Fame itself, of course, doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant. That must be pretty well known by now. I’m just amazed how fame is being posited as the be all and end all, and how many of these young kids who are being foisted on the public have been talked into this idea that anything necessary to be famous is all right. It’s a sad state of affairs. However arrogant and ambitious I think we were in my generation, I think the idea was that if you do something really good, you’ll become famous. The emphasis on fame itself is something new. Now it’s, to be famous you should do what it takes, which is not the same thing at all. And it will leave many of them with this empty feeling. Then again, I don’t know if it will, because I think a lot of them are genuinely quite satisfied. I know a couple of personalities over in England who are famous for being famous, basically. They sort of initially came out of the pop world, but they’re quite happy being photographed going everywhere and showing their kids off and this is a career to them. A career of like being there and turning up and saying, ‘Yes it’s me, the famous girl or guy’ (laughs). It’s like, ‘What do you want?’ It’s so Warhol. It’s as vacuous as that. And that to me, is a big worry. I think it’s done dreadful things to the music industry. There’s such a lot of rubbish, drivel out there.”

Bowie had plenty of fame of course. But now there are only memories. As I will mention in a moment, what happens in this life is important, but it is the next life that really matters.

“Heroes” came out in 1977, and this is one song I often like to share with others. We certainly need heroes, and although Bowie would likely have had different thoughts in mind with this than I, I still am happy to use it to encourage folks to be the hero the world is looking for.

One write up of the song explains its background:

This song tells the story of a German couple who are so determined to be together that they meet every day under a gun turret on The Berlin Wall. Bowie, who was living in Berlin at the time, was inspired by an affair between his producer Tony Visconti and backup singer Antonia Maass, who would kiss “by the wall” in front of Bowie as he looked out of the Hansa Studio window. Bowie didn’t mention Visconti’s role in inspiring this song until 2003, when he told Performing Songwriter magazine: “I’m allowed to talk about it now. I wasn’t at the time. I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea. Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend.

This piece is neither an obituary nor any sort of helpful summary of his life. Plenty of other writers can and will offer that. This is merely a very brief reflection of Bowie, a bit of my life, and some biblical truths. And the most vital truth is the question of where one will spend eternity.

What is of the most importance here is his spiritual condition. Sadly we are not aware that Bowie ever got right with God through Jesus Christ, although others might enlighten me further on this. We do know of his 2004 Esquire interview in which he said this:

I’m in awe of the universe, but 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. The incense is powerful and provocative, whether Buddhist or Catholic.

Hmm, not very promising stuff there. He had suffered from cancer for the past one and a half years. As it has been said, ‘the prospect of death concentrates the mind wonderfully’. It is certainly hoped that during the past 18 months at least Bowie did indeed reflect on the state of his soul and his eternal destiny.

But his shock death should be a lesson to us all. Our lives are so short. One day we are in the prime of our life, and the next day we are gone. As we read in 1 Peter 1:24:

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall.”

That’s for sure. May the death of this famous rocker remind us all of vitally important truths, such as who we are, where we are headed, and whether we are right with our maker.

www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1726
www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1629
www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1628

[1224 words]

16 Responses to David Bowie, Fame, and Eternity

  • Yes it would be interesting to find out if mortality changed his mind towards the end and brought him to Christ. I sure hope so.

  • Good reflections.
    I used to have the 45s for “Changes,” “Fame,” & “Young Americans.”
    Now, I like this song called “Heroes” better than Bowie’s (it’s by Christian artist Steve Taylor, circa 1985):

    When the house fell asleep there was always a light
    and it fell from the page to the eyes of an American boy
    in a storybook land I could dream what I read
    when it went to my head I’d see
    I want to be a hero

    chorus:
    Hero
    it’s a nice-boy notion that the real world’s gonna destroy
    you know
    it’s a Marvel comicbook Saturday matinee fairytale, boy

    Growing older you’ll find that illusions are brought
    and the idol you thought you’d be was just another zero
    I want to be a hero

    Heroes died when the squealers bought ’em off
    died when the dealers got ’em off
    welcome to the “in it for the money as an idol” show
    when they ain’t as big as life
    when they ditch their second wife
    where’s the boy to go?
    gotta be a hero

    (chorus)

    When the house fell asleep
    from a book I was led to a light that I never knew
    I want to be your hero
    and he spoke to my heart from the moment I prayed
    here’s a pattern I made for you
    I want to be your hero

  • I sure hope that he found it in his heart to look to the Lord as death approaches . the word does say that we will be surprised who we see in heaven and shocked who we don’t see.

  • Sad that such a talented singer wasn’t sure about his eternal future.

  • This quote is very significant in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll: ‘He had earlier claimed that he was bisexual, but later he said that this was “the biggest mistake I ever made” and “I was always a closet heterosexual”. He admitted that he was driven more by “a compulsion to flout moral codes than a real biological and psychological state of being”’.
    It’s an honest statement and a rare self-assessment. The compulsion to rebel has many associations, from fame to wanting to walk on the wild side. In every case, it’s only a self-truth.
    There is no other light by which to judge the consequences of one’s actions, but in Christ, there is forgiveness and the sea of forgetfulness into which He casts our rebellious nature and its disobedience according to His Word in scripture.
    Bowie made some significant popular music, but it all comes down to whether it is well with your soul when your time comes. Hippy or not.

  • I dislike being contrary, and I am certainly being so merely for its own sake, but I am constrained to say that I do not lament the passing of David Bowie, any more than I lamented the passing of members of the Beatles group, of that same era.

    The discussion above has focussed on his person and whether or not he had some sort of saving testimony of Christ. Clearly, he did not, and on that enough has been said.

    My concern is the impact he had on popular music. He did much to promote “hard rock”, and the screaming and shrieking which goes with it. The rock scene since at least his time has been inextricably involved with sex, drugs, radical politics, moral inversion, radical “greenism”, and a slew of other perversions. They are all hand-in-glove with each other. You of all people, Bill, should know this better than most, having come out of that scene to the beauty and purity that is in Christ.

    David Bowie, inter alia, represents the corruption of the music scene. One only had to compare the older genres of popular music with the jangling cacophony which he poured forth. Compare Patti Page’s “Doggy in the window”, or Eartha Kitt’s “Old fashioned millionaire”, or Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska”, or for that matter Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely”, with screams and yells of rock’n’roll (I refuse to dignify it with the term “music”), and the wild and sensuous gyrations which normally attend it.

    The really sad thing to me is that this has come into the church under the pretext that “music is neutral”. No, it ain’t. I could say more, but I’ll leave it there.

  • Thanks Murray. Whether you are a contrarian or not I will leave for others to decide! But on a more serious note, this article of course was not about musical preferences and tastes. Indeed, many might raise an eyebrow over offering someone like Eartha Kitt (the one who was routinely referred to as “the sex kitten”, sang songs like “I Want to be Evil,” and was a prominent promoter of all things homosexual) as some sort of healthy, clean antidote to a Bowie! But of course the main purpose of this piece was clearly to say a few words about him, about myself, and above all to highlight the biblical truth that life is short and we all need to be prepared for eternity. If I wanted to discuss various musical genres and preferences, and the like, I would have penned a much different piece. But thanks for your thoughts.

  • David Bowie (May the Lords Mercy be his)
    Recall that time (at the Freddy Mercury Tribute concert) when David in front of the whole crowd he said the Lords Prayer.

  • No matter how adored, famous, talented and loved we are here, it only matters how we appear before God on Judgement Day.

  • Apparently his wife Iman said at his death, according to some reports – “The struggle is real, but so is God”…
    Hopefully she’ll clarify what this means.

  • Very well put, Russell. Thanks as always, Bill. To add to the speculation – there was a rumour around in the 80s that DB had an encounter with Christ at the time of the ‘man who fell to earth’ movie. It’s interesting that The Elephant Man & Good Morning Mr Lawrence are both movies with quasi-Christian themes. Ms Wingett’s recollection in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph shows how he endeavoured to live a relatively normal, humble life.

  • “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” – Mark 8:36

  • Thanks for your reply, Bill, although it was a long time coming.
    Perhaps I erred somewhat in citing Eartha Kitt, as I am aware that her own lifestyle and views are not those of some of the other singers of her era (and certainly not ours!). As I see it she is a transitional figure in the whole music scene in the U.S., between the older genre of popular music, and the confrontational screeching and shrieking of the rock’n’roll genre which came thereafter.

    However, you seem to have misread what I was on about. I was talking of the music itself, not the personae of the singers. Irrespective of the person of Patti Page, Johnny Horton, Roy Orbison, or even Eartha Kitt for that matter, the quality (or otherwise) of the musical genre was the issue I raised. In regard to the popular music prior to rock’n’roll let me summarise:
    1. It was melodic and lyrical. The heavily syncopated and repetitive phrases of today’s rock has little of either.
    2. It was harmonious and tuneful. Today’s “music” seems to major on discordance and raucousness.
    3. It was rhythmic, without emphasis on beat and thump.
    4. The lyrics were understandable and coherent.
    5. Above all, the songs were in no way an assault on the ear drums, at maximum decibel level, unlike the “songs” of today’s rock scene.

    Let me highlight my point further: go back to an earlier generation still, and the songs of Peter Dawson (“The Floral Dance”, “The Road to Mandalay”, etc.). They will surely highlight the contrast between today’s rock, and authentic popular music. Is it too much to assert that from Peter Dawson to the rock bands of today is the path of degeneracy? I firmly believe it is.

    One other point: I waited three full days at least to see my reply—along with others—to this post actually put up, well after the original post had slipped off the home page to a position well down the list. The same happened with the post you put up in December about the issue of celebrating Christmas. What’s going on?

  • Thanks Murray. The main purpose of this article was, as I stated several times already, to alert people to eternity. I happened to take the shock death (as it was to some) of a rock celebrity to highlight this biblical truth. It was not meant to be a major debate on the merits or otherwise of various types of music, and how various musical genres might be more or less suitable to Christian convictions and values. So I prefer to stay on topic if possible. It is after all my website.

    As to posting, this may surprise some, but I do in fact at times eat, sleep, walk the dog, paint the house, go out with my wife, read the Word, etc. While I try to often be online to keep things up to date, this is not always possible. As always, patience is one of the fruit of the Spirit!

  • What do you mean Bill? Why aren’t you glued to your keyboard so you can instantly read and put up our posts? That is just not good enough!

    What do you mean by needing time for other things like research, keeping yourself strong in your faith and attending speaking engagements, along with spending time with your family and resting? What do you mean you don’t need our permission to leave you computer?

    Hope you had a good break.

    Folks, please try to remember that this is Bill’s blog and it is up to him when he attends to it and what he focuses on.

Leave a Reply