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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: There is a Happy Land

One of the characteristics of mid-sixties British psychedelic pop was a wish to return to childhood, to a utopian state of all play and no work, and no cares either. It usually took place in some magical fairytale land, described in a childish nursery rhyme manner and accompanied by dreamy atmospheric music. It was part of the spirit of 1967, the year of the Summer of Love, and it expressed youth culture's desire to transform the hateful world they grew up in into a world of harmony and love. Bowie's 'There is a Happy Land' is in this vein, it seems. Or is it?

There is a happy land where only children live
They don't have the time to learn the ways Of you sir, Mr. Grownup
There's a special place in the rhubarb fields underneath the leaves
It's a secret place and adults aren't allowed there Mr. Grownup,
Go away sir

It seems that it is. The melody and lyrics are simple and childish, the music creates the right atmosphere, and the place it describes is a magical secret land. The only thing that seems strange here is that he stresses that grownups are not welcomed. In most records of this kind this was only implicit, rarely explicitly stated. Bowie makes it sound like an ideology, not something stemming from an authentic sentiment.

Charlie Brown got half a crown, he's gonna buy a kite
Jimmy's ill with chicken pox, and Tommy's learned to ride his bike
Tiny Tim sings prayers and hymns, he's so small we don't notice him
He gets in the way but we always let him play with us

Bowie continues to describe the life in this magical place of eternal childhood (the mention of Charlie Brown, hero of the Peanuts comic-strip that features only children, emphasizes it as a place where no adult ever appears). But again, something seems out of place here. It is meant to be an expression of a loving state where everyone's welcomed, but it doesn't seem like Tiny Tim is really welcomed. They accept him because they have an ideology of loving all children, not because they actually want to play with him.

Mother calls, but we don't hear
There's lots more things to do
It's only 5 o'clock, and we're not tired yet
But we will be, very shortly

Sissy Steven plays with girls, someone made him cry
Tony climbed a tree and fell, trying hard to touch the sky
Tommy lit a fire one day, nearly burned the field away
Tommy's mum found out, but he put the blame on me and Ray

More and more, we realize the place isn't that utopian and magical at all. The kids have all the faults of the adults, without the sense of responsibility you gain with adulthood. They are selfish, irresponsible, unable to take care of themselves, and have no qualms about hurting each other. In the fourth line, Bowie also seems to suggest that this utopian mood that has overtaken youth culture is merely a passing phase, and they will soon be tired of it.

There is a happy land where only children live
You've had your chance and now the doors are closed sir, Mr. Grownup
Go away sir

What we have here is not a regular Summer of Love record about a happy magical place, but a parody of such records. While formally sounding like them, he presents their childhood dream as a chimera: childhood isn't really magical, and children are actually obnoxious brats. The record brands the Summer of Love's rhetoric as empty ideology. Youth culture is saying: we are loving, inclusive and happy, while the previous generations are not. But actually, they are exactly the same.

It is one of the first Bowie records in which we hear the singer claiming to be happy, when more careful listening reveals him to be in a sorry state. It is also the first Bowie record which attacks the idea of utopia and shows it as empty. Many more will follow.

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