The Black

“Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn’t pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think you knew you were in this son.
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk.

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got”
David Bowie, Five Years

 

We have been talking about being gentle with ourselves because, I submit, as a culture we have been suffering from the trauma of what the Limits to Growth study taught us about the future of industrialized civilization. Part of our reaction culturally, I submit, involves increasing child abuses. Abuse can be physical, sexual or psychological. We have decided, as a culture, it is ok to have more than 20% of our children living in poverty, at a time CEOs make 300% more than there employees. Physical abuse, check. Previous posts have already covered how pervasive sexual abuse is. Sexual abuse, check. What about psychological abuse, or what is also known as spiritual or emotional abuse? That is what we are going to talk about today.

It is not a small thing that this was the first presidential debate, watched by children all over the nation as homework, that was not family friendly. Nor is it a coincidence that this event coincides with the first woman to run for the highest office in the land. Somehow, that seems to make it ok.

I wrote awhile ago that, “we seem to get a kick out of terrifying our children, as if we could take our revenge for everything that has disappointed us about life under Babylonian Capitalism by taking it out of their hides.” Last week I was told about another example of exactly what I had in mind. As Halloween approaches another deeply archetypal eruption tears into the social landscape with crazy clowns putting in an appearance. Here is another way to attack the child’s mind and fill it with fear and terror. Blood in school hallways has become fair game for… for what?

Why are so many adults being driven to attack children, or look the other way?

In this post I want to share an archetypal reading of the David Bowie song Five Years. I offer these ideas as a model, knowing they are in-part personal associations yet trusting there might also be some helpful insights into what is happening to us socially. Like any model of how archetypal themes might be playing out in a society this one is sketchy at best. Still, by my lights it is worthwhile. I think much of Bowie’s gift was in taking the position of the abused and outcast, seeing their worth and giving emotional expression to the truth of their lives.

I want to read the song Five Years as an oracle. Oracles do not predict the future, that is a modern conception. Oracles read the way the wind is blowing at the time they are consulted, wrap that intuitive perception in enigmas and poetry, and do so to bestow wisdom so people might recognize things more clearly and act more skillfully. It is an important question to contemplate, who will you trust as an oracle?

It was in 1968 the Club of Rome asked for a study of the world problematique using system science and computation. The resulting study was completed about the time this David Bowie song was written in 1971. These things were in the air. The opening verse states clearly “earth is really dying.” In interviews with both the Rolling Stones and William Burroughs Bowie explained this was because the earth “will end because of a lack of natural resources.”

From the interview with Rolling Stone just mentioned (italics added):
“It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources.  Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock n roll band and the kids no longer want rock n roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s advisors tells him to collect news and sing it, cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news.”

What the artist was able to see, I propose, is how this type of news was changing people. He identified the archetypes that would accompany us on our journey bearing this “terrible news.” In the interview he mentions how ” all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything.” I look around at the dissolution of the barriers between adult and child material in our society and think these couple of sentences from the early 1970s capture the state of things rather well.

For what it is worth I believe this vision into the resource restrained future stayed with Bowie the rest of his days. Blackstar takes up the theme, in my opinion. In his penultimate work, appearing after a 10 year hiatus from public music making, it animates Where Are We Now? (“just Walking the Dead”). The video he released with it artistically captures faces frozen with anxious eyes watching as time passes by. The video is full of shots of Berlin in the 1970s. Why does the woman just join him in the video only to watch along side him as he sings? Why the woman with the tail in Blackstar? What Bowie saw was how the male and female are each playing different roles under the pressures of living with what we know.

Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

The market square is of course how we wove the spell that grew us from the sustainable human scale to the unsustainable Homo Colossus. It is pushy in here as the pie shrinks. I get an image of young mothers pushing strollers with their children in them. How can they be happy for their children again? With a heartbreaking sigh they look on the reality, such a small amount of time left to cry in. What his hauntingly beautiful lyrics proceed to express for us is the emotional impact the news of limits to our growth has on people. It hurts. It is true. There is no escape, what are we to do?

I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people.

When this vision gets ‘stuck in your eyes’ everything you see in the normal world of struggling humans is touched. Everything we have worked so hard to achieve suddenly looks to be so very impermanent. We scan the built environment and the culture so intimately bound up with our identities, like the identity of Bowie once a boy fascinated with a toy from father, mother’s electric iron and the wonder of TV. The consumer cornucopia is our embedded mind, our brain made over like a warehouse. These common, everyday things carry powerful emotional connotations in the unconscious. As he thinks about the loss of all these things taken for granted since his childhood he suddenly realizes what this “terrible news” will also mean for all the people in the world. Billions and billions of us.

His attention turns to people: a world full of laughing, crying, struggling human beings with warm bodies in an endless variety. Some, like himself, destined to give form to the dreams of the many and others destined to be the many. The contemplative who has worked with compassion understands the truth, “I never thought I’d need so many people.” We are the same. Equal.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn’t pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that.

A whole lot of people were going off their heads as the 60s dreams of the Age of Aquarius were shattered in the dark 70s. I read in these next two lines an accurate description of what archetypal psychology knows as the dark mother. Those mothers pushing their baby strollers through the market square sighing sometimes snap. How could it be that this most wonderful and beautiful baby of mine is the source of so much darkness and pain in our over-populated world? Going off her head the unconscious rage at the unfairness of it all was given free reign. What happens next is just as Jungian thought would expect; sometimes the only way to beat a monster is to invoke a bigger monster. A compensating darkness rose to protect the survival of the battered child. This was touched on when we discussed how the shadow can be a person’s protector. The theme is being given sliver screen treatment this holiday season in the movie A Monster Calls. Missing dads, dark moms and monsters make up the heady concoction in Babylon Capitalism’s bitter cup.

Next evocatively, have we not all broken our arms saluting the military-industrial complex one too many times, while staring with mono-vision at the automobile as the summit of industrial wealth? When Law and Order are put in service of the True Believers it makes society’s outcasts sick with fear and disgust. The sad news invokes not only the dark mother. The dark father puts in an appearance as well as patriarchy’s physical violence is put at the service of its spiritual violence, causing physical sickness among the broken and abused they leave in their wake. The lawman puts in an appearance in another song, Is There Life on Mars? “Take a look at the lawman, beating up the wrong guy.” That is in the news of late as well.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think you knew you were in this son.
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk.

I am using a reading that ends with “in this son” instead of “in this song.” That way the reference to Ma follows naturally. It also leaves us facing the emotions of a son abandoned by his father, as so many boys are in our age of fatherless homes. The generation we inherited this mess from seem to just be going along just fine, happy as fat cats; “ the older people have lost all touch with reality.” In the cold rain he thinks back on the time of childhood and nostalgically wants to go back there. What is back there that causes this outpouring of compassion in the next lines?

Our love for our children is stronger than our fear. Even now. Our children bear our face, our race, the way that we talk. They speak directly to our hearts. Overshoot is not left as an unfelt abstraction. The child is recognized as precious, even by all the darkened mothers and fathers. Evolutionary blood, sweat and tears have made my child just who and what he or she is. The deepest parental wish is that one’s child will be able to balance their physical, emotional and mental lives so that they can live a good life and that the world will provide the stability and support a good life requires. All this, and more, is in that quintessential parental gesture; offering a steadying hand for our child’s grasping finger as they take their first trembling steps. “I want you to walk.”

Let us pray this spirit of help and nurturing will become more evident in our culture.

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

The people of the industrial world were surprised by the terrible news. It pains the brain but once you know, you cannot forget. It gets stuck in your eyes.

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