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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Columbine

When Bowie joined Lindsay Kemp in late 1967 to put on the play Pierrot in Turquoise, he got more than lessons in movement, dance and staging. It seems to have had a profound effect on his songwriting as well. Up to that point, the characters in his songs are well defined, albeit harboring secrets. But when he tries to put the Comedia dell'Arte eternal triangle of Pierrot-Columbine-Harlequin into song, things become more complicated. These characters are all dependent on each other and reflected in each other, and it's hard to say where one begins and the other ends. This picture of endless reflections, of multiple characters residing in one's being and fighting over his identity, will become the picture of humankind in Bowie's work from now on.

In this song, Pierrot is singing to his eternal love Columbine.

Columbine my frail design
I see you see me standing on my own

Pierrot looks at Columbine, and sees her seeing him. They are reflected in each other. In the play, this line comes just as Pierrot looks at his own reflection in the mirror, and sees it changing suddenly into Columbine.

Is it you that I'm walking through
Should I retrace my point of view
I'm left in clouded dreams of finding who
Not Columbine

Pierrot then steps into the mirror, and goes to look for Columbine on its other side. But considering it was actually his reflection he was looking at, he actually goes into his own soul. He thinks he is looking for Columbine, but he will only find himself.

Just in case you're my disguise
I found yourself to my surprise

Again we feel the duality in these lines, where Pierrot isn't sure if he's looking at Columbine or himself.

I'm on the ground
And it's Harlequin who picks me up
Who catches you
Who vanishes me
From finding who
You are

Harlequin intervenes and lifts Pierrot and Columbine from their confused state, bringing them back into their defined identities. But in that, he also takes them out of that special state of reflecting in each other. When Columbine dumps Pierrot for Harlequin, she denies both him and herself the possibility of finding who they really are.

We shall meet this state of inner duality in many other Bowie records. But in the future, the bright-costumed Harlequin will play a more positive role, the role of someone who helps him recreate himself from this duality, to achieve, albeit for a short while, a pure and wondrous fusion. Bowie will carry on portraying Pierrot in his art, but he will also have some Harlequin in him, and some Columbine.

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