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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Rock`n Roll With Me

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After the ecstatic heights of 'Rebel Rebel', comes the sweet afterglow of 'Rock'n Roll With Me'. This is very reminiscent of the Ziggy story, in which, after the thrill of 'Moonage Daydream' and 'Starman', comes the grace of 'Lady Stardust', where the thrill is turned into sustained pleasure. In the Ziggy story, the thrill of rock'n'roll was explained as the result of discovering something alien which brings joy into a previously joyless world. In Diamond Dogs, it is explained as a rebellion against an oppressive culture. This would also determine the difference between 'Lady Stardust' and 'Rock'n'roll With Me'.

You always were the one that knew
They sold us for the likes of you

In 'Sweet Thing', our hero talked about the "knowing one", which is someone who sells you false hopes, describing them as the "sweet thing" that will bring happiness to your life. He is now wise to him, and turns his back on him. You were "the one that knew", but not anymore. He realizes now that the dominating culture has sold away its true hope for a better existence, for the likes of what that "knowing one" was dishing out. He rebels against this society and its knowing ones, and sets out to find his own way.

I always wanted new surroundings
A room to rent while the lizards lay crying in the heat
Trying to remember who to meet

When lizards lie in the heat, they become dozy and inanimate. It is a metaphor for the citizens of Hunger City who accept their passive position, living their life according to an external schedule, crying about it but doing nothing to change things. He, on the other hand, tells us that he has always been looking for something else. The word "room", in Bowie's work is often a metaphor for his inner world, so the "room to rent" would be a different state of mind which he can slip into, one that causes joy.  

We also have to consider the 1984 connection. Winston, the hero of the novel, is looking for a place where he can hide from the ever-watchful eye of the authorities and finally rents a room which he believes to be unwatched. The "room to rent", then, is a place of escape from his current existence.

I would take a foxy kind of stand
While tens of thousands found me in demand

How does he get out? By taking a stand, rebelling against the system. But it is not a political stand – this would only make him another part of the system. Rather, it is a "foxy kind of stand", something that has to do with style, which tens of thousands of kids can then imitate. And "foxy" can also mean wily, two-faced, as his stand pretends to be working for the system while actually undermining it. This is what rock'n'roll rebellion is all about: not an attempt to revolutionize the system, which would only mean exchanging one set of rules for another; but rather creating a new kind of identity, one that stands in opposition to society's norms, and then turning this identity into an accepted part of popular culture, thus undermining the system from within.

When you rock 'n' roll with me
No one else I'd rather be
Nobody here can do it for me
I'm in tears again
When you rock 'n' roll with me

Just like in the Ziggy story, the hero first stumbles upon the thrill of rock'n'roll on his own, but then discovers that there are others who feel the same thrill and they form a strong bond together. And just like he does in 'Lady Stardust', Bowie describes this experience as the highest joy a human can hope for: to be at one with oneself and with others, in a perfect unity that lasts for as long as the music plays.

Gentle hearts are counted down
The queue is out of sight and out of sounds

The word "queue" appears several times in the Diamond Dogs project. It can also be found in 'Rebel Rebel' and 'Dodo', and we get the sense that queues are part of daily life in Hunger City. Perhaps Bowie is thinking of the soup lines in Communist countries, which were undoubtedly one of the inspirations for his depiction of this future society. This couplet is another example of Bowie's punning style: the queue is "out of sight", an expression that normally denotes elation, but here (coupled with "out of sounds") describes the citizens as blind and dumb, falling obediently in line. In these queues they are counted down, supposedly to set things in order, but it also suggests a countdown to the time when their gentle hearts would stop beating, which hints that these people are basically just dragging their way towards death. Through these ironic puns, our foxy hero pretends to affirm the social order while actually denouncing it.

There is an even deeper hidden message here, even more seditious. In 'Dodo', we are told that "lies jumped the queue to be first in line", making the word "queue" a code name for the system of propaganda that the citizens are subjected to. In 'Rebel Rebel', rock'n'roll is shown as messing up and reversing the ruling order, and the "queue lines" are made part of the new order created by the young dudes. Here, he adds that rock'n'roll shuts the queue (i.e. the lies) out of your sight and sound, and you live in the truth.

Me, I'm out of breath, but not quite doubting
I've found a door which lets me out!

In contrast with the dozy people in the queue, he found something that makes him out of breath with excitement. Unlike the lies he is being fed, this is not something that he can doubt, because he knows it gives him joy. He found a door out of the depression of life in Hunger City, and that door is rock'n'roll.

However, when he re-launches into the chorus, we hear the record turn back on itself again. Bowie later disclosed that this song was written about his relationship with his fans and how their worship inflates his ego. So just like Ziggy, our rock'n'roll star is being elevated by his fans, who turn him into their candidate. He is the only one who can do it for them, so with him they are not doubting because they feel he is the one that always knew. And with them, he feels that there's no one else he'd rather be, as they make him feel like a god. In Ziggy Stardust, this relationship between the rock god and his fan base destroys the initially loving and unified subculture. Where will it lead to this time?

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