The Man Who Fell to Earth

When I heard of David Bowie’s passing, I recalled what for me may be my all-time favorite movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). At the time I wasn’t able to say how the movie moved me—I simply drank it in. It momentarily quenched a thirst that I did not know was there, being in my twenties at the time. Now, as I write this testimonial to a ground-breaking artist, I marvel at the fact that the whole movie is about thirst, a thirsty planet, dying, and an emissary going out into the unknown to find the waters of life and replenish his home planet.

This emissary, who has so much to tell us about the condition of his (our?) planet is poorly received. He is not believed, and instead is used for purely human ends. All effort is bent to normalize him and destroy his “alien” status. There is simply no human interest in his being an alien, and what he may be speaking to us, as such. He resists as long as possible, never losing sight of his mission: to find water and replenish a dying planet. His efforts fail and he finally drowns himself in loneliness and alcoholism. He writes a message, inscribed in a music album, intended to be sent “home”, presumably to let his family know the extent of his efforts, and failures, but the message-bearing nature of the music gets lost and it becomes simply another music album to be sold for profit.

Is this the fate of David Bowie and all who shout the same message to us, about our soul condition of “drought”. Is this the fate of his latest album and its alien message to us? Yes, it will sell well, but will we hear its message? What would happen if we acknowledge the “alien” status of the emissary and, instead of normalizing him by explanation, or interpretation, we drank in his message in all its strangeness? When this alien wants to make love to us, and his skin begins to ooze the life-giving moisture that could restore water to our thirsty souls, do we react with horror, recoil with disgust, or do we drink it in? If we accepted the life-giving essence of this “alien” moisture, then maybe, just maybe, we could then learn how to speak its watery language and its message could then, finally, “get home”:

Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside/Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried/ (I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)