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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Stay

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`Stay` is one of the records that exemplify how Bowie`s American phase is different from his earlier stages. Before, his lyrics where always heavy and dense, cramming many ideas and references to create a maze of meanings. In Young Americans he began to develop a writing style in which a record would present just one singular emotion, described in (relatively) simple words and expressed mainly through the music. He still made complicated tracks like `Station to Station`, but tracks like `Stay` brought him much closer to the ideal of simplicity and pureness espoused by most rock`n`roll artists. More than anything, `Stay` was a showcase for the power of his new musical style, based on the rhythms of funk with wailing rock guitars on top. The lyrics are basically just an afterthought.

It starts with Carlos Alomar`s rhythm guitar setting the funky riff, one of the greatest he ever created for Bowie. 35 seconds in, when we are already hooked, Earl Slick`s lead guitar begins to roar, although he holds back and doesn`t break loose just yet. This lasts for 40 seconds more and then the guitars tone it down a little, allowing Bowie to sing.

This week dragged past me so slowly
The days fell on their knees
Maybe I`ll take something to help me
Hope someone takes after me
I guess there`s always some change in the weather
This time I know we could get it together
If I did casually mention tonight
That would be crazy tonight

Again, as he does in every other song on the album, Bowie describes a state of meaninglessness, in which he finds no reason to get up and face the world and needs some substance to help him do it. He sings in a jaded voice, as if even singing is a chore he has to bring himself to do. The only thrill left is to seduce some woman he desires to spend the night with him, and he tells her it would be amazing if she did.

Stay - that`s what I meant to say or do something
But what I`ll never say is stay this time
I really meant to so bad this time
`cause you can never really tell when somebody
Wants something you want too

But he actually wants to tell her something else. Casual sex doesn`t excite him anymore and just adds to the feeling of emptiness. As we see on the other album tracks, Bowie now craves stability, craves a meaningful relationship with someone. He tries to bring himself to express these emotions to this woman, but he is too used to casual talk and too afraid of rejection. His voice turns plaintive, and his distress finally brings soulfulness into the singing. But he is unable to break his emotional block.

After allowing him to sing for one minute, the guitars take over again and Slick begins to howl. They sound ready to explode, but they cut it out after 30 seconds to let Bowie have another go.

Heartbreaker, heartbreaker, make me delight
Life is so vague when it brings someone new
This time tomorrow I`ll know what to do
I know it`s happened to you

These lines sound like an apology for failing to satisfy his sexual partner. He explains that since she`s new to him he didn`t know exactly what to do and promises that if she comes back tomorrow he will do a better job. In the past, Bowie was always about exploring the strange and the unknown, but now it doesn`t seem to excite him anymore and he complains about the vagueness of these situations. Stability and familiarity are what he craves now.

These lines can be heard in a different way, though. He could be talking to himself, consoling himself after failing once again to express his feelings and promising himself that tomorrow he will. His soul once again launches into the desperate chorus, but it is all in vain. He cannot bring himself to ask her to stay.

The guitars have had enough of this loser. The funk boils over, the lead guitar starts to rock hard, and the eruption finally happens. From here on until the end of the record, for two and a half minutes, it is a funk-rock freak-out. Bowie, in the meantime, is rendered silent.

`Stay`, with its dueling guitars, is perfect for live shows, and is one of the songs most performed by Bowie over the years. All the different guitarists that played with him enjoyed having a go at it.

1976, with Carlos Alomar on rhythm and Stacey Heydon on lead:

1978. Alomar on rhythm, Adrian Belew on lead:

1997. Reeves Gabrels on lead:

2000. Mark Plati on rhythm, and Earl Slick finally getting the chance to perform it live:

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