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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Starman

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So, in 'Soul Love', we saw the hero wallowing in the same desolate state of mind like most of Hunky Dory's heroes, idly passing the time, disillusioned by all the options the world has to offer, waiting for love to descend on him but not really believing it can happen. And then, suddenly…

Didn't know what time it was, the lights were low
I leaned back on my radio
Some cat was layin' down some rock'n'roll, "lotta soul" he said
Then the loud sound did seem to fade
Came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase
That weren't no D.J., that was hazy cosmic jive

Every music fan knows this feeling. Some day, you are busy on your daily routine, not expecting anything, and the radio is blaring the same old tunes in the background. But then, something new comes blasting out of it, something that makes you drop everything and freeze in your place, something that compels you to swerve the car to the side of the road and stay there until the record ends, something that makes all the tiny hairs on your body bristle. When those magical three minutes are over, you are not the same person you were before. You are forever transformed, and you want nothing but more of that new sound.

I had to phone someone so I picked on you
Hey, that's far out, so you heard him too!
Switch on the TV we may pick him up on channel two
Look out your window I can see his light
If we can sparkle he may land tonight
Don't tell your poppa or he'll get us locked up in fright

And it is never a solitary experience. When you are hit by the new musical gospel, you find that there are other kids who have been hit by it, and they understand what you're going through. Your parents, on the other hand, don't understand it at all, and they try to dissuade and prevent you from hearing this music. The kids here are aware of it, so they keep it their own secret, creating a world of their own. 'Starman', we see, is another youth anthem, another celebration of the generational gap, which Bowie already tried to capitalize on in records like 'Changes' and 'Oh! You Pretty Things'. In those records, Bowie claimed that youth are different from adults in that they love the alien and they love change. Now, he turns it into part of the Ziggy saga, and defines "change" and "love of the alien" as the essence of rock'n'roll.

There's a starman waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds
There's a starman waiting in the sky
He's told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it's all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

The chorus ties this track to its album precursor. In 'Moonage Daydream', Bowie recreated himself as Ziggy, a creature who introduces himself as an invader from outer-space and calls the kids to follow him and come together in a new church, a church founded on rock'n'roll. In my analysis of the track, I claimed that this was his way to regenerate the rock'n'roll experience, which comes about when you are hit by something that is alien to your logic but relates to your innermost intuitions. 'Starman' looks at the same thing from the opposite perspective, from the perspective of the youth who are hit by this new message and their ecstatic response to it. The Starman is someone who is out of this world, someone frightening and mysterious, and yet there's something about him that makes him seem more right than anything they encountered before. Bowie uses the word 'blow' to create a double-meaning that expresses the dangers and opportunities of this close encounter. Taken literally, it is a warning that the meeting might prove too powerful for their earthly mind and is liable to blow it up, but if it doesn't blow it, it will prove to be worth their while. Taken in its colloquial sense, it says that it will offer them a "mind blowing" experience that can change their mind forever, but they are also liable to "blow it", to fail to live up to what he offers them, and miss the chance for happiness.

The Starman refers to the youth as "the children", a term that is rife with biblical resonance, and also reminds us of the pied piper. But the main mythology behind this story does not come from the Bible or folk tales – it is first and foremost rock'n'roll mythology. In 1957, Chuck Berry requested: "Just let me hear some of that rock'n'roll music / Any old way you choose it / It's got a backbeat, you can't lose it / Any old time you use it / It's gotta be rock'n'roll music / If you wanna dance with me." Berry promised us that if we remain true to the backbeat there is no way we can lose that wondrous sensation, and rock'n'roll will last forever. But youth culture did lose it, did forget how to make rock'n'roll, and was no longer able to use the music to generate the same joy. Our Starman now promises to bring it back, to let the children "lose it" and "use it" once again, and boogie just like they did before.

It all harks back to the fifties, to the early days of youth culture, when the youth lived in a society that believed it is the best of all societies and is well on the road to solving all its problems. You can see it in the numerous fifties alien invasion movies created by Hollywood, where the aliens represented dangers to our society which we must come together to defeat. But in little known B-movies, or in obscure rock'n'roll gems like 'Flying Saucer Rock'n'roll' and 'Purple People Eater', an opposite picture was presented: the aliens were regarded as symbols for a more exciting way of life, an alternative to the boring conformity, who come to Earth to play rock'n'roll and teach us how to have fun. Four tracks into The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, we realize that Bowie is now finally taking this undercurrent and bringing it to the fore, to create a sci-fi story that is the opposite to what we were told in the fifties. The idea that we are on the way to a perfect society died, and its death was proclaimed in 'Five Years'. The alien Ziggy now comes to offer an alternative, and pave a new road to happiness. When he launches into the chorus, whose first notes are lifted straight out of 'Somewhere over the Rainbow', we feel that this is someone who comes from Oz, or Mars, or any other magical place that is on the other side of the rainbow, and that he has come to take us, his children, to that place.

On July 6, 1972, kids all over Britain sat in front of their screens to watch 'Top of the Pops' like they did every week, not expecting much. But then, a glamorous, androgynous, beautiful creature invaded their TV sets, and the story of the record materialized in reality. For some of these kids, the world was suddenly painted in rainbow colors, and life would never be the same again. This was the beginning of Ziggymania.

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