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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Eight Line Poem

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Smack in the middle of his most solemn songwriting period, when it seems like every song he wrote had to be a long and complicated saga, Bowie takes a stab at writing a short poem. Now, the trick with short poems is to infuse every line with multiple meanings, and the great thing about them is that they are open to many interpretations. This poem is no exception, and seems like a meaningless jumble of unrelated images. Nevertheless, I will have a go at it, and attempt to bring all the images together and present a cohesive interpretation.

For that end, I will make the assumption that it is not just coincidentally tacked on to `Oh! You Pretty Things`, but is meant to serve as its counterpart. Or rather, as its counterpoint. In the first track, Bowie is presenting a prophetic vision of a better world, miraculously handed down to him by a hand that comes out of the sky. But then we come down from these euphoric heights, first musically, as the music slows down and plods its way through the next track, and then lyrically, as `Eight Line Poems` brings us back to our own world…

A tactful cactus by your window
Surveys the prairie of your room

The word "room", in Bowie`s art, often refers to the inner world, while the act of looking out the window refers to an attempt to look to the outside world. Here, he tells us that our room is a prairie – in other words, that our inner world has become empty and dry and needs spiritual regeneration. In the vision he just presented, Bowie told us that he looked out of the window and saw a crack in the sky and a hand that came from beyond our world and forced its way into it to offer salvation. But now he comes back to reality, and when he looks out the window, all he sees is the cactus that stands in the window box. He imagines that the cactus, a creature of the wilderness, wants to invade our urban world and offer something new, but unlike the hand in his vision, it does not force its way in but tactfully waits until it is invited. It is left up to us to make the step.

The mobile spins to its collision
Clara puts her head between her paws

The next couplet tells us more about his (and our) "room". The mobile brings to mind a baby`s toy, which suggests that the room is actually a nursery. This gives another dimension to the story: we can imagine Bowie standing over the crib of his newborn son Zowie and imagining (in `Oh! You Pretty Things`) that this son is the start of the coming race, the Homo Superior. But then the vision ends, and he finds himself back in the room, in a mundane existence where he has to take care of the infant. On the metaphoric plane, the mobile symbolizes motion, but it seems that any motion in our spiritual world is just spinning about aimlessly and will end up not by taking us anywhere, but in collision. And Clara, putting her head between her paws, infuses the scene with a strong sense of boredom. Our inner world is aimless and boring. Can we find something on the outside?

They`ve opened shops down the West side
Will all the cacti find a home

The cactus was the only thing that seemed to represent a different type of existence. But, Bowie now tells us, it has already been incorporated. Instead of opening itself up to alternative kinds of existence that might save us from our barren lives, our consumer society swallows everything and turns it into part of its own logic, into commodity to be sold on the market. Even the cacti have found a home in it and no longer offer an alternative.

But the key to the city
Is in the Sun that pins the branches to the sky

There is a "city" somewhere, a magical place where life is different. We only need to find the key to the door that leads us there, but the key is in the Sun – that is, somewhere beyond our world, beyond the sky. It seems that today`s society has given up the quest for that key, but the trees haven`t forgotten it and they still aspire to get there, sending their branches upwards, trying to get to the Sun. Bowie wants us to follow their example, to save ourselves from our emptiness. But how can we get it? How can we bring down the Sun machine? That is the question that lies at the heart of the masterpiece that is called Hunky Dory.

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