On David Bowie

Moving past the spiritual normality around death and dying, I needed to take some space within words to reflect on what David Bowie meant to me, my family and our culture. It’s been three days since he took off for his home planet, leaving us all startled. I wanted to wait this long to post because I felt some space was needed to take a long close look that wasn’t too caught up in the emotion of the moment.

On January 8th, Bowies 69th birthday, Bowie released his 25th album entitled Blackstar. Three days later he died. If you go back and read the lyrics to the track “Lazarus” you can clearly see this was very intentional. He was saying goodbye.


Who the fuck does that? That level of genius, bravery, wit, sarcasm and poetic beauty can’t even be understood just yet. Maybe it won’t go down as his best album musically (or maybe it might?) but it may go down as one of the most important statements ever made in rock and roll. To be able to face death and make your work about it while it’s happening in nearly real time is really the essence of being alive and honoring this incarnation. Running straight into the god damn mountain with reckless joyful abandon. I can’t think of another rock and roll star who has made their death also an artistic statement.

Art is life and death. Life and death is art. Maybe Bowie’s dabbling into the Buddhist trip exposed him to the bardo states of consciousness that allowed him to embrace the circular nature of all living things. Seems like that.

To even use the phrase “rock and roll” doesn’t even fit with David Bowie. Unlike, many of his peers Bowie transcended genre, cultures, classes and labels. Yes, he had a certain sound that remained un-mistakably “Bowie”, but in end it’s clear that music was just his medium for a much bigger expression. Not a classic rocker, not an art rocker, he was just an artist who used sound to weave together tapestries of fashion, rock, jazz, funk, sex, politics and multi media. Watch “Ziggy Stardust, the film, read the lyrics to “Young Americans”, listen to “Low” and then watch the video for “Lazarus’” – this is a 40 plus year career with some of the most elegant and consistent art making the world has ever known. This is Picasso or Edison.

On a historical level it’s the physical end of a very specific time in our history. The fact that there isn’t a David Bowie in physical form to contribute to the world around us is an ending of sorts. Rock, as we currently have it defined, is now dead. Knowing Bowie was always out there lurking in the shadows and ready to leap forward with a big statement has been a constant presence in the history of modern electric music. Yes, Dylan is left. So are members of the Dead, McCartney, Brian Eno, David Byrne, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Even with these giants around, it still feels like there’s a void left in the present sense. Bowie was doing stuff that no one else was even considering. His constant desire to push forward into new territory was sometimes challenging but always worth checking out.

“If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”

And most importantly on a personal level, this digs so deep and here’s why. David Bowie was my mom’s favorite musical artist. She raised me on his music. Not just the hits but all of it. Deep tracks too. As far back as I can remember every single Bowie album was there on vinyl. All the big amazing covers, the crackles of the needle hitting the record were the sound of my childhood. Pink Floyd, Talking Heads were also in there. Billy Holiday too. But it was Bowie that was the real centerpiece of everything she loved. So much so in fact, that she even styled her own look after him in the early 80s. She’d put out on display the covers of Aladdin Sane and ChangesOne (the greatest hits album) as sort of a mirror to her current style. As I came of age and I started to understand what this music was about it quickly became a part of my childlike zeitgeist of wonder and worship. When my parents went out at night I would play Ziggy Stardust loudly and dance around alone in the living room pretending that I too could be Ziggy. The first song that I learned to play on the guitar was “Space Oddity”. This was the fabric of the Learydrome when my mom was still the Queen.

Bowie’s death feels like a part of her died too. This may sound dramatic, but it’s true. It’s just an association that I can’t quite pin down, but feels so raw and potent to me. I’ve made peace with death many times in my life and am at peace with this one too. However, the magnitude will mark my life so far as “Before Bowie” and “After Bowie.”

They broke the mold after you David. In fact, you may have made the mold to begin with. Shine on.

What I’ve Learned

This post is dedicated to the memories of Tony Scott, Tom Davis, Jan Sharp, Nelson Lyon, Jeb Abrams and Geoffrey Gordon. All of these beautiful souls left this mortal coil within the last six weeks.

“What’s the difference between loss and change? Attachment.” – Ram Dass

It’s a Tuesdday morning and I just returned from Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, CA. After four days of immersive practice I can’t say that I’m any more equipped to write about death than I was a week ago however, I do feel a renewed sense of clarity that comes from loss. This post isn’t really about death anyway. Plenty of people have written on that topic. It’s more about how profound and sudden change can rock you into a new understanding of some of life’s basic principles.

Specifically regarding death though…the mysteries of our physical nature are elusive, frustrating and profound. I think that because we take form in these bodies at this time we really seek to understand why that is. So when it all suddenly ceases to exist we equally try to understand why that is. Right now I feel that it is the “not knowing” how it all works is where the ultimate peace lies. I’ve grown comfortable with the notion that our physical incarnations are so fragile and so precious. Every moment is a gift and as beings taking form right now we must understand that everything is impermanent.

Over the course of the last 6 weeks I’ve experienced radical shifts in my consciousness as it relates to the time I’ve been given on this planet. It’s helped me to understand why I will miss the people who have died, why things like suicide are terribly tragic and why it’s important to fill your time with things that you love.

In Joshua Tree these past 4 days I had to take a look at my practice and what is working and what isn’t. My “practice” is primarily based in methods that seem at face value to be rather structured and formal. For instance, yoga asana has a set of physical sequences that most people do the same way or kirtan has a set of mantras that are sung the same way. However, when one personalizes these practices to let them take on their own form within your own consciousness doorways open that are yours alone. The constant repetition of the names gets so far out that different activations and realizations are available at different times depending on what is you are going through or chanting for. Personalizing ones spiritual practice really helps to make the method malleable thus making the journey constantly rewarding.

All os this loss and funky transitional life structure change all took the form of loss. After an intense four days of practice that included kirtan, discourse, friendship, a little yoga and satsang I feel like I’m come to an awareness of some life qualities that are very important.

The Big Picture

This has been said to me in a variety of ways over the years but it’s becoming very clear in a crystalized and visual way. When we encounter events like sudden and unexplainable deaths or terrible heartbreak it’s important to remember that we are not equipped to understand the bigger picture that makes up all the moving parts of the universe. We are barely equipped to understand ourselves. It’s also become clear that spiritual practice, of any kind, reveals to us glimmers of what the bigger picture is. Perhaps practice can reveal a little shard of universal truth. So when someone decides to loose their will to live we can take refuge in the acceptance that the not understanding is perfectly ok. There’s no reason to understand everything at all times. The mind will constantly go back and forth with the thoughts of “why me” or “this hurts” or “how could she” etc etc. And yes it does help to gain knowledge that can settle the heart but ultimately it’s up to us alone to walk through pain and to move on.

Our minds make up such strong stories that we perceive as our reality. This is in part true – certainly we can be responsible for shaping our living conditions. As Sharon Gannon says “want to change your life? change your thoughts.” Even so with that knowledge there is still a pervading underlying reality that makes up the universe that has nothing to do with us. I don’t believe that the universe and all it’s splendor is a dream that’s going on between our ears, I believe we are one small part of a countless collective that makes it all work together. How the rest of it works I only have slight glimpses into, universal truths that work for me.

Reach Out

If there’s someone in your life who you love or miss but have lost touch with do yourself the favor and reach out and say hello. I’ve always been bad at this because I get shy and reclusive. It’s a very worthwhile thing to do because there may be limited time for you to see them on the physical plane. They might literally jump off a bridge tomorrow. Honestly, I have some sadness in that I didn’t try harder to reach out to Tony in recent years. I have this thought that he would really have loved to see my ’73 Chevy Nova SS and would have been so proud that I bought it with my own money via hard work. I’m sad I didn’t get to share that moment with him.

This can also take on the form of combatting loneliness. I can’t imagine why someone who has so much would take their own life but I suspect it’s because they feel very alone in this world. For myself, I know that I’d be nothing or nowhere without my friends. Yes, there has been a degree of self actualization that has made my life whole but my direct lifeline to my friends and teachers has kept me afloat when I couldn’t find the strength. Don’t be lonely. My shyness has caused me a lot of grief and I’m doing everything I can to keep good association in my life through reaching out.

Do What You Love

We’ve all heard this from a million spiritual teachers in a million different forms. My favorite take on this is from Steve Jobs:

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

I’ve seen more people, including myself, wallow away in a rut because they “think” that they have so much to loose if they give up a traditional route or do things out of convenience or comfort. The rationale mind will tell you that you have so many excuses for not following your heart. Society fills us with fear of scarcity – that not having enough will someday become a reality when in fact all of our needs are already met. I for one don’t want to be that guy who wakes up when they are 75 wishing I had done something that I only dreamed of. That’s enough motivation to not postpone joy, ever.

I got so freaked out a couple weeks ago that a large portion of my life has gone by so very quickly. An old group of my friends gathered at my house three days before Tony Scott checked out and it started this unraveling process of being somewhat frightened that so much time has gone by. And then the Tony thing happened and it really drove home the notion that if I’m not doing what I love then what’s the point? Granted we all have to show and up and do the dirty work from time to time but if we can fill our time here with as much joyous activity to occupy ourselves then we stand a better chance of leading a life full of fulfillment.

Take risks. Everything great comes from great risk or vulnerability. Going for that big career jump that we thought was beyond us or asking that girl out that made us so nervous. We have nothing to loose. That’s my mantra for the day.

Don’t Care What Other People Think

I have work to do here. Far too often my decisions are dictated by the results of what it is people think of me or want from me. One of my main character defects is paranoia and people pleasing. It’s a lousy combination. I want everyone to be happy and then I get so freaked out if I’ve let them down or haven’t made them happy. At the end of the day we’re really all doing the best we can. Even when we make mistakes it’s important to let them go and just be right with yourself and with God.

Spiritual communities can also be perilous in this regard – because they are so tight knit the “gossip” becomes such a huge part of the fabric. Distancing yourself front this pattern takes work and lots of awareness. The moment you start doing stuff to please someone in the community and/or your ego the intention gets lost.

All of this makes it seem like I have some idea that I know what I’m talking about. Trust me, I don’t. During Krishna Das’s Saturday night set at Bhakti Fest he went on some rap about karma and interrupted himself by saying “as if any of us know what the fuck we’re talking about.” So true. These are just thoughts that came to me during a very difficult month and I thought I’d share them.

For the first time in my life I really have no idea what’s next and it’s so completely wonderful. Be good humans.

On God…part 1

In 1988 I started following the Grateful Dead pretty heavily. I immediately became transfixed with the idea that on any given night something magical could happen. The far out part was that it wasn’t every night. Some nights the band would mine for gold and come up dry. The juxtaposition between conjuring up magic on some nights and just trudging through the chord changes on others was remarkable. It was so interesting to me that a band of this size would risk so much to find the essence of magic, of God, by engaging in a musical dance with each other and the audience.

The addition of LSD was like adding jet fuel to an already burning house fire. It took me from 60 to light speed without a seat belt. There I was, a young impressionable teenager, being thrusted into a vortex of sound, vision and community. To this day I believe that Jerry Garcia was a great sorcerer. Casting chants and spells hoping that one of them would catch fire and set our minds ablaze. That happened often. Even then I knew it was an expression of God.

The problem, of course, was that there was no operating manual for life outside of that sacred arena. Well…if there was no one shared it with me. Perhaps I was too quick to be searching for the peaks and I forgot to cruise in the valleys. Insert metaphor here. Strong was the quest to “get there again” that I wasn’t aware of any discipline that could help me integrate this living and breathing magic into the daily mundane. Life went on.

Cut to May of 1996. My dad died on May 31st of that year. Many people were gathered around his bedside kinda just watching him take fewer and fewer breaths, it was all happening. I had never seen anyone die so naturally I was caught between the sadness of losing my father and the fascination of watching the transition. When he took his last and final breath a burst of energy flew into the rooming filling it with a beautiful glow and transcendent vibration. Just as quickly as he was there breathing in one moment, the next he was floating above me in a vibrational form having left his body temple. The energy dissipated quickly (so I thought) and there he was lying there, an empty vessel. The hyper awareness that his body was now just an empty physical form with no life force in it was without question the defining moment of my life at that point.

Where did he go? What are we made of anyway? What defines life – body or soul? How can a soul manifest as a personality?

So the words weren’t as defined as I now know them to be, but from then on it was my feeling that a supreme love intelligence body of energy permeated throughout the universe. Everything had so much in common with everything else. Energy moves from one place to another manifesting in leaves, trees, dirt, the ocean and human beings. And sometimes that energy can cary so much supreme intelligence that it manifests in magic or realized body temples such as Yogis or supreme personalities of Godhead. And our journey avails us to many tools and paths that can help us get in touch with that sacred field of energy. That’s the sadhana, the work, that is required of us – to seek our own relationship.

To be continued…happy Jerry week.