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Although as a child, I was fed a fairly varied diet of good music, it’s fair to say that my ‘bread and butter’ was definitely Bowie. From starry-eyed mooning over Labyrinth to teen sulking accompanied by Station to Station, his music pervaded a substantial portion of my life.
Like most Bowie fans, his passing brought a tear or two to my eye, and of course, made me listen to his final album, Blackstar, with renewed attention. The press and internet forums alike became a frenzy of theories about its meaning, in particular, the title track.
And what a track it is. Arguably one of the most atmospheric songs Bowie has produced in years, it’s dense with intriguing, yet frustratingly slippery lyrics. Despite the ferocious debates that still rage on as to its meaning, there’s one thing the Bowie acolytes certainly agree on – the song is deep with hidden meaning… and it’s just there to be chiseled out.
The Villa of Ormen
The most hotly argued aspect is, of course, the pervasive reference to the ‘Villa of Ormen’ – made even more deliciously enigmatic thanks to the accompanying Tumblr page – which has been suggested to be the work of the late Bowie himself.
Various suggestions abound. People (correctly) point out that ‘ormen’ means ‘snake’ in Norwegian. And that Bowie once had a Norwegian girlfriend. A villa of snakes undoubtedly fits the bill, on a surface level. Biblical imagery? Check. Accompanied by occult-sounding ‘solitary candle’? Double-check.
But for me, it didn’t sound quite right. It seemed too clumsy for Bowie – particularly in such a powerful, thought-provoking piece of music. A recent Guardian article claimed that the ‘the Villa of Ormen’ sounded a little like ‘the revealer of all men’ – i.e. death. Another suggestion was that it sounded like ‘the evil of all men’. Both notions had me satisfied for all of ten minutes, but again, it just didn’t feel quite right.
I started to play around with the letters. It took ages. But finally, I uncovered something!
The Villa of Ormen is a direct anagram of The Veil of Normal.
Initially, it doesn’t seem that significant. In fact, it sounds pretty meaningless. However, the more I started pondering it, the more I started to think I was on to something… perhaps.
Explaining the Veil of Normal
Let’s first look at the phrase literally. A veil is something to hide behind. When we say something is ‘veiled’, we’re suggesting it’s concealed, or in some way deceiving to the eye.
An interesting choice of word for Bowie. After all, here is a man who has lived behind disguises for much of his life. Combine the word with ‘normal’ – and we have a suggestion that normality is simply a disguise.
I found it interesting that Brian Molko (who had collaborated with Bowie in the past and regularly cited him as a huge influence, not to mention a friend) had posted a dedication to Bowie on his site – and the final line said ‘you are beyond the veil’. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might say.
Of course, that’s not enough in itself.
I started to hunt on the internet for more clues, and came across an interesting article. It’s a lengthy article, taken from Time magazine (2002) – and initially reveals little of interest. However, about halfway through, it has a quote from Walter Russell Mead – a noted researcher.
“The word apocalypse” he observes, “comes from a Greek word that literally means ‘lifting of the veil.’ In an apocalyptic age, people feel that the veil of normal, secular reality is lifting, and we can see behind the scenes, see where God and the devil, good and evil, are fighting to control the future.”
The connection could just be a happy coincidence. However, it’s interesting to note also that the article makes specific reference to a Biblical quote from Revelation 6:12 – ‘I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair…’
The sun = a star. A Black Star. Interesting! And of course, those of you who have watched the "Blackstar" video will know that one of the first images is a solar eclipse. Quite literally a black sun. A message perhaps?
On a final note – the aforementioned article also talks about the rise of Islamic extremists. Possibly significant, given that Donny McCaslin, Bowie’s saxophonist on the album, claimed that Bowie told him the song was about ISIS. The connection, again, could be entirely coincidental. Or not…
So, let’s go with the premise that actually, what Bowie was singing about was the Apocalypse. This theory, in itself, isn’t new. There have been other articles suggesting the same. However, I have yet to see any articles that have quite grasped the clues that hint at this.
The song’s lyrics refer to a number of other religious aspects. ‘On the day of execution / Only women kneel and smile’. This could be interpreted as Bowie’s own ‘execution’ – or could be a direct reference to Jesus being crucified. Given there’s a song called "Lazarus" on the album, not to mention an actual image in the "Blackstar" video of people being crucified, I’d veer towards the latter.
That would make the ‘women kneeling and smiling’ Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.
The Women of the Apocalypse
How does this relate to the Apocalypse? More probing online revealed an intriguing article on Wikipedia about 'The Woman of the Apocalypse.’ Tellingly, this woman is sometimes referred to as ‘the Woman clothed in the sun’ and is depicted with stars around her head.
This woman, who is heavily pregnant and has to fend off the devil, is also often associated with the Virgin Mary. In Revelation 12:14, it’s written that ‘the woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert.’ The eagle (which is a bird often associated with god) literally rescued her, flying her away from danger.
If you know "Blackstar" well, you’ll know that towards the end, the lyrics are ‘I want eagles in my daydreams’. An oblique wish to see a brighter future for mankind – a way to escape?
Let’s look at the line in full. ‘I want eagles in my daydreams, diamonds in my eyes.’
This isn’t the first time eyes are mentioned in "Blackstar." At the start, we have ‘In the centre of it all / Your eyes’ – which is repeated twice; once in verse one, then again in verse two.
We also have the powerful imagery in Bowie’s video for "Lazarus" – his eyes are bandaged and what appear to be two small stones are embedded in the fabric. Some have speculated this represents the pennies paid to Charon on the journey to the Underworld. Again, this didn’t quite work for me.
I wonder actually if this is a direct reference to the line ‘diamonds in my eyes’. Perhaps, Bowie is expressing a wish to escape the Apocalypse – whether by flying away on eagle wings or by simply remaining blind and ignorant – being dazzled by wealth (diamonds) and material possessions, rather than facing the truth. Just a thought. After all, don’t we all bury ourselves in our iPads and smartphones, rather than looking at what’s going on around us?
The All-Seeing Eye
When thinking of ‘eyes’, I couldn’t help pondering the connection to the ‘all-seeing eye’ that is connected with Freemasonry, banking institutions – in fact several other organisations across the world. The image, which is a pyramid with a single eye at the top, is meant to represent god. It appears on the US $1 bill – which has led to many conspiracy theories about the involvement of the Illuminati with the US banking system.
Of course, I’m wildly guessing here – but I found myself wondering, when Bowie sung ‘at the centre of it all / Your eyes…’ was he referring to money? What is going to bring about the Apocalypse? Well, you know what they all say about the root of all evil…
Or, more simply, was it a reference to God? There’s a lot of somewhat Satanic imagery in the video, but there’s also some strong references to Christianity – figures on a cross (albeit rather frightening ones), Bowie posturing as a preacher, even Bowie praying at one point. Are the eyes of God at the centre of it all?
There’s probably a whole lot more to consider in the song… which I’m working on. For now, that’s as far as I’ve got. I may be completely wrong – and the thing is, there’s no way of knowing, is there? But it’s certainly been fun exploring it. Once again, my childhood hero has provided me with plenty of inspiration to get my teeth into… what a legend!