The Ascent of the Thin White Duke
~Somewhere between Kether and Malkuth~
Or so go the lyrics from “Station to Station”. David Bowie was more that a musician, he was an artist and a mystic whose talents transcended those of mere mortals into an esoteric sphere most of us lacked the capacity to comprehend. But he somehow made it palatable for the masses, bringing those arcane realities down to a level that made it enjoyable for us lesser mortals to swallow.
The “David Bowie Is” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum did not disappoint in terms of showing us not only Bowie the Artist, but Bowie the Magus; The Man who not only Sold the World, but travelled between several of them.
“Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth
There are you, you drive like a demon from Station to Station”
So what are ‘Kether and Malkuth’ and what is the Tantric equivalency?
Kether and Malkuth are Are Sephoroth (spheres) on the Tree of Life in the tradition of the Kabbalah and they represent emanations/attributes similar to the Chakra Tree of Life in Tantra. According to Aleister Crowley in his book ‘777’, which contains multiple Tables of Correspondents referencing equivalencies form traditions to traditions, Kether would correspond to Sahasrara (The Crown) while Malkuth corresponds to Muladhara (The Root). So in essence, Bowie’s song lyrics represent the quest to achieve that Alchemical Wholeness that many of us strive to achieve yet seldom maintain. The “Stations” refer these spheres through which he alchemicaly transmutes. So you see, in the end it all comes together and David is the glue.
David’s early life was fraught with fractionalization and conflict. These traumas were best expressed in his painting and I was particularly struck by one particular painting that looks like a collage with many occult symbols that translated into his future opera. There was one detail showing a man in a pierrot costume comforting a little boy who is obviously disturbed. I immediately saw the early of his Pierrot/Major Tom persona from the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video.
Then there’s the little boy: Is that David or could it be someone else? Terry Jones was David’s half brother, who suffered from severe schizophrenia resulting from early childhood emotional abuse. He was a tragic figure who was in and out of mental institutions most of his life. David tried his best to be ‘his brother’s keeper’ but it was to no avail: Terry died by suicide in 1986. The fear of mental illness and a sort of survivors guilt was something that haunted David throughout his life and was the subject of many of his songs.
David was an accomplished painter and he used this medium to help him overcome his drug addiction during his “Berlin Era”. As has been documented elsewhere, towards the end of the 70’s he felt washed up and had run out of ideas. He was addicted to cocaine and his marriage to Angela was on the rocks. Bowie’s idea of rehab was to move to Berlin and to bring along his friend Iggy Pop. Seems like an extremely counter indicative approach to getting the monkey off your back but it worked for Bowie; He cleaned up his act and produced some of the most innovative music of his career. He even managed to elevate Iggy Pop to a new level of respectability.
The exhibit showcased many of his paintings and two that really caught my eye were the portraits of the Japanese Nobel laureate Yukio Mishima and the portrait of his friend, Iggy Pop. The solarized colors used in these paintings seem to bring out the demons that possessed these two very different men. Mishima was a controversial figure during his lifetime and rather than getting into details about his life, I will refer you to this link here to read more about him. Iggy’s portrait, like Mishima’s, looks like David was trying to draw out the inner demons that possessed both men in their lifetimes.
David Bowie Is showcased a lot of his iconic costumes too. Some of which are pictured here. According to designer Kansai Yamamoto, the man who collaborated with Bowie on the creation of the “Ziggy Stardust” character, costumes where David’s favorite medium for expressing his music. And it was evident in the wide range of styles and characters.
So in conclusion, the exhibit was a culmination of David’s quest for Alchemical Wholeness that I think came to a full circle towards the end of his life with his revisiting of the Major Tom character in his final album “Black Star” and his opera “Lazarus”. Come to think of it, almost all of Bowie’s albums seemed to have an operatic narrative anyone of his albums would work well as a stage adaptation.
Here is an early interpretation of his quest for wholeness in an early song from the 60’s called “Karma Man”. Click on the image below to have a listen:
The Brooklyn Museum, which hosted the David Bowie Is exhibition, is also the permanent home of a permanent installation honoring the Divine Feminine. “The Dinner Party” by Judy Chicago showcases a virtual dinner party in which the guests are influential women who were overlooked by history.The artist chose to highlight skills which traditionally been derided as “woman’s work” skills such as sewing, weaving, embroidery, pottery making, cooking. By including these media within the parameters of the installation, she brought them into the realm of “Fine Art”.
Each place setting offers a unique vulvic plate and like all vulvas, each one is unique. The fabric embellishments echo a them related to the dinner guest. This exhibit is so overwhelmingly feminine that one “art critic” crudely referred to it as “vaginas on a plate”. But to walk into the installation has a very moving effect on the observer, its as if one where to walk into the Sistine Chapel or the Taj Mahal. Please enjoy these images and the provenance behind them.
~ All Roads Lead to Bowie~
So this New York Trip was not without its Synchronicities. It seemed that everywhere I turned the roads led back to Bowie or to a particular aspect of my past.
Case in point was stumbling upon “Nikola Tesla Corner” in Manhattan. Bowie’s last film role was playing Tesla in “The Prestige”. David was one of those actors who totally disappeared into his role and this was no exception. Witnessing this coincidence also reminded me of an older Blog post “Tesla and Tantra”.“If you want to understand the secrets of the Universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
A couple of days later, there were some further synchronicities when I visited the World Trade Center Memorial. What an event. As many of you may already know, I lost some friends, during the attacks. I blogged about in in “The Transcendental Delegate”, but going to the memorial and seeing their names inscribed in the walls of the fountains had a profound impact. Perhaps this New York visit served as a bit of a closure for me as well.
Linda Loves Bingo!
But I don’t want this post to be a complete downer. My visit ended on a high note with my reunion with a dear friend from college, who is now the Doyenne of the New York Drag Scene!
I’m speaking of course about Linda Simpson whom I have known for almost 35 years. I think that I would like to take a little bit of credit for giving her some make up tips early in his career, but her achievements are all her own. Congratulations Dear!
I have always been a great admirer of Drag Queens because of their originality of style and their openness. This fits in very well with the concept of duality in nature and the unification of opposites. I feel that DQ’s are one of the fortunate few who have managed to reconcile these polarities and what emerges is a beautiful rainbow of infinite possibilities. Reminding me of that other Tantric Deity: Ardhanarishwara. The God/Dess who is both an ultimate man and an ultimate woman.
But back to Linda, we met up for dinner shortly after I arrived in town, then she invited me to her Saturday night show “Linda Loves Bingo” at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village. Of course I could have always gone to see an overpriced Broadway Show like any other tourist. But how often can you see NYC’s #1 Drag Queen Bingo Show?
So in closing, I think that my return to my beloved New York served as a kind of Self Realization and a raising of consciousness that can only be achieved in an environment where so many diverse points of views can come together as a cohesive whole. This was something I observed when I would visit the corner deli in the Central Park West neighborhood where I was staying with friends. As I watched the Palestinian employee in the Jewish deli prepare a lox with shmeer bagel for an African American customer and her Asian American friend, I said to myself: This is the real America, not the “Make America Great Again” bullshit barfed up by the knuckle draggers in the flyover states. The real America is this diverse group of humans living together on this tiny island Manhattan. Each person is unique and different from the other but they manage to make it work and live in harmony.
This is the beauty of the Real America. Somewhere between Kether and Malkuth.
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