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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Can`t Help Thinking About Me

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`Can`t Help Thinking About Me` came out in January 1966, and was the first song David Bowie recorded under his new name. More significantly, it is the first record in which we are beginning to hear the themes and style that would become associated with the name Bowie. Until then he was Davy Jones, a member of several unsuccessful British rhythm `n blues bands, writing songs that followed tried and tested R&B formulas. At the time he wrote this he was the leader of a band called the Lower Third, and this is also the band that went into the studio to record it.

Question-time that says I brought dishonor
My head`s bowed in shame
It seems that I`ve blackened the family name
Mother says that she can`t stand the neighbors talking
I`ve gotta pack my bags, leave this home, start walking, yeah
I`m guilty
I wish that I was sorry this time
I wish that I could pay for my crime

I can`t help thinking about me
I can`t help thinking about me
I can`t help thinking about me

The singer is a teenager who disgraced the family name and has to leave home for its sake. He admits his guilt but he doesn't apologize and he doesn't even feel sorry, because he has lost all empathy to other people and cares about no one but himself. This is not an autobiographical story – Bowie was never in this situation. Bowie, then, is assuming a character, even as he is singing in first person. This is something which we will always have to ask when we analyze Bowie's records: is he singing for himself, or is this a character?

Remember when we used to go to church on Sundays
I lay awake at night, terrified of school on Mondays
Oh, but it`s too late now
I wish I was a child again
I wish I felt secure again

 

The singer now remembers his childhood and misses the time when he was in the protective and nurturing nest of his family. Back then, it seems, he did have feelings for them, but not anymore. He does wish he could go back, but he does not think it is possible.

As I pass a recreation ground
I remember my friends always been found
And I can`t
I can`t help thinking about me

Now his mind wanders to thoughts of his friends, but he leaves them behind as well, completely severing all ties with the past to be free and alone. He sounds like a sociopath.

Now I leave them all in the never never land
The station seems so cold the ticket`s in my hand
My girl calls my name "Hi Dave
Drop in, see around, come back
If you`re this way again"
Oh, I`m on my own
I`ve got a long way to go
I hope I make it on my own

But then, the final verse brings a twist: his girl, which he also leaves behind, refers to him as "Dave", which hints that there actually is an autobiographical dimension to the story. The tale might be fictional, but there is a grain of personal truth in it. Presumably, it symbolizes something that Bowie was going through at the time. The sociopathic tendencies of the hero are merely an extension and an exaggeration of his own feelings.

What does the tale symbolize? Well, first of all, Bowie just turned nineteen when he recorded the song, a teenager leaving home and starting life as a grown man. At this stage of life, people do tend to be extremely self-centered. The subject of teenagers leaving home was actually quite risqué for pop music at the time (Bowie claimed that some radio stations censored the record because of it), but it is of course a big part of a teenager's life, and Bowie here displays, for the first time, his courage to deal with controversial but topical issues. Secondly, and more importantly, it sounds like a declaration that from now on he will go his own individual way and follow his own artistic vision. This record is still attributed to "David Bowie with the Lower Third", but Bowie left the band shortly after, and from here on (or at least for the next two decades) all his records would be attributed to "David Bowie", even when he worked with a regular band. "I hope I make it on my own" he sings in the last line, and here he sounds like he's speaking of himself.

It's hard to imagine he would have made it with material like this. It isn't bad, but the lyrics are still rather crude and the music unimaginative. But it didn't take long before he got better. Much, much better.

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