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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Fascination

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"Strange fascination, fascinating me" sang Bowie in `Changes`. It is one of the key lines to understand his ethics: by giving himself up to a strange fascination, letting it take over him, he changes and renews himself. Once it is no longer strange, it loses its fascination for him and then it is time to find a new strange fascination. Thus, he remains fascinated with life, and his identity is always built upon something fascinating, something fun. In the end of 1974, Bowie felt that rock music has lost its mystery and he was no longer fascinated by it. Instead, soul music became his new fascination.

This change came in the middle of the Diamond Dogs Tour, when Bowie was getting increasingly bored with the theatrical rock show he was putting on night after night. Changing the show completely, he turned it into something that looked more like a gospel review, with him playing the star preacher. These new settings included a funkier band and a group of soulful backup singers, among them a young unknown with a wonderful soul voice named Luther Vandross. He even let Luther have his own spot in the show, in which he sang his own composition, a number called `Funky Music`. It was the beginning of what turned out to be a glorious soul singing career.

When he came around to recording an album, Bowie decided to appropriate `Funky Music` and turn it into a song called `Fascination`. Vandross received writing credits, and later recorded his original song with his band Luther. Which is lucky for us, because if we want to understand `Fascination` it is essential that we track the changes Bowie performs on the original lyrics.

Every time I feel fascination
I just can`t stand still, I`ve got to use her

Luther sings: "Every time I hear funky music / I just can`t stand still, I`ve got to move". For him, the effect of funky music is immediate and familiar, and he can`t resist it. Bowie, on the other hand, speaks of a fascination, something alien that pulls you to it, but can still be resisted. However, he does not want to resist it. Whenever he feels such a fascination, he`s "got to use her", got to move in that direction, give himself up to it and let it take him to another place. He may be able to resist the music, but he cannot resist the draw of strange fascinations, because he knows how it feels to succumb to them.

Every time I think of what she pulled me through, dear
Fascination moves sweeping near me
Still I take ya

Luther sings: "Every time I feel my motor getting in gear / funky music is somewhere near". So funky music is not just a thing that turns him on, but the only thing that turns him on – or, at least, the only thing that turns him on to such an extent. It is the deepest essence of life. Similarly, Bowie speaks of fascination as the thing that pulls him through life, that keeps him alive and happy.

(Fascination) fascination
(sho `nuff) fascination
(takes a part of me) takes a part of me

Luther sings: "Funky music, sho `nuff, is a part of me". For him, the essence of life is already inside him. For Bowie, on the other hand, the essence is external, but it can penetrate him and take over.

(Can a heart-beat) can a heart-beat
(live in a fever) live in a fever?
(raging inside of me?)

Luther sings: "I`ll do the singing / Just give me the beat / Of the drummer Please". The song is already inside him, and all he requires in an external beat to ignite the inner funk and let the song ring out. For Bowie, the thing inside him is a "fever", an ecstasy that can be ignited by music. It is not only funk music, but any music that manages to fascinate him at the time. So the fascination may change, but the result of giving into it is always the same: a feverish ecstasy. This ecstasy is so strong, he tells us, that he is afraid it will be too much for his heart.

(Fascination) fascination
(oh, yeah) oh yeah
(takes a part of me) takes a part of me

Luther sings "Funky music, yeah yeah, it`s deep inside of me", reiterating the sentiment of the first line. So does Bowie.

(I can`t help it) I can`t help it
(I`ve got to use her) got to use her
(every time, ooh)
Fascination comes around

Luther sings: "I can`t help it / I got to move / Every time / Funky music comes around". Again, he describes it as something which he does involuntarily and unconsciously, because it is the very essence of his existence and he can`t resist it. Bowie tells us the same thing about fascination: when he encounters a fascination, he can`t resist using it and going through a transformation.

(Ooh-oo-ooh)
(Fascination) Your soul is calling
Like when I`m walking
Seems that everywhere I turn
I hope you`re waiting for me

Luther sings: "Funky sounds I hear / When I`m walking / It seems like everywhere I turn / I hear the funky beat". The funk is always inside him and around him. Fascination, on the other hand, is not that commonplace in Bowie`s life. He is always looking for it, hoping to encounter it, hoping to find the next ecstatic sound that will revive his soul. Fascination is personified here as a woman whose soul is calling to him, and he wishes to achieve a soul fusion with her. It is a similar sentiment to that we encountered in `Lady Grinning Soul`.

I know that people think
That I`m a little crazy
Ohh, pleasure seeks its thing
I think I like fascination
Still, I take it

Luther sings: "People think that I`m a little crazy / Coz they see me walking / Then I start dancing in the street / And then I say: sock it to me!" People think that he`s crazy, because they don’t know the joy of funk and can`t see the logic of bursting into spontaneous dance. People also thought that Bowie was some sort of lunatic, because they did not understand the joy of giving in to strange fascination and couldn`t see the logic of his ch-ch-ch-changes lifestyle. But for him, the fever of a new fascination is the greatest pleasure life has to offer, the thing he is always seeking.

`Fascination`, then, takes the message of `Funky Music` and makes it more universal and philosophic. In `Funky Music`, the singer believes that the ecstatic joy he feels is because this type of music brings out an essence that is always in him. In `Fascination`, the music also awakens something inside you, but it is not the only thing that can do it - it is merely the only thing that can do it at this moment. The joy it brings will last only as long as you are fascinated: once the routine settles in and the fascination with that type of music is gone, the joy will fade away. The fact that Bowie considered calling the entire album "Fascination" shows that he realized that his enthusiasm about soul and funk was just a phase, just his current fascination. But there are endless fascinations out there, which will allow you to change and be joyful again.

So `Fascination` inverts `Changes`. The latter was a theatrical record, which spoke of strange fascinations from the outside and described the role they play in his lifestyle. The former looks at it from the inside, describing the moment of change itself, expressing the feverish ecstasy you feel. This current change is brought about by funky soul music, and so it is the music that does most of the talking. If you want to feel the fever Bowie speaks of, forget about the lyrics, give yourself to the music, and dance.

Luther`s version, recorded in 1976:

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