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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Fame

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"One day, though it might as well be someday / You will rise on high and take us all the way / All because of what you are / The Prettiest Star" sang Bowie in 1970, believing that pop stardom is a way to fulfill your dreams. This set the stage for his glam period, in which he rose up high and took us all the way, becoming the prettiest star he envisioned. But was the reality of it as good as the dream?

It seems it was pretty good when he was still in England among his family and childhood friends, which provided him with a normal social life to keep him grounded in reality. But when he came to conquer America in 1974, these connections were severed. His personal manager Tony DeFries devised a clever scheme to get the Americans to think of Bowie as a star, putting him in limousines and fancy hotels and surrounding him, Warhol-style, with a glittery entourage. This was aimed to magnify his star image and force it on the public, but it also meant that Bowie was living in a fantasy world, and during the last months of 1974 this fantasy world was beginning to crumble around him. His marriage became evermore strenuous, he felt alienated to his glam persona and entourage, his MainMan company was collapsing, he found out that DeFries was scamming him out of his earnings, and he was beginning to develop a cocaine habit. At that time he met John Lennon, another one who fulfilled his dream to reach the toppermost of the poppermost only to find it had a dark side and was now in the midst of an eighteen months meaningless drunken spree which he later called his "lost weekend". The two spoke and shared their experiences, and part of what they talked about can probably be heard in `Fame`.

Before it could become a record, however, a musical track had to be created, and as so often happens in pop music, it came about accidentally. Lennon was with Bowie in the studio as the latter was trying to record `Footstompin``, an old doo-wop number which he was regularly performing on his Philly Dogs tour, but it wasn`t working. It had a great guitar riff that Carlos Alomar came up with to funk up the rhythm, but apart from that, they could not bring life into it. So Bowie and Alomar, with the help of Lennon, kept playing around with it and eventually chopped it up to such an extent that it became an entirely new track, oozing pure funk. Bowie wrote new lyrics, and the two disgruntled superstars proceeded to record it and tell the world what fame is all about.

In funk, every instrument becomes percussive, including the vocal. This allowed Bowie and Lennon to express their anger and frustrations in a series of howls and bellows, sounding very different from anything any of them had done before. It doesn`t really pass for good funk vocals, but it is effective, and constitutes one of the first records that can be defined as white funk.

Fame, makes a man take things over
Fame, lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame, puts you there where things are hollow
Fame

Right away, we are hit with the ambivalence of fame. The record seems to start out as a celebration of it, suggesting that it sets you free to take command over your life. But the last line reveals this freedom and control to be hollow.

Fame, it`s not your brain, it`s just the flame
That burns your change to keep you insane
Fame

Eventually, your fame no longer comes from your brain, from the decisions you make. It is actually a self-sustaining flame, which burns you out, taking away your money and sanity.

Fame, what you like is in the limo
Fame, what you get is no tomorrow
Fame, what you need you have to borrow
Fame

And so, you become cocooned in a life lived in a limo-bubble, no longer thinking about your future and depending on others to survive.

Fame, "mine! It`s mine!" is just his line
To bind your time, it drives you to, crime
Fame

In the world of fame, you find yourself surrounded by greed and malice, which sully your artistic vision. Considering the problems Bowie was having with DeFries at the time, we can make a pretty good guess as to whom these lines are aimed at.

Could it be the best, could it be?
Really be, really, babe?
Could it be, my babe, could it, babe?
Could it be?

Like many before them who have reached the top they aspired to, Bowie and Lennon wonder: is that really what it`s all about?

Is it any wonder, I reject you first?
Fame, fame, fame, fame
Is it any wonder you are too cool to fool
Fame

Again, these lines seem to be aimed at DeFries and MainMan, which Bowie decided to break away from at the time. Or maybe he is rejecting fame altogether?

Fame, bully for you, chilly for me
Got to get a rain check on pain

Last couplet is aimed at the fans. His celebrity persona, says Bowie, is just great for the fans, but is chilly for him. To maintain it, he is required to forget that he is a human who has his own pains and keep smiling to the crowd. This record, however, shows that Lennon and Bowie are no longer happy to play this game.

In retrospect, `Fame` marked a shift in the careers of both men. Lennon would soon reunite with his wife Yoko, leave showbiz behind and focus on building a family life. For Bowie, this was his final farewell to glam, and to the extravagant pop-star lifestyle. From here on he will try to be his own man, running his own business, aspiring to minimalism in his lifestyle and his music. `Fame` was his first #1 hit in America and finally put him where he worked so hard to get to for the past four years, but at this moment of triumph, he was already starting to look for something else.

`Fame` was an instant funk classic, and was even plagiarized by the godfather of funk himself, James Brown. Here`s Bowie performing it on Soul Train, a great honor for a white artist. Too bad he`s miming, but it`s still cool.

He`s not miming here...

In 1990, to commemorate the tenth aniversary of John Lennon`s tragic death, Bowie released a remix of the track, bringing it up-to-date with late eighties dance music.

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