“If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to/It’s nothing to me…”
I was interested to discover a couple of years ago that David Bowie had briefly studied with Trungpa Rinpoche, the Tibetan lama whose writings have probably made the single greatest impact on me of any buddhist teacher. Bowie had made the trek up to Samye Ling in Scotland in the late ’60s, before Rinpoche had migrated to the United States. And just today a brief article was posted quoting Bowie on his time there: “I was within a month of having my head shaved, taking my vows, and becoming a monk,” he said. It was 1967, he was 20 years old and already a recording musician — this would have been either just before or just after the release of his first LP, David Bowie.
He was conflicted about whether or not to stay at the centre and asked Trungpa about this, who told him to carry on being a musician. So now we have another thing to thank that man for…
The last two songs on Blackstar are the most direct leave-takings. They’re really hard to listen to today. Dollar Days with its wailing sax from Donny McCaslin and final repeated alternations, “I’m trying to, I’m dying to, I’m trying to, I’m dying to…” is wrenching. Both phrases had appeared in a different context earlier: “I’m dying to/Push their backs against the grain/And fool them all again and again/I’m trying to.” And: “Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you/I’m trying to/I’m dying to.”
And finally the last one on the album, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” where he kind of sums it all up:
“Seeing more and feeling less, saying no but meaning yes: this is all I ever meant, that’s the message that I sent”
He was one of the most endlessly innovative artists of our time, and one of the most complete artists, because his mind was attuned to music, art, design, film, and dance in almost equal measure. He influenced nearly everybody across two generations to one degree or another — and he’s not done yet.
What more to say? Blessings, Mr. B. Please come back as something equally amazing.