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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: The Mirror

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This is one of the three songs Bowie wrote for Lindsay Kemp's play Pierrot in Turquoise, which he also played and sang in. The other two songs are 'Threepenny Pierrot', which presents the hero Pierrot, and 'Columbine', which focuses on the female lead. This song is aimed at Harlequin, the third character in the eternal triangle, but its subject is actually another important figure in the play: the mirror. In the play (which was later retitledThe Looking Glass Murders for a TV production), Pierrot goes through the looking glass to the other side, where he unites for a while with his love Columbine. Harlequin then follows him into the mirror, and steals Columbine from him. When Pierrot goes back to the "right" side of the mirror, he remembers what happened and tries to ensure this doesn't happen in real life, but he loses Columbine to Harlequin once again. In his anger, he murders them both, a murder that takes place on a stage to the cheers of the crowd. The piano player (another character in the play), who is the only one left standing, surveys the carnage and then goes back from the "wrong" side of the mirror to the "right" one, which suggest that this entire saga took place in the mirror, and we were the ones who were looking at our own reflections. This is what the song tries to tell us as well.

Wash your face before your faded makeup makes a mark
The mirror will watch over you

The opening sounds like a prescient statement for Bowie's entire career: when you put on a certain face, a certain character, you better make sure to wash it off in time, or it will be soiled. The mirror watches over you, the mirror sees all, and if you fail to remove your makeup in time, it will show.

Pierrot never calls so pack your face and chase the dark
The mirror's hung up on you

But sometimes you lose touch with the mirror, and with your inner Pierrot. In those cases, you have to go into the darkness, to search for a new face.

In the play, this song comes after Pierrot goes into the mirror, and Harlequin looks in the mirror and sees no reflection. Without Pierrot, he doesn't know who he is.

Don't be lost, your friend's in your reflections
It's auto direction now

The singer tells Harlequin that Pierrot, his friend, is to be found in his own reflections. Pierrot, the sad clown who always fails, is in every one of us, part of our human nature. We only have to look deep into the mirror to find him. In the play, Harlequin goes after Pierrot into the mirror, to find himself again.

Poor harlequin, you're quite an exception
Fay troubadour, on a downer
Gay harlequin, doesn't believe in you
Doesn't believe it's true, such a downer.

Harlequin finds that even he, the eternally gay clown, has a Pierrot side. He finds this idea hard to stomach, but he will have to accept it, and so should the rest of us.

The idea that Pierrot is humankind's mirror image will become a mainstay in Bowie's art, and one of his main themes. In his perception, humans tend to believe that they are savvy and successful like Harlequin, but they are actually more like Pierrot, and the artist's job is to put a mirror in front of their faces and make them realize that, or they might end up like Harlequin does in the play. But when you always play Pierrot, you must remember to wash your face quickly from the failing character that you played, or he might drag you down with him.

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