Without Tibet House, there may never have been a David Bowie.
Young David Jones was 13 when he developed an interest in Buddhism after reading "The Rampa Story" by T. Lobsang Rampa. Over the next four years, his interest in Buddhism and Tibet grew until he was visiting the Tibet House in London up to four times a week.
"One day, I walked into the office and it was empty," Bowie said, calling from his New York office. "I went down the stairs and saw a man in saffron robes. He said, in very broken English, 'You are looking for me.' I realized years later that it was a question, but as a 16-year-old, I took it as a statement: 'You are looking for me.'"
The man in the saffron robes, Chime Yong Dong Rinpoche, became Jones' guru for several months.
"After a few months of study, he told me, 'You don't want to be Buddhist,'" Bowie said. "He said, 'You should follow music.'"
That is what he did. Since his debut in 1966, David Bowie, who changed his name after Davy Jones of the Monkees became popular, has been one of rock's biggest stars, while still pushing the artistic envelope. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has topped the charts consistently since 1969 with his first hit, "Space Oddity." It continues today, as his song "Thursday's Child" was nominated for a Grammy this year for best male rock vocal.
Bowie jumped at the chance to be part of this year's Tibet House benefit at Carnegie Hall on Monday. The concert -- which includes composer Philip Glass, stars such as Natalie Merchant, Emmylou Harris, Patti Smith and Moby, Drepung Gomang Tibetan monks and international artists such as Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan -- will raise funds for the organization, which preserves and showcases Tibetan culture and traditions.
The timing seemed right, Bowie said.
"Certain experiences, like spiritual messages, float through your life," Bowie said. "Probably in the last year I have become more aware of that, not from a spiritual standpoint, really, but from the teachings. I have always followed some of the tenets of Buddhism, especially the one about change. What came from my Buddhist bumblings is that change is our river. I keep coming back to that, and it means an awful lot to me."
The way Glass, who is the show's artistic director, handles the concert also attracted Bowie.
"It has a low profile," Bowie said. "Given the nature of the artists, it sells out, but it's not a trumpet-blowing thing. It's a very comfortable situation."
Bowie plans to perform "Silly Boy Blue," one of the first songs he ever wrote, at the benefit. His backing band will feature Glass on keyboards, Moby on guitar and longtime collaborator and producer Tony Visconti on bass.
Bowie's Tibet House appearance will likely be his sole performance of 2001, since he plans to spend much of the year at home with his wife, Iman, and their 6-month-old daughter, Alexandria Zahra.
"I missed so much of my son's early years because I was on the road," Bowie said, referring to his son Zowie, 29. "It's so wonderful to be home. I'm reacting like every other father. I have no unique perspective on the situation. It's wonderful."
While at home, though, Bowie is working on a new album, the follow-up to "Hours," which looked back to his earlier work. Last year, he released "Bowie at the Beeb," a three-CD set from the BBC archives between 1968 and 1972.
However, Bowie is not focused on his past.
"It's a confluence of events that make it seem that way," Bowie said. "The cause has been the millennium. Part of it is the label's enthusiasm for the older work and part is mine to look back. But I am working on quite new material that is forward-sounding."
More than any other contemporary artist, Bowie can gallop ahead of pop culture or be part of a moment, depending on his will. He has also been at the forefront of the Internet revolution, creating his own online service, BowieNet, and helping build a new type of community with his fans. Members of his service were treated to an exclusive concert last year, and he sees it as a new way to get music to listeners.
His music already has helped create the genres of glam rock, new wave and, most recently, electronica. Though not really a commercial success, the sound he helped fashion in 1997 with his "Earthling" CD and songs such as "Little Wonder" helped pave the way for Fatboy Slim and Moby, as well as Radiohead.
"The new album will be more experimental," Bowie said. "It's time I crept out there again."
What will it sound like?
"That's much too hard to say," he said, laughing. "It will be spontaneous -- planned accidents. Hopefully, it will be a vibrant, exciting tapestry and inhabit its own world when it's done. That's what I hope for all my albums, that they create some sort of alternative reality."
Bowie hopes his appearance at the Tibet House benefit is a way to help honor the Buddhists who helped him in his formative years. It is also a way for him to lend his support to the cause of protecting the Tibetan culture.
"It's always held a special meaning for me, though I don't talk about it much," Bowie said. "It is important to protect all cultures and keep recapturing pieces of peoples' history."
WHERE & WHEN The Tibet House Benefit at Carnegie Hall, 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, Manhattan, Monday at 7:30 p.m. The concert is sold out. For more information, call Tibet House, 212-807-0563.