David Bowie: The uncomfortable icon
Andrew Francis looks back on the genius and spirituality of David Bowie
In 1990, I was among a small group of BBC Religious Programmes Editors gathered to interview David Bowie. We were contractually bound to secrecy, unable to tell our nearest and dearest. Bowie was suited and booted, charming and erudite, speaking with candour, insight and obvious intellect. He spoke of his lack of confidence in performance as well as doubting the level of his much-lauded talent. He enjoyed inventing fresh personae, music and imagery, he explained, to hide his discomfort. Iconic but uncomfortable with it.
Bowie explained his early interest in Buddhism, even Catholic ritual, but acknowledged that whilst awed by the wonder of the universe, he was virtually an atheist. I remain convinced though, that Bowie gradually rejected his declared nihilism. His work has always engaged with spiritual themes, and in later years his use of religious imagery became ever more apparent. Interviews suggest that he recognised the spiritual hunger within our very humanity, but particularly his own, as friends came close to death. The video for his song “Lazarus”, released just two days before he died, shows a bandaged Bowie rising from a bed and retreating into a wardrobe. Now with hindsight, I can hear every lyric tell of impending death. Bowie knew what we did not.
On Monday 11 January, the world changed its orbit for many of my generation, as David Bowie’s death was announced. Presenters of Today on Radio 4 struggled with their thoughts, then Justin Welby, David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn offered their own tributes…
This is an extract from the March 2016 edition of Reform.