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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: She`s Got Medals

'She's Got Medals' is a very typical track on Bowie's first album. However, what is remarkable about it is that it preempts several directions which Bowie would take in the future. There's no reason to think Bowie already had these directions in mind when he recorded it, but with hindsight, we see that the grain was already there, embedded in the folds of his brain, just waiting to grow…

She'd walk through the door and she'd set up the drinks on the house
She played a good game of darts, and the men slapped her back
And never took her out
She wore a trenchcoat khaki
Her hobnail boots were full of holes
She's got medals

Yet another track in which Bowie is telling a third-person story about an eccentric figure. This time it is a woman who is "one of the boys", a woman who hangs out with the men, dresses like them and participates in their male activities, and never dates any of them. "Medals" in those days was a slang term for testicles, so "she's got medals" is probably what the men say about her.

Her mother called her Mary, but she changed her name to Tommy, she's a one, oh
She went and joined the army, passed the medical
Don't ask me how it's done
They sent her to the front line
Fighting for her country's name
She's got medals

Eventually, she became an actual boy, changing her name from Mary to Tommy. It doesn't seem she had a sex change operation, so biologically she's still a female, but she did manage to fool the draft board into thinking she's a man and was enlisted to fight in the war. "She's got medals" now can refer to her heroism in battle, or even to actual medals she (or rather he) won for his bravery.

She got very tired of picking up girls
Cleaning her gun and shaving her curls
Then the enemy dropped a bomb
Survivors there were none

But then, Tommy grew tired of being a man. Before he could do anything about it, however, he was killed in combat. End of story?

People say that when the moon is full and all the stars have gone to bed
You can see her ghost but that's a lie because the naughty woman isn't dead
She deserted on the previous morning
Replaced her uniform with dresses silk and green
Called herself Eileen
Came to London town
Now she's settled down
She's got medals

Apparently not. Tommy managed to fool everyone yet again, deserted the army without anyone noticing and switched back to being a girl named Eileen. The narrator is telling us that now she finally settled down, but maybe she's fooling him as well?

Like 'Little Bombardier', then, we have a three-part story about a war veteran who is not well-adjusted to society. But while Frank the bombardier was hunted and quashed by the system, Mary-Tommy-Eileen manages to fight the system and even come out the victor. Bowie hints that it is actually possible to defeat the system, if you only have the balls and the cunning to do so. He even gives some pointers on how to go about it: occasionally switch your identity and name, maintain a fluid sexuality, change locations often, don't play the game by the rules. Reminds you of someone?

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