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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: We are Hungry Men

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When David Jones had to choose a new stage name for himself, he chose the name "Bowie" after the infamous knife. Later, he claimed he wanted to be like a knife that cuts through the lies and reaches the truth. A Bowie knife, however, cuts in a special way: it is a double-edged knife, so using it to cut through something would cut it on both sides. In 'We are Hungry Men', Bowie begins to display this quality in his art, cutting through both sides of a current debate, showing them both as deficient and striving to reach an answer that lies beyond. The record is built as a dialogue, with both parties played by Bowie, and both of them get a taste of his blade. Let`s see the Bowie knife at work.

Here is the news
According the latest world population survey
The figures have reached danger point, my god
London 15 million 75 thousand
New York 80 million
Paris 15 million and 30
China 1000 million
Wellington-Spa: lots!

The conflict at the root of this record is the "collective vs. individual", which is one of the main debates of the Modern age. It begins with the voice of a newscaster, the symbol of an individual voice that is neutered of its individuality and speaks for the everyman. However, this voice becomes individualized again, as the newscaster is terrified by the stats he is reading that depict the number of human masses in the world. Suddenly he feels how the collective, by its mere number, is erasing his individuality, turning him into one ant in a giant anthill.

My studies include exophagy
I formed my own society
To crush the power of fecundity
The world will overpopulate
Unless you claim infertility
So who will buy a drink for me, your Messiah?

In opposition to this over-populated world rises a man who wants to do something about it, in the first (but certainly not the last) Bowie record to warn us of impending doom. The fear of population explosion was something that troubled thinkers and politicians in the nineteen-sixties, and was a common theme in sixties sci-fi dystopias. The record reacts to this debate, presenting a protagonist who warns us that this is the things that would lead humanity to its demise. But he does more than warning: he claims he has the solution for our salvation, and invites us to join his own society that is based on principles of population reduction.

We are not your friends
We don`t give a damn for what you`re saying
We`re here to live our lives

The collective, however, doesn`t listen. They don`t like to think about the problems in their world, and don`t appreciate people who try to wake them to these problems – they just want to go on living their lives, suppressing bad thoughts. Like many other Bowie records of the time, we see the collective suspicious and oppressive of anyone who breaks away from conformity. No one wants to buy a drink for the "Messiah.

I propose to give the pill
Free of charge to those that feel
That they are not infertible
The crops of few, the cattle gun
There`s only one way to linger on
So who will buy a drink for me, your Messiah

However, the fact that Bowie is attacking the collective doesn`t mean that he is identifying with the individual. The self-professed Messiah is revealed as a raving windbag, using big words and ridden with delusions of grandeur. The "new society" he talks about is comprised of him alone, and his suggestions – initiated infertility, infanticide, cannibalism – are ridiculous. 

Achtung, achtung, these are your orders
Anyone found guilty of consuming more than their
allotted amount of air
Will be slaughtered and cremated
One only cubic foot of air is allowed…

The record now presents what will happen if we do not change our ways, and envisions a future Nazi society where people will be limited in the amount of air they can consume. The "Messiah" is essentially right, then, and the danger he warns of is real. But he is going about it the wrong way.

I have prepared a document, legalizing mass abortion
We will turn a blind eye to infanticide
You don`t seem to hear me clear
Do I talk above your sphere?
Let me explain my project dear
Show you how I`ll save the world
Or let it die within the year
Why do you look that way at me, your Messiah?

Convinced that he holds the truth, the "Messiah" isn`t discouraged by people`s indifference. He is sure that they will come to see things his way if he can just explain it right. But he doesn`t know how to explain himself to other people. This is a problem with many individualists: they are so wrapped up in their personal truth that they are unable to see other people`s perspective.

We are hungry men
We don`t give a damn for what you`re saying
We`re here to eat you

In the end, the prophet that explored exophagy as a possible solution is the one who gets eaten. The collective just wants to grow, and it eats up the individual and swallows him whole. But in that, it also erases his truthful message and dooms itself.

This is the Bowie knife: cutting viciously into both sides, he shows them both to be wrong, leading to a tragedy where everyone loses. The challenge Bowie would face in his art would be to cut all the way through and find a different answer. Here, in 1967, when Bowie was only twenty years old, the knife is not sharp enough. Yet.

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