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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: All the Young Dudes

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In the beginning of 1972, Bowie was already appearing as Ziggy & the Spiders, slowly building notoriety but still not finding the big breakthrough he was hoping for. When he wrote 'Suffragette City' he didn't think it would be suitable for him at first, and offered the song to the band Mott the Hoople, which had the laddish attitude he thought would be more appropriate. The band refused politely, informing Bowie that they are splitting up after realizing that they will never make it. Bowie was upset and asked them to reconsider, promising he would produce their next album and write a hit record for them if they do. When the band heard the demo of 'All the Young Dudes' they couldn't believe their luck, and immediately took the offer. It was recorded on May 14th, with Bowie and Mick Ronson producing and Bowie joining in the chorus.

Billy rapped all night about his suicide
How he'd kick it in the head when he was 25
Speed jive, don't wanna stay alive
When you're 25

The beginning of the record ties it to the Who's iconic youth anthem 'My Generation', and its assertion "I hope I die before I get old". Billy is a teenager who believes your life is over once you become an adult and have to conform to the rules of bourgeois society, so he vows to kilI himself once he reaches the age of twenty-five.

And Wendy's stealing clothes from Marks and Sparks
And Freddie's got spots from ripping off the stars from his face
Funky little boat race

These lines, however, confirm that we are not talking about 1965, the mod age, but 1972, the glam age. Stealing clothes from stores was something the Mods did as well, but glittering your face with stars ("boat race" is Cockney rhyme-slang for "face") was a glam thing. The generation and the style may have changed, but the essence – the belief that youth is superior to adulthood – remains.

The television man is crazy
Saying we're juvenile delinquent wrecks
Oh man, I need TV when I got T. Rex

Oh brother, you guessed, I'm a dude

All the young dudes
Carry the news
Boogaloo dudes
Carry the news

In 1974, Bowie gave his own interpretation to this record, and claimed it is a continuation of 'Five Years'. According to his interpretation of the Ziggy story (which he was contemplating turning into a play), it takes place in an apocalyptic world where there is no law and order, which means that the people can get whatever they want. Thus, the kids no longer need rock'n'roll, the sound of youth dissatisfaction. The rock star Ziggy, instead, starts to sing them the news, which they can no longer get on TV. According to Bowie, this is also what 'All the Young Dudes' is about, about a world where the kids and the rock'n'rollers themselves need to pass each other the information, since the media doesn't do it anymore.

I wouldn't give too much credence to Bowie's interpretation of Ziggy Stardust. It sounds much closer to the plot of Diamond Dogs, the album he was working on at the time. However, it does give us a clue at how to understand 'All the Young Dudes'. The youth can no longer relate to what the TV tells it, and needs the TV only to watch current rock bands like T.Rex, because only they provide it with useful information. The youth has a new consciousness which the adults cannot comprehend, and the kids have to pass on the information from one to another, to "carry the news", in order to develop it.

Now Lucy's looking sweet cause he dresses like a queen
But he can kick like a mule, it's a real mean team
But we can love, oh yes, we can love

Messing up gender categories was one of the main components of glam. "Lucy" is a boy that dresses like a homosexual, but he isn't a sissy – he can fight like the best of them. These lines in particular are responsible for turning 'All the Young Dudes' into a gay anthem, as young gays took "we can love, oh yes, we can love" as an affirmation that homosexuality isn't just about sex, but can also be about love.

And my brother's back at home
With his Beatles and his Stones
We never got it off on that revolution stuff
What a drag, too many snags

The generational gap is reopened. We, the glam kids, are not the continuation of the sixties, but a rebellion against them. Those who are still listening to the Beatles and the Stones and dreaming about a Hippie revolution are outdated, and we consider them a drag.

Well, I drank a lot of wine and I'm feeling fine
Gonna race some cat to bed
Oh, is that concrete all around, or is it in my head?
Yeah, I'm a dude

The last part gives us another dose of gayness, as the singer wants to race a "cat" (a young man) to bed. More importantly, it places glam in urban surroundings, and an urban state of mind.

All in all, it is the quintessential glam anthem.

When the recording was done, Bowie reportedly collapsed on the floor of the studio, as it dawned upon him that he just gave away a sure smash hit to someone else. This record could have given him the stardom that he craved, but he realized it too late. Eventually, though, everything worked out fine. Bowie's TV performance of 'Starman', and his meteoric rise to stardom that followed, were less than two months away. When 'All the Young Dudes' came out in September it gave another boost to his fame, and the album, aside from reviving Mott's career, strengthened his producer credentials. Bowie recorded his own version in 1973 (inferior in my opinion), and proceeded to perform the song on the Ziggy Stardust tour and on many other occasions.

In 1992, at the Freddie Mercury memorial concert, some of the elders of glam – Ian Hunter from Mott, David Bowie, Mick Ronson, and the three surviving members of Queen – convened to give a grand performance to this all-time classic, and relive the time when they were the young dudes.

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