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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: God Knows I`m Good

After the epic 'Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud', the next track on the album is once again told from the perspective of a third-person narrator, although this time he is an eye-witness to the events, and the story doesn't take place in some imaginary village, but in your neighborhood supermarket. From the mythic, we are brought down to the mundane. And yet, if you think that this record does not deal with some sort of deep philosophical issue, you don't know Bowie…

I was walking through the counters of a national concern
And a cash machine was spitting by my shoulder
And I saw the multitude of faces, honest, rich and clean
As the merchandise exchanged and money roared
And a woman hot with worry slyly slipped a tin of stewing steak
Into the paper bag at her side
And her face was white with fear in case her actions were observed
So she closed her eyes to keep her conscience blind

Crying
"God knows I'm good
God knows I'm good
God knows I'm good
God may look the other way today"

The record is a diatribe against modern capitalist society. It is a world ruled by commerce, by machines who calculate fast and keep the business rolling, and the people are reduced to an assembly line of a "multitude of faces", indiscernible from one another. And yet, one of them is different. While most people blend into this world, becoming "honest, rich and clean" (a line delivered with a dose of irony), some are left out, and don't have the money to take part in the game. The old lady doesn't have enough money to buy food, and is reduced to theft. Obviously, she is not an immoral person, and she asks God for forgiveness, because she has no other choice. Her fear, however, is not only from the watchful eye of God, but also from the watchful eye of the system, because her actions are a crime against the order of capitalism.

Then she moved toward the exit clutching tightly at her paper bag
Perspiration trickled down her forehead
And her heart it leapt inside her as the hand laid on her shoulder
She was led away bewildered and amazed
Through her deafened ears the cash machines were shrieking on the counter
As her escort asked her softly for her name
And a crowd of honest people rushed to help a tired old lady
Who had fainted to the whirling wooden floor

Crying
"God knows I'm good
God knows I'm good
God knows I'm good
Surely God won't look the other way"

The old lady is caught, and arrested. Bowie's harsh portrayal of the events condemns the ruthlessness of the capitalist system, which treats people like criminals merely because they want to eat. While the machines keep rolling on, humanity collapses to the floor.

This little ditty, then, can be heard as a song about the inhumanity of capitalism. But above that, this is a song about the relationship between Man and God. The woman turns twice to God, once to ask him to look the other way, once to ask him not to look the other way, and in both cases, God does not listen. If we take the old lady as a symbol for humanity, then what the record says is clear: God has forsaken us, we're on our own. The act of calling to God, but getting no reply, will be a recurrent theme in Bowie's art.

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