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Lyrics Series I 16 I No, “Quicksand” does not name-check Brigitte Bardot

If I don’t explain what you ought to know
You can tell me all about it on the next Bardo

There are songs I’ve listened to over and over again for years without really thinking about the lyrics. Or, in this case, without thinking about a particular lyric. “Quicksand” (1971) is a musically beautiful Bowie song that sits precariously on the line between profundity and pretentiousness. The 23-year old Bowie, who at an even younger age wrote a song called, “I’m Tired of My Life,” sings, “knowledge comes with death’s release.” When I, too, was 23, I leaned toward “profound,” but at age 55 I think to myself, “give it a rest, Dave.”

Anyway, the song has all kinds of religious and spiritual references. But after admitting to looking for salvation through “bullshit faith,” Bowie sings the above lines, which for years I didn’t give much thought.

Elswhere in the song, Bowie name-checks Winston Churchill, Heinrich Himmler, Aleister Crowley and Greta Garbo, so I thought what I was hearing was a random reference to Brigitte Bardot. But that’s not the line (and if it were, it would make no sense).

“Bardo” is a Buddhist concept describing the intermediate phase between death and reincarnation. Despite my undergraduate religious studies major, that’s about all I can tell you about the concept. Other than what Bowie is basically saying is that all will be clear once we’re outside the material realm. He had an interest in Buddhism even at an early age and became familiar with the concept, but more to the point, the term provided him with a word that would be obscure to most of us that allowed him to make more of a puzzle out of his song (he seemed to like doing that).

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I found the image of Bridgette Bardot transforming into David Bowie, which is a 1990 piece by the artist Joost Veerkamp.

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