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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: When I Live My Dream

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'When I Live My Dream' is one of the prettiest compositions of Bowie's Deram years (1966-68), with beautiful melody, soaring heartfelt vocal and plush orchestration. But it also marks a major step forward in his songwriting technique. Like 'There is a Happy Land', it is not what it seems, and the lovely image of innocence is shattered once you listen to the lyrics more carefully. What sounds like a song from the heart is actually yet another piece of theatre, and what we have here is David sharpening his Bowie knife, this time with a tool that will become essential to his art in the years to come: irony.

When I live my dream, I'll take you with me
Riding on a golden horse
We'll live within my castle, with people there to serve you
Happy at the sound of your voice

Charming. The singer is dreaming of future success, and promises his girl that when he fulfills it she will also be there with him and have whatever she wants. How romantic.

Baby, I'll slay a dragon for you
Or banish wicked giants from the land
But you will find, that nothing in my dream can hurt you
We will only love each other
As forever when I live my dream

Awww. That's even more romantic. Except… what does he mean by "nothing in my dream can hurt you"? Surely he doesn't think they will be living in an actual dream-world, does he?

When I live my dream, I'll forgive the things you've told me
And the empty man you left behind
It's a broken heart that dreams, it's a broken heart you left me
Only love can live in my dream

The true picture begins to emerge. This is not a loving man making promises to his girlfriend, but a broken hearted man who dreams of the day she will come crawling back to him. He is not singing this to her but to himself, and he is telling himself that it is love that is guiding his thoughts, but it sounds more like bitterness and a wish for revenge.

I'll wish, and the thunder clouds will vanish
Wish, and the storm will fade away
Wish again, and you will stand before me while the sky will paint an overture
And trees will play the rhythm of my dream

Now it is obvious that he is in fantasy land, dreaming of a world where he is an omnipotent god and sets all the rules. The relationship he imagines is one in which she is totally under his power.

When I live my dream, please be there to meet me
Let me be the one to understand
When I live my dream, I'll forget the hurt you gave me
And we can live in our new land

As a god, he can show mercy. He enjoys fantasizing himself as merciful, and he convinces himself it is because he is a good and loving man. But he actually enjoys it because it makes him feel superior to her. She is a mere human and she hurt him, while he is divine and forgives her.

Till the day my dream cascades around me
I'm content to let you pass me by
Till that day, you'll run to many other men
But let them know it's just for now
Tell them that I've got a dream
And tell them you're the starring role
Tell them I'm a dreaming kind of guy
And I'm going to make my dream
Tell them I will live my dream
Tell them they can laugh at me
But don't forget your date with me
When I live my dream

Mercifully, he allows her to have a life of her own until the time his fantasy catches up with her and enslaves her. But this life she's living is defined as merely a passing phase. Her role in life is to be the star of his fantasy, and that is what she must succumb to.

And so, this oh-so-lovely record turns out to be a rather ugly piece of selfishness and pathetic delusions of grandeur. The boy is unable to stand up to the fact that his girlfriend dumped him, so he escapes into a fantasy world in which he is omnipotent. We've met this selfishness theme before in 'Can't Help Thinking about Me', but there the singer was fully aware of his selfishness, while here he hides it from himself. In that, he prefigures many heroes of future Bowie records.

Which means that we must always be careful while analyzing a Bowie record, and always ask two questions: is he singing as himself, or is he playing a character? And is he being straightforward, or is he portraying someone who is lying to himself and to us? Those are two of the main keys to unlocking the secrets of Bowie's art.

In 1969, Bowie shot a clip for the record. Considering his then girlfriend Hermione Farthingale would be the cause of his own heartbreak and the subject of some of these future records, it is ironic that she appears in the starring role…

The theme of a lover who deludes himself that his loved one loves him back is perfect for describing the clown Pierrot, and Lindsay Kemp, whom Bowie started to work with shortly after the album's release, inserted Bowie's rendition into his play Pierrot in Turquoise.

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