Starman: David Bowie’s Legacy of UFOs and The Occult

75 – Starman: David Bowie’s Legacy of UFOs and The Occult

When you were born in the 1970s, David Bowie was a very different character than if you were born in the 1960s. The slick, well-dressed English gentleman that I remember in the videos for “Modern Love” and “Let’s Dance” is a far cry from the androgynous alien shapeshifter Ziggy Stardust. And most in my generation remember him for his performance in Labyrinth as Jareth the Goblin King even before his regular albums. His relevance changed from decade to decade, the Rock Star of the 70s became the Pop Icon in the 80s to the fading influencer in the 90s and then a revered Godfather in the new Millennium. Fluctuating public attention is the way of commercial art and artists, but what never changed was his hunger to constantly try something new and interesting. David Bowie was an engine of artistic innovation. Weirdly and wonderfully for us, much of his inspiration came from UFOs, spirituality, and the Occult.

david bowie ziggy stardust
Man, how awesome were the 70s?

In the episode, Wendy, Allison, and I discuss our first memories of Bowie and our favorite of his songs. Allison’s favorite David Bowie track is actually from an Adrian Belew solo album and the song is called “Gunman”, a hidden gem co-written by Bowie and Belew (Bowie’s musical director and one of his longtime guitarists) in the late 80s.

My personal favorite is from Ziggy Stardust (of course) and it’s the first song of his that I learned how to play (because I bought a guitar magazine with it in it the day I bought a bass guitar in 1990) and it’s “Suffragette City”!  While the “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!” might enrage my sister, Allison, (her first memory of Bowie is wanting to punch him in the face for saying “shut your mouth” in “China Girl” – even though it’s the girl who’s saying it to the man, ha!) Wendy agrees by loving the entire Ziggy album and talks about listening to it over and over again in college with her roommate Erika (who now is on a lovely Doctor Who podcast called Verity! that you should check out if you’re a fan!)

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars had an alien angle from its very inception.  Ziggy Stardust was a rockstar who also was the human manifestation  of a messenger for extraterrestrial beings bringing a message of hope to an Earth doomed in five years. And on this tour, he would often go to the windows and look out at the skies to check for flying saucers while doing interviews with reporters. But David Bowie was into UFOs long before he recorded this album.

Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson even said (as quoted in Michael Luckman’s book, Alien Rock: The Rock N’ Roll Extraterrestrial Connection) that “David became convinced that he was being stalked by men from Mars in 1969 or 1970.” He’s also been quoted as seeing UFOs when he was a kid. “They came over so regularly we could time them.”, he said. “Sometimes they stood still, other times they moved so fast it was hard to keep a steady eye on them.”

And then in the year on the Aladdin Sane  tour (Bowie’s follow-up to Ziggy Stardust), his wife Angie Bowie tells the story of driving through Detroit and hearing about a UFO crash on the local news. Although the story goes that the news crew did the whole thing as a hoax and they were fired from the TV station, Angie swears the broadcasts exist (a documentarian with them recorded them on videotape) and that Bowie was keeping his eyes on the sky on their drive through the upper Midwest USA on the way to Minneapolis from Detroit, convinced that the aliens might want to make contact with him in particular.

david bowie alladin sane constellation
The Aladdin Sane makeup was such a good look for him, they’re making it his constellation…

But David Bowie didn’t just love aliens and UFOs, he also had a taste for sorcery! Bowie admitted that he dabbled in old-fashioned magic in the 1970s and he talks about about Aleister Crowley (an old friend to this podcast!) on one of his first albums, Hunky Dory (from 1971, it’s the one that has “Life On Mars?” on it) in the song “Quicksand” with the lyrics:

I’m closer to the Golden Dawn
Immersed in Crowley’s uniform
Of imagery
I’m living in a silent film

And when he moved to Los Angeles to record his album, Station to StationBowie went full Crowley.

david bowie cocaine
I’m never going to bed… EVER…

Fueled by mountains of Star-Spangled Powder, rockstar confidence, David Bowie and his wife Angie rented a house in LA while he spent ten months recording the album at Cherokee Studios, a place that even George Martin called “the best studio in America”. The persona that he was creating wasn’t an alien rock star anymore, but an ultra-Aryan Fascist known as The Thin White Duke. During this period (that he claims he remembers very little of because he was doing drugs constantly) he became interested in the Nazis use of sacred symbols (like the Swastika) and their quest for religious artifacts (think Raiders of the Lost Ark.) He talks about how he was fascinated that the Germans might have been looking for the Holy Grail in England in the 1930s. Okay, it’s the 70s, it’s LA, being weird is par for the course, so it’s magick time, baby!

david bowie sieg heil
Seig Hei…hiiiiiiiii guys, just ya know, trying some fascism on for size. Anybody else have a nosebleed?

Here’s Cameron Crowe (who was a rock journalist before he was a director, see Almost Famous for more info on that) interviewing Bowie during that time (and read the whole thing sometime, it covers the recording of Iggy Pop’s demo, hanging out with Ron Wood from the Rolling Stones, and what kind of celebrity life that Bowie was living at the time):

Suddenly – always suddenly – David is on his feet and rushing to a nearby picture window. He thinks he’s seen a body fall from the sky. “I’ve got to do this,” he says, pulling a shade down on the window. A ballpoint-penned star has been crudely drawn on the inside. Below it is the word “Aum.” Bowie lights a black candle on his dresser and immediately blows it out to leave a thin trail of smoke floating upward. “Don’t let me scare the pants off you. It’s only protective. I’ve been getting a little trouble from … the neighbors.”

But who exactly were the “neighbours” that Bowie was talking about? Well, his ex-wife Angie, believes that her husband was talking about the Devil himself.  She talks about him saying that he saw the Beast rising out of the indoor pool and that they had to perform an exorcism.

So they did and she claims that the water started bubbling that in no way could have been caused by the air filters of the indoor pool and then she saw a large shadow at the bottom of the pool that she said looked “in the shape of a beast of the underworld; it reminded me of those twisted, tormented gargoyles screaming silently from the spires of medieval cathedrals. It was ugly, shocking, malevolent; it frightened me.

He started getting into the Kaballah and there’s even a picture of him drawing its central mystical symbol, the Tree of Life. He mentions more Kaballah in the first verse of “Station to Station” as well (and since the Kaballah is Hebrew mysticism, it’s a pretty good sign that even though he might have been into Nazi occultism, he didn’t partake in their anti-Semitism.)

I hope that’s not permanent marker…

Even before his death on January 10th, people were already claiming that his last album, Blackstar, was more than just a musical statement. Some are claiming the album is a message from Bowie that the Illuminati are preparing for Planet X to come back into the solar system and we’re all going to be enslaved.

What’s Planet X? Why it’s Nibiru, the tenth planet in the solar system where the Annunaki live who control the Earth and it orbits around the sun every 3600 years (which is why most astronomers haven’t noticed it.) The leading proponent of this theory was Zecharia Sitchin and his evidence is slim, but it does make for some fun sci-fi tinged conspiracy reading.

david bowie blackstar
Hey, have you heard the Good News?

That doesn’t mean that Blackstar isn’t chock full of occult-y sci-fi goodness, though, and blog Vigilant Citizen has an excellent piece on all the symbols of Blackstar (even connecting it to Bowie’s outfit on Station To Station.)  And the director of the ten-minute video that accompanies the title track had something to say about the video’s occult inspiration:

“Well, I’m a huge Crowley fan, I’ve always been. I tried to make a movie on his life a few years ago but we didn’t manage to put it together. I love Crowley for being an audacious man at certain point in time. I think he’s greatly misunderstood. He was a good guy, but he was portrayed as an evil man and he wasn’t.”
– Vice News, 
Behind “Blackstar”: An Interview with Johan Renck, the Director of David Bowie’s Ten-Minute Short Film

And you just gotta hand it to Bowie, he stayed true to his weird sensibilities right to the end. While we’ve discussed his inspired music, his film roles were inspired by the paranormal as well. His first big role was the lead character of The Man Who Fell To Earth as an alien who was trying to bring water back to his dying planet.

He also shows up in The Hunger, an erotic Vampire thriller from 1983 based on a book written by Whitley Strieber (the man who brought us modern alien abduction with his book Communion, however, The Hunger, is decidedly fiction.) Some people have made this connection with Strieber and the video for Bowie’s song “Loving The Alien” where he suffers a nosebleed (something that happens to many abductees), to infer that Bowie was making a statement about alien abduction, but I bet he had a lot different inspirations for nosebleeds in his time that had nothing to do with extraterrestrials.

But the biggest of his roles was the Goblin King in Labyrinth, and made a new generation of little ladies fall in love with him.  However you feel today, this video of David Bowie dancing and singing with goblin muppets and a baby will put you in a good mood:

Some of his other roles that merit paranormal attention are Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ (a controversial film in 1989, but almost tame now) and the strange ghost of an FBI agent in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

He was in a mediocre video game that had excellent music called Omikron: The Nomad Soul. I bought it for my Sega Dreamcast and Wendy bought it for her PC, but you can get it free right here until the end of the week. A science fiction-y 1984 or Brave New World, Bowie was helping your character escape mechanical oppression.

His last really memorable role was that of the eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla (himself deserving of his own episode!) in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

But that’s a great way to remember David Bowie, just like in The Prestige. When he shows up in the film, you’re like “Aw yeah, it’s David Bowie doing something weird and cool!” That’s the kind of reaction that he got out of me whenever I saw him because he was always doing something weird and cool (except for the “Dancing in the Street” video with Mick Jagger, but hey, nobody’s perfect.) He was even able to do the impossible was even able to turn what should be a lame Pepsi commercial into a totally sweet Frankenstein homage where he creates, and then sings and dances, with Tina Turner.

Making anything he touched into something cool, now that’s a talent that we can remember and appreciate.

For this episode’s song, we decided to forego an original track and the week that David Bowie passed on, we sang a tribute to him at our Sunspot concert at Shank Hall in Milwaukee. We did an acoustic version of the Ziggy Stardust song, “Starman”, and we had someone in the audience record it “bootleg-style” and play it in the podcast.

“Starman” – music and lyrics by David Bowie

Didn’t know what time it was and the lights were low
I leaned back on my radio
Some cat was layin’ down some rock ‘n’ roll ‘lotta soul, he said
Then the loud sound did seem to fade
Came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase
That weren’t no D.J. that was hazy cosmic jive

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

I had to phone someone so I picked on you
Hey, that’s far out so you heard him too!
Switch on the TV we may pick him up on channel two
Look out your window I can see his light
If we can sparkle he may land tonight
Don’t tell your poppa or he’ll get us locked up in fright

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la

Share your thoughts on this episode!