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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed

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Spy, spy, pretty girl
I see you see me through your window

In 'Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed', Bowie once again takes the role of an outsider, but there is something about it that discerns it from his earlier records. In some tracks on Bowie's first album (such as 'Love You till Tuesday', 'Rubber Band' and 'Please, Mr. Gravedigger'), the outsider was standing in the shadows, spying on the people who belong to conformed society, completely unnoticed by them. When society did notice him ('Little Bombardier', 'We are Hungry Men'), it placed him in a certain preordained mental drawer, which enabled it to oppress his divergence so that the homogeneity of the collective could be kept. But here, when the outsider looks at a high-society girl, he realizes that she is looking back at him and even spying on him. We have a new kind of relationship between society and the outsider.

Well, not exactly new. It already appeared in an earlier Bowie song, 'Columbine', in which he sang: "Columbine my frail design / I see you see me standing on my own". Who sings these lines? It is the character Pierrot, in the Lindsay Kemp play 'Pierrot in Turquoise'. Bowie learned a lot from Kemp, and one of the things he got from him was the notion that an artist should be like Pierrot, the sad clown who portrays the fallible sides of human existence. In other words, the artist should present a grotesque mirror-image to society, but do it in a way that is clownish and entertaining to get people to watch him while he throws their faults back in their faces.

So, while in Bowie's earlier records there could be no real contact between the deviant and society, since the deviant displayed a certain natural divergence that the collective could not allow, here the deviant is something else: someone who doesn't stand completely outside of society, but at its edge. He takes certain aspects of "normal" culture, exaggerates them and wears them on his sleeve, while behaving like an entertaining clown. In this way society cannot ignore him or oppress him, because he stands out without doing anything unlawful. He's a "freak", and most people are just amused by him, but to some of them, like this young woman, he is alluring, and she wants to understand what he's made of.  

Don't turn your nose up
Well, you can if you need to, you won't be the first or last
It must strain you to look down so far from your father's house
And I know what a louse like me in his house could do for you
I'm the Cream
Of the Great Utopia Dream
And you're the gleam
In the depths of your banker's spleen

We learn that they come from the opposite sides of the social spectrum. The girl is a rich banker's daughter, while the freak is from the dregs of society. And yet, he presents himself as "the cream of the great utopia dream", as the culmination of what the dream of a perfect society (the dream that is at the basis of our Western civilization) has turned into. He is probably part of the Hippie culture, a dropout who seeks utopia through the Hippie practices of free love, drugs, mysticism and so forth. For the girl, he represents something more exciting than her boring existence, so she's drawn to him. Since she feels herself superior to him, she thinks she can allow herself to be entertained by him without fear, but he hints that letting him into her world can shake it in ways she doesn't expect.

I'm a phallus in pigtails
And there's blood on my nose
And my tissue is rotting
Where the rats chew my bones
And my eye socket's empty
See nothing but pain
I keep having this brainstorm
About twelve times a day
So now, you could spend the morning walking with me, quite amazed
As I'm Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed

In his identity, the freak embodies all the things about human existence that Western culture is trying to hide from itself: sexuality, blood, rotting tissue, pain, death. Instead of hiding them, he provocatively exhibits them. For the girl, that makes him dirty (unwashed) and a little crazy (slightly dazed), yet she also feels fascination, since he is only showing her what's inside her own skin.

I got eyes in my backside
That see electric tomatoes
On credit card rye bread
There are children in washrooms
Holding hands with a queen
And my head's full of murders
Where only killers scream
So now you could spend the morning talking with me quite amazed
Look out, I'm raving mad and Somewhat Slightly Dazed

While the previous verse dealt with physical traits, this verse deals with the social and mental dark sides of human existence. The freak displays it in a very bizarre and beguiling way, that juxtaposes symbols of wealth (credit card) with poverty (rye bread), technological (electric) with organic (tomatoes), innocence (children) with dubious sexual activities (holding hands with a queen in washrooms), and weird murderous fantasies. The music, which started out as pretty soothing, becomes evermore wild, as electric guitar and harmonica battle each other like some Bob Dylan number that went out of control, punctuating his ravings. The girl thinks he's crazy and yet she's still fascinated, because it is part of her mentality as well.

Now you run from your window
To the porcelain bowl
And you're sick from your ears
To the red parquet floor
And the Braque on the wall
Slides down your front
And eats through your belly
It's very catching
So now, you should spend the mornings lying to your father quite amazed
About the strange Unwashed and Happily Slightly Dazed.

Following her interaction with the freak, the girl feels like she needs to clean herself up, to go back to her "normal" life, but she's too affected. After looking into his mirror and realizing what she's like inside, there's no way to go back. Even her own mansion isn't safe for her anymore: the Braque painting, which her family bought just to flaunt their wealth, suddenly makes sense to her, coming to life and doing what art is supposed to do – eat through your guts and transform you. She is lost to her father's world now: she sees the freak as happier than she is, and wants to change her way of life.

As he does on several other tracks on the Space Oddity album, Bowie here is both aligning himself with the Hippie counterculture and discerning himself from it. He describes himself as a freak, like the Hippies did, but while the latter wanted to create an alternative world outside of "normal" society, Bowie thinks that the freak should remain in the world of the "normal" people and be like Pierrot, a mirror-image that confuses them and affects them into changing their ways. And this concept will prove to be crucial to Bowie's later work. The freak/artist he presents here, who takes aspects of society, exaggerates them and juxtaposes them to create a startling and seductive mirror-image, is pretty much a precursor to what he will be doing throughout the following decade.

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