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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Drive-In Saturday

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While taking a train ride from Seattle to Phoenix one night on the Ziggy tour, passing through the vast lands of the Rocky Mountain States, Bowie spotted some dome shaped buildings in the distance, and their presence within the moonlit desert surrounding created an eerie scene in his mind. He envisioned a future post-apocalyptic world, surviving an imminent nuclear war, and the vision rapidly grew, until it became the world of 'Drive-In Saturday'. What will this future be like, according to Bowie?

Let me put my arms around your head
Gee, it's hot, let's go to bed
Don't forget to turn on the light
Don't laugh babe, it'll be alright
Pour me out another phone
I'll ring and see if your friends are home
Perhaps the strange ones in the dome
Can lend us a book we can read up alone
And try to get it on like once before
When people stared in Jagger's eyes and scored
Like the video films we saw

Well, first of all, it seems that there are some people who are living in domes, and some who aren't. The way I understand it, the domes are for the privileged, defending them from the nuclear fallout and enabling them to continue a healthy life, while the unprivileged are left out in the shroud. Those in the dome also seem to be in hold of all the knowledge, and occasionally they are willing to lend a book to the outsiders. The latter do have access to films and music, but maybe those, too, are provided by the dome dwellers. The two kinds of people are alien to one another, as we can suss from the outsiders calling the insiders "the strange ones". My guess is that those in the dome are actually more like us, while those outside it would seem to us as "the strange ones".

We can already sense a few strange things about the life of the outsiders. They have phones, but they have to pour them out of containers – apparently, it is hard to keep solid things in this world, presumably because they rapidly disintegrate. And there seems to be something awkward about the way they make love, putting their arms around each other's head instead of body, and turning on the light as they go to bed. Based on what Bowie said about the song, we know that they have forgotten how to have sex. Maybe those in the dome don't want them to reproduce, so they give them no instructions on how to do it. So now they are trying to teach themselves, and they use old movies and rock'n'roll records for sex education.

His name was always Buddy
And he'd shrug and ask to stay
And she'd sigh like Twig the Wonder Kid
And turn her face away
She's uncertain if she likes him
But she knows she really loves him
It's a crash course for the ravers
It's a Drive-in Saturday

The Drive-In, since the fifties, represented a magical place where you would go on the pretense of watching a movie but actually to make out. But Bowie already changed that picture in his song 'Life on Mars?', where he portrays a girl who goes to the movies to actually watch them, because she hopes to get away from her life and find a new world. The heroes of 'Drive-In Saturday' also watch the movies because they want to find another kind of life, but the "other world" they are looking for is our world. There are no more future possibilities – there is only nostalgia for the past, and attempts to revive it. The heroes of youth culture in the fifties and sixties have now become mythology, models of that ideal existence that the future kids hope for. The girl is mimicking Twiggy, and the Boy calls himself Buddy, presumably after Buddy Holly. The "crash course for the ravers" could be Holly's record 'Rave On', with its celebration of lovemaking. When the girl listens to this record and follows its instructions, she thinks she knows what love is, and that is how she "knows" that she loves the guy, when it isn't even certain that she likes him. Love, in this world, does not come naturally.

Jung the foreman prayed at work
That neither hands nor limbs would burst
It's hard enough to keep formation
With this fall out saturation

We learn some more about these people: in this world where solid things turn to dust, they are living in constant fear that their own bodies will burst or change formation. The name "Jung" points ironically to Carl G. Jung, one of the leading lights in the school of psychoanalysis, which believed that the sexual drive is the fundamental source at the basis of the human psyche and all our other traits are variations that come from it. What this science-fiction story tells us is that the sexual drive itself is also nothing but a variation, something that we might lose one day.

Cursing at the Astronette
That stands in steel by his cabinet
He's crashing out with Sylvian
The Bureau Supply for ageing men

Once again we encounter the mythologizing of rock'n'roll, and here Bowie turns himself into part of that mythology: the "Astronette" was one of the characters in the Ziggy play he was planning. The fact that she "stands in steel" suggests a statue, which means that in the future, people will be making statues to idolize the Ziggy era. Drugs are probably still around as well, and the word "Sylvian" could be some sort of future drug that affects the brain (there's a part of the human brain called the Sylvian fissure). And if our heroes are indeed living on what the people in the dome are giving them, then the Bureau Supply is probably the name of the department responsible for the distribution. All in all, it is a weird futuristic picture of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.

With snorting head he gazes to the shore
Which once had raised a sea that raged no more
Like the video films we saw

Apparently, the sea had dried up, and the only proof of its past existence is the movies. Just like the sexual drive, something that you could once count on to rage perpetually has now been vaporized, fading into memory.

Alright, so this is the world that Bowie envisioned that night in the desert. But what does it all mean? Well, I believe this future tale is actually meant as a reflection of the present (end of 1972, that is), an allegory for the state of youth culture. Combining futuristic sounds with fifties doo-wop, it is a look back on what we started from, and where we had come to. When youth culture began in the fifties with the orgiastic sounds of rock'n'roll, it was also the beginning of the sexual revolution, and the sixties made an ideology out of it, claiming that liberating the sexual drive from puritan oppression would create a humanity that will "make love, not war". The song takes us through stations in the sexual revolution – from ecstatic fifties records like 'Rave On', through the open sexuality of sixties idols like Jagger and Twiggy, up to T. Rex's lascivious 'Get it on' and Ziggy's provocative promiscuity – but shows us that instead of becoming more loving, we have become jaded, and sexuality isn't as fun as it used to be. Furthermore, rock'n'roll gave the kids a voice, and when it merged with folk ideology in the sixties, it was seen as the voice of the common man finally having his say, and no longer being just a pawn in the game of the ruling classes. But here, we find that the people in the dome are still running everything, and decide for us what we will read or listen to (it is a view that Bowie starts to express in interviews around that time). Once, rock'n'roll seemed to present endless future possibilities; now, all that is left is hopes to revive its past. Rock'n'roll and youth culture started out believing that they are presenting something real and solid, something that will never die – 'Drive In Saturday' prophesizes that it will all turn to dust.

'Drive In Saturday' was the secong single to be released off the Aladdin Sane album. In January 1973, Bowie gave this fabulous performance of the song.

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