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פ.י.מ.פ.

?Analyzing Bowie: Who Can I Be Now

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This record was an integral part of the Young Americans album, but got bumped by Bowie in the last minute, to the dismay of producer Tony Visconti. It happened because Bowie was excited about his collaborations with John Lennon and wanted to get them on the album. His excitement must have clouded his judgment, because the album would have been much better with this beautiful track on it instead of `Across the Universe` (it can even be argued that `Fame` would have served better as a standalone single, and does not really belong on the album). Bowie`s omission, however, should not prevent us from analyzing it within the context of the album, and that is what we shall do.

Arguably the most soulful number on the Young Americans project, `Who Can I Be Now?` deals with one of Bowie`s favorite themes – the search for a new identity – but within a soul setting, in which the individual can`t do it alone. Like `Can You Hear Me?`, its contender for the most soulful track, the title poses a question, and the answer can only come from someone else.

Everybody`s raised in blindness
Everybody knows it`s true
Everybody feels that everything is real
Anybody`s point of view

When we are born and raised, a certain identity is thrust upon us, and we are told how to act and what to believe. Every one of us is given a point of view, and we believe that it represent the truth. But we are actually living in blindness, not realizing that there are other ways to view the world, other identities we can assume. 

Nobody can break their bondage
Everyone can feel their chains
But even in my night I knew you found your sight
And nothing would be quite the same
Please help me

Although we are in the bondage of these perceptions we are instilled with, we nevertheless can feel that there is something wrong, that we are not free. The singer says that "nobody can break their bondage", and yet, it seems that someone did manage to find a new sight. So it is not completely impossible, just very hard. The singer cannot "see the light" himself, but he can see that this other person has seen it, and asks for his/her help, to help him out as well.

Who can I be now you found me?
Oooo, can I be held apart? You found me
Now can I be, now you found me?
Now can I be real?
Can I be real? (Somebody real)

Through a soul fusion between them, the singer is also saved, and finds a new identity, more authentic and happy than the one he had before. Like in `Somebody Up There Likes Me`, then, this person finds his identity by identifying with someone else. But there, it was by total annihilation of the self, while here we have the positive version of it: by identifying with another, his self is set free to find its own way.

This is not the first time we encounter this theme in Bowie`s work, the idea that someone else can pull you out of your alienation and offer you an image which you can emulate to find your own identity. The added value in this record is that we get a deeper expression of the emotional journey you go through when this happens.

If it`s all a vast creation
Putting on a face that`s new
Someone has to see
a role for him and me
Someone might as well be you
Up in heaven any angel
writes a special game to play
Oh ho, could we, could we make a start
to snatch their Angel`s part?
A major role for everyday
Please help me

There`s something very gospel about this record. In fact, this theme of being saved by another appears a lot in Christian songs, where that other person that saves you is always Jesus Christ. Christianity regards earthly life as a life of alienation from our "real self", but asserts that by identifying with Christ each of us can transcend and find our true, heavenly identity. Bowie takes this gospel paradigm and secularizes it. The "vast creation" isn`t God`s creation, but our own: we create ourselves, we decide who we want to be and what society we want to live in. But we can`t do it alone. Just like the Christians rely on Christ to save them and make them real, so should we be each other`s saviors. The Christians dream of a Heaven in which every angel (former human) creates a role for themselves to play, a role which expresses who they really are. The singer doesn`t want to wait for the afterlife, but aspires to create this Heaven here on Earth.

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