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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: John, I`m Only Dancing

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Released during the heyday of the Ziggy phenomenon, when the English nation was scandalized to learn that it has a bisexual alien rock god in its midst, this single was the perfect vehicle to deliver the message to every radio and TV set. It's simple, but clever.

Well, Annie's pretty neat, she always eats her meat
Joe is awful strong, bet your life he's putting us on
Oh Lordy, oh Lordy, you know I need some loving
Oh, move me, touch me

John, I'm only dancing
She turns me on, but I'm only dancing
She turns me on, don't get me wrong
I'm only dancing

Ambiguity is the name of the game. There are two ways to understand this verse and chorus. It could be a straight story: Joe needs some lovin' and fancies some chick named Annie, but Annie has a boyfriend named John, so he only dances with her and assures John that he has no further intentions. But it could also be a Bi story, in which Annie and John are two objects of desire Joe has to choose between, so he dances with the girl but assures the boy that he's actually not inclined in her direction.

Oh, shadøw love was quick and clean, life's a well-thumbed machine
I saw you watching from the stairs, you're everyone that ever cared
Oh, Lordy, oh Lordy, you know I need some loving
Move me, touch me

The cryptic second verse maintains the ambiguity. The shadow love part probably refers to the dance, in which he did get some sexual satisfaction although it wasn't real love making. The person watching from the stairs was probably John, either jealous or turned on. The part about life being well-thumbed probably means to say that this kind of thing has happened many times before, hinting at the richness of human sexuality which is far greater than what the Victorian mind allowed itself to think. And that makes John an exemplar for everyone who was ever jealous in such a situation. Anyway, we get no resolution to the story.

This ambiguity was enough to keep the single under the radar of censorship, and allow it to become a radio hit in England. The TV promo clip, however, is a different matter. Here we find Bowie working for the first time with his photographer Mick Rock to shoot a clip, and enlisting his old mentor Lindsay Kemp to make it as campy as possible. The result is a brilliant combination of choreography and cinematography, which gave Ziggy's image the gay aura it needed and took the art of using TV promos to build an iconoclastic figure one step further. Banned at the time from British television, it remains one of Bowie's greatest promos, and an important precedent for the art of the video-clip.

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