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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Running Gun Blues

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The entire Man Who Sold the World album deals with the same themes that Hippie rock dealt with, but does so from Bowie's Nietzschean/Crowleyan perspective. 'Running Gun Blues' is no exception, dealing with the Vietnam War but in a very different way than the anti-war anthems of the Hippie bands. It is one of the records that showcase most blatantly how separate Bowie's mindset was from the peace/love ideology of his generation.

I count the corpses on my left, I find I'm not so tidy
So I better get away, better make it today
I've cut twenty-three down since Friday
But I can't control it, my face is drawn
My instinct still emotes it

The protagonist is someone who is on a killing spree, and tries to regain control over himself and stop it. But he is unable to – the killing instinct has taken over him and compels him to keep on killing.

I slash them cold, I kiIl them dead
I broke the gooks, I cracked their heads
I'll bomb them out from under the beds
But now I've got the running gun blues

The chorus reveals that our killer is an American soldier who has killed many Vietnamese in the war and wants to go on killing. However, something has happened that stopped his fun and gave him the blues. What is it?

It seems the peacefuls stopped the war
Left generals squashed and stifled
But I'll slip out again tonight
Cause they haven't taken back my rifle
For I promote oblivion
And I'll plug a few civilians

The record is set in the future, after the anti-war movement will finally manage to stop the war. The Hippies believed that everyone would be overjoyed to go back to living in peace, but Bowie plays someone who isn't. This new state of peace gives our protagonist the blues as he can kiIl no more, so he starts to run amuck and kilI people indiscriminately – this is the "running gun blues". We don't know if he's still in Vietnam and killing "gooks", or perhaps he has returned home and does his killing back in his own American neighborhood.

Around that time, the first such stories started to appear, stories about war veterans who survived the jungles of Vietnam, came back home and proceeded to act in anti-social and violent ways. Bowie was one of the first to react artistically and write a song about it. But his take on it was different than the usual approach, which was to blame their behavior on their difficulties to readjust to civilian life. This approach presumes that a human being is a creature that is inclined by nature to live in a peaceful and orderly society, and has problems only when it can't adjust to the reigning order. Bowie's take on human nature is that it has oblivion at its heart, and if this nature is awakened through war, it is hard to put it back to sleep. If we want peace, we have to bring that into account.

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