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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Threepenny Pierrot

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In the summer of 1967, Bowie started taking dance and mime lessons with Lindsay Kemp, and promptly became a member of his troupe. He even played and sang in Kemp's play Pierrot in Turquoise, and wrote some original songs to accompany it. 'Threepenny Pierrot' describes the hero.

Threepenny Pierrot - we love you
Threepenny Pierrot - loves us too
Pockets of gladness, gay time eyes
Comical hero, Threepenny Pierrot

Pierrot is one of the stock characters of the Comedia dell'Arte. He is the sad, white faced clown, a naïve optimist who always gets crushed by reality. Over the centuries he has come to symbolize many things and became a cultural hero in Western culture. Here he is also a "threepenny" Pierrot, which suggests that he is one of the simple folks, like the characters in Threepenny Opera. Bowie emphasizes the connection between the audience and him: we love him and he loves us, because we are the same.

Happy little feet that dance all day
Lonely little heart with lots to say
Stepping footprints on your mind
Offering thoughts of Columbine

Columbine is another Comedia dell'Arte figure. She is Pierrot's eternal love, the one he is always chasing after.

Bang the drum and blow the bugle call
Pierrot takes the stage to play for all
For here's a life his fortune rules
Forsaken by his Columbine

But he is always forsaken by her in the end, and never fulfills his heart's desire. This is his fortune, but Bowie adds something else: his fortune is also to play this character for all of us, to represent us in our failures. That is the reason for the deep emotional connection between us mentioned in the chorus.

To tap his feet to greet dear Harlequin
The hearts of folks so keenly hard to win
A patchwork frame of tears and wine
The nectar for cruel Columbine
A part at three and leave the stage forlorn
Puppets cold, their faces sad and drawn
Relive each trial of rise and fall
The love which lacks between us all

Harlequin is another clown figure, a trickster who always takes Columbine away from Pierrot. Pierrot ends each play heartbroken, his tears a nectar for cruel Columbine. Yet he never gives up, and will always come back again to try once more. He believes, says Bowie, that we are lacking love in our lives, and hopes to bring that love. This hope will always rise and then fall and be dashed again, but it never dies.

For Kemp, Pierrot was more than a character he played on stage. It was an archetype of human existence, which he aspired to portray in his art. And he will pass this aspiration to Bowie, with resounding effects. For this story of a face-painted clown who sets out to achieve love, and then rises and falls in front of our eyes, is the part that Bowie will play again and again in the coming years. To understand Bowie, you must first understand Pierrot. Mack the Bowie knife is talking to us in this little known Threepenny piece, and tells us what he's going to do once he gets back in town.

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