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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Hang Onto Yourself

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'Hang Onto Yourself' started life as an Arnold Corns record, with a rather nonsensical lyric delivered against a murky rockabilly backing. It seems to try (unsuccessfully) to recapture the excitement of rock'n'roll in its early days, when it was all new and didn't know where it was headed. The lyrics suggest that we are on the verge of breaking into something big, and the phrase "hang on to yourself" seems to be a warning not to get too excited, or we might blow it. When it was remade for the Ziggy album, however, the song dealt with the reality of what happens after you've already become a star, and was changed accordingly. This time the music is tight and edgy, the lyric is biting, and the phrase "hang on to yourself" gains a whole new meaning.

We are, then, already in the thick of Ziggy's success. The beginning of the album saw us plodding through depression and meaninglessness, but then finding a new way, a new promise for a life of excitement and joy. As a result, the rhythm of life escalates, and everything becomes livelier and stronger. 'Star' already speeded things up, and the next three tracks are among Bowie's most rocking numbers ever, as we take a ride with Ziggy through the heavens of rock'n'roll stardom. So hang on to yourself, we are on our way.

Well she's a tongue twisting storm, she will come to the show tonight
Praying to the light machine
She wants my honey not my money, she's a funky-thigh collector
Layin' on 'lectric dreams

Who is "she"? Hard to tell. It could be the band coming to lay electric dreams on us, extract the buried honey within us and take us through a tongue twisting storm. It could be a female fan, who is coming to the show tonight to get some of Ziggy's honey and crave his funky thighs. Or maybe "she" is ultimate happiness, which will descend on everyone who will attend the show, band and audience alike, and take them through a storm of electric dreams. In any case, it is a celebration of that wondrous experience that is a rock'n'roll concert.

We can't dance, we don't talk much
We just ball and play
But then we move like tigers on Vaseline
Well the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar
You're the blessed, we're the Spiders from Mars

In this verse, it is obvious that the speaker is Ziggy, who is introducing his band, the Spiders from Mars. Again, this is vintage rock'n'roll language, blending religious imagery, sexual innuendos and a touch of anarchy. Not much to analyze here: Bowie stays away from his usual multilayered poetry and keeps it simple and punchy, like rock'n'roll should be.

So come on, come on
we've really got a good thing going
Well come on, well come on
If you think we're gonna make it
You better hang on to yourself

But the chorus does have a slightly deeper philosophical undercurrent. As we recall, Ziggy's "self" is something that he created, according to his (or actually Bowie's) perception that in order to be happy you should recreate yourself as something alien. But this also means that this created self can bring you happiness only as long as it is still alien, and once it is no longer perceived as alien, the happiness fades. You should therefore remain in control of this self, so when the day comes when it no longer induces happiness you can set yourself free from it and recreate yourself once again. You should hang on to your self, remember the reasons for its creation, and not let it be distorted by the changing reality. The special traits of Ziggy's self were his superstardom and his multi-sexuality, and he managed to get the world to perceive him that way as well. But the outcome, as we see in this song, is that he is now exposed to all the temptations of superstardom and unbound sex, which have nothing to do with the initial reasons for his choosing this way of life. Ziggy is reminding himself to hang on to himself, to not lose himself to these temptations, but as the guitars go wild towards the end of the record and the temptations are luring him "come on, come on" we can feel him losing the hang. Swept tongue-twisted by the storm of his own creation, getting lost in the electric dreams he put forth, slipping on the Vaseline, he is rushing towards his fall.

The Arnold Corns version:

Ziggy letting go of himself:

Bowie picks him up again for the Stage tour in 1978:

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