As you probably know, David Bowie is dead. Comes as quite a shock. A victim of cancer, he just turned 69 a few days ago and released his 27th studio album, Blackstar. According to CNN, “Neither his publicist nor the statement elaborated on what kind of cancer the singer was fighting.” Earlier yesterday, this message appeared on Bowie’s Twitter account: “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle.”

bowie2I was just thinking about Bowie yesterday. I was remembering how much I enjoyed the music on the Let’s Dance album, not because it necessarily represented his best work, but rather because the tunes had a beat and you could dance to them and it was part of the soundtrack to a fun time in my life. I thought I should listen to it again.

It was during the tour supporting that album that I attended my one and only Bowie concert. A great show at the Forum in Inglewood. August, 1983. It was called the “Serious Moonlight” tour.

Bowie got into Buddhism when he was a teenager, influenced (like so many of us back in the day) by the novels of Jack Kerouac. After he recorded his first album, Bowie spent a few weeks at a Buddhist monastery in Scotland. I don’t know this for sure, but I believe it was Samye Ling, founded by Chogyam Trungpa, and the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the West. I also don’t know if the interest in Buddha-dharma stayed with him the rest of his life. There was a period when he flirted with Christianity.

In 1993, he produced the soundtrack for The Buddha of Suburbia, a 1993 BBC mini-series based on the book by Hanif Kureishi, a coming of age story set in London during the 1970s. As I recall the book has more to do with rock music than Buddha.

David Bowie’s impact on popular music during the last three decades of the 20th century is nearly incalculable. He is among the pantheon of music greats. I always thought he deserved more credit as a great singer, and to me, a great singer is someone who after just a couple of note, you know exactly who it is. That was Bowie.

That early Buddhist influence is evident in this song, Silly Boy Blue, from his 1967 debut album. Lyrics follow the video.

Silly Boy Blue

David Bowie

Mountains of Lhasa are feeling the rain
People are walking the Botella lanes
Preacher takes the school
One boy breaks a rule
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue

Yak butter statues that melt in the sun
Cannot dissolve all the work you’ve not done
A chela likes to feel
That his over self pays the bill
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue

You wish and wish, and wish again
You’ve tried so hard to fly
You’ll never leave your body now
You’ve got to wait to die

Child of Tibet, you’re a gift from the sun
Reincarnation of one better man
The homeward road is long
You’ve left your prayers and song
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue.