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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Golden Years

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The first single off the Station to Station album, coming out two months before the album`s release, is a perfect bridge between Young Americans and the new project. A funky, soulful record, it combines the optimism of the previous album with the spiritual quest of its successor. Lyrically it is simple and effective, bouncing off doo-wop backing vocals chanting "golden years, go-old, wop wop wop" and "come tedup, my baby", and the clapping and whistling give it a feel-good vibe. After the ecstatic soulful outbursts of the previous album, here Bowie keeps it cool, but still sounds soulful. The sound is bouncy and crisp, the singing moves from low humming to falsetto thrill, and the overall result is one of Bowie`s biggest hits.

Don`t let me hear you say life`s
taking you nowhere, angel

`Golden Years` marks the first time that angels enter Bowie`s records. It sounds like he is referring to a woman (Angie claims he wrote it for her, but it is doubtful at this stage of their marriage), but there`s also a guardian angel feel to these lyrics, and in the context of the album it could be that Bowie is referring to a supernatural being. In that case, the angel would be the speaker talking to Bowie, and Bowie answers "angel!" From here on, angels will populate Bowie`s art.

Look at that sky, life`s begun
Nights are warm and the days are young

The singer is singing to someone who feels they have reached a dead end in their life and cannot find meaning in it any longer, and telling them it is time to snap out of it. It is of course a sentiment we find in many Bowie records. Again, it could be Bowie saying it to someone, or Bowie himself being prodded by his guardian angel.

There`s my baby lost that`s all
Once I`m begging you save her little soul

Feeling his words are not enough, the singer turns to help from above. Who is he talking to?

Last night they loved you,
opening doors and pulling some strings, angel

These lines are the strongest evidence that there might be some truth in the Angie theory. When the couple married in 1969 they made a pact to focus on David`s career for five years, after which he would help her develop her own showbiz career. The latter did not happen, and that was one of the reasons for the souring of their relationship. Angie blames David for not trying, but in truth, she never proved that she had any talent to build a career on. One imagines that these lines could have been from a conversation between David and Angie in which he informed her that he finally managed to open some doors for her and some showbiz executives liked what they saw from her. But if we interpret it from the guardian angel angle, it will mean that his plea to the gods to save Bowie`s soul has been answered, and they are smiling on him again.

In walked luck and you looked in time
Never look back, walk tall, act fine

Now that the doors are open and you achieved initial success, it is all up to you to keep it going.

I`ll stick with you baby for a thousand years
Nothing`s gonna touch you in these golden years, gold

The guardian angel theory is backed up mainly by these lines, a promise of eternal protection. It is a theme that runs throughout the entire Station to Station album, reversing Bowie`s old instincts: while in the past he was always about breaking up relationships and leaving them behind when they became stale, now he is for sticking around and trying to make it work. We`ve heard it already in the previous album in tracks like `Can You Hear Me`, but in this album it becomes a central theme.

Some of these days, and it won`t be long
Gonna drive back down where you once belonged
In the back of a dream car twenty foot long
Don`t cry my sweet, don`t break my heart
Doing all right, but you gotta get smart
Wish upon, wish upon, day upon day, I believe oh lord
I believe all the way

This section takes the story more into the realm of showbiz fame. The singer is promising the aspiring star that she will make it all the way if she just keeps going, and one day she can fulfill her dream of going back to her hometown as a big star. The end, however, takes it back into a more religious context.

Run for the shadows, run for the shadows
Run for the shadows in these golden years

I`ll stick with you baby for a thousand years
Nothing`s gonna touch you in these golden years, gold

The addressee still has the tendency to run and hide and be afraid of the world. But the singer coaxes her out, promising once again to stay by her side and protect her. If the addressee is indeed Bowie, it sounds by the end that he is convinced to take on the world once again, and he gets up and starts walking, whistling his fears away.

The 1983 performance is excellent.

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