The Secret Jewish History of David Bowie

Shapeshifting Artist Was Influenced by Dylan and Kabbalah

Loving the Alien: David Bowie is one of few major international rock stars — especially English ones, who have performed in Israel.
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Loving the Alien: David Bowie is one of few major international rock stars — especially English ones, who have performed in Israel.

By Seth Rogovoy

Published April 16, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
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Madonna had nothing on David Bowie when she came out as a devotee of Kabbalah in 1998. British rock star Bowie, who is much in the news right now for his terrific “comeback” album, “The Next Day” (Columbia/ISO) — his first new recording in a decade, widely and justifiably hailed as his best work since 1980’s “Scary Monsters,” — beat Madonna by 20 years or so when he sang about the sefirot, the mystical vessels of divine energy, in the title track of his 1976 album, “Station to Station.”

Really? Yes. Sure enough, Bowie sings, “Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth” in “Station to Station,” perhaps the only usage of kabbalistic terminology in Hebrew ever by a major international pop singer. The lyrics refer to the divine emanations of the infinite: Kether, or “the crown,” said to be the divine will or pure light, and Malkhuth, or kingship, the nurturing receptacle of that light. Bowie was pictured on the back of the album, drawing a diagram of the 10 Sefirot, an activity he purportedly engaged in with some frequency while recording the album in Los Angeles — a time during which he was supposedly bombed out of his mind on cocaine.

Bowie’s immersion in Kabbalah was part of an overarching spiritual quest that took him from Tibetan Buddhism (he almost joined a monastery in the late 1960s, until his teacher told him that he’d make a better musician than monk) to Christian mysticism, occult worship and a flirtation with neo-Nazi imagery that nearly derailed his career when it was discovered that he collected Nazi memorabilia and that he seemingly made a “Heil Hitler” salute upon arriving, in 1976, in an open-top Mercedes convertible, waving to a crowd gathered at London’s Victoria Station.

Today that unfortunate dalliance is blamed widely on Bowie’s drug issues; in any case, Bowie has been married for the past twenty years to Somali supermodel Iman, with whom he has a daughter. He put that unfortunate incident behind him long ago, and his previous and subsequent life and career suggest that he is anything but a Nazi sympathizer.


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