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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: The Laughing Gnome

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This notorious record was released as a single shortly before the David Bowie album, and for many it came to symbolize this entire era in Bowie`s work. Many even believe it appears on the album along with tracks in a similar vein, and consequently dismiss the entire album without even giving it a listening. This is of course a misrepresentation, as `The Laughing Gnome` stands apart from the macabre and bizarre album tracks in being a light comedy piece. And this is how it should be judged: as a novelty single, a comic interlude. It resembles nothing Bowie has ever done, and should be taken only on its own merits.

But is it funny? Well, if you have a sense for the daft, it is hilarious. The sped-up voices, the awful puns, the laughter and the overall silliness make it one of the daftest things you`ll ever hear. It is one of those pop records that are so bad that they`re good. Usually such records belong to anonymous artists, "one hit wonders". Finding one of them in the repertoire of a major-league artist such as Bowie is extremely rare, and just shows how various and random his work is. Becoming a Bowie fan is like receiving a chocolate box with many, many flavors. Some are bitter, some are sweet, this one`s just really stupid and funny.

Can we find anything else to say about it? Well, let`s see. I shall ignore the dialog, and deal only with the song.

I was walking down the High Street
When I heard footsteps behind me
And there was a little old man
In scarlet and grey, shuffling away
Well he trotted back to my house
And he sat beside the telly
With his tiny hands on his tummy
Chuckling away, laughing all day

Ha ha ha, hee hee hee
"I`m a laughing Gnome and you can`t catch me"
Ha ha ha, hee hee hee
"I`m a laughing Gnome and you can`t catch me"
Said the laughing Gnome

The record starts out very much like all the album tracks: as a story out of the lives of regular London folk, told in vaudevillian style (the melody is actually based on the pop standard `Tennessee Waltz`). But then, something new invades it: a fairytale creature, a gnome. Bowie has already displayed his ability to sprout imaginative and fascinating characters and stories out of his mind, but this is his first foray into the realm of the fantastic, the first time he let his imagination fly beyond the world he saw around him. The singer isn`t really shocked, but he is not enthusiastic either, and basically regards the little thing as a nuisance. But the gnome follows him home, and taunts him that he can`t catch him.

Well I gave him roasted toadstools and a glass of dandelion wine
Then I put him on a train to Eastbourne
Carried his bag and gave him a fag
In the morning when I woke up
He was sitting on the edge of my bed
With his brother whose name was Fred
He`d bought him along to sing me a song

The singer tries to get rid of the uninvited visitor, but to no avail: trying to send him away only makes him come back in double force. You can`t catch him, and you can`t get rid of him either.

Now they`re staying up the chimney
And we`re living on caviar and honey
Cause they`re earning me lots of money
Writing comedy prose for radio shows

So he gives up and decides to let the gnomes stay, and he is rewarded for it, as they bring him good fortune. By the end, the singer joins them in their song and laughter.

Well, what do you know. Underneath the silly dialogue and laughter we find the first record to present a simple version of what would later become Bowie`s main plot: an elusive alien invades your world, and if you allow it to come inside, it transforms your life and fills it with joy. Over the years, `The Laughing Gnome` became a popular children`s record, and for many it served as their first introduction to David Bowie. Turns out it also injected them with the basic Bowie formula, the "loving the alien" potion which makes you crave his more complicated work. Ha ha ha, hee hee hee…

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