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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: TVC15

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`Station to Station`, the opening track of the album by the same name, presented the influence of Kraftwerk, the German band that explored the relationship between humanity and technology with the use of synthesizers. However, it was just for the opening three minutes, where synthesizers and repetitive chords were used to represent the train theme of the song. The rest of the piece, and the other tracks on the album, go back to focusing on the human soul and its pains. In `TVC15` Bowie finally picks up the humanity-technology theme again and presents a more in depth exploration. It is one of the opening shots for a theme that would be central for pop music in the next five years.

It is actually not an entirely new theme in Bowie`s art; the Diamond Dogs album already ends with a vision of humanity being taken over by technology. After the paranoid disco of `1984` that announces the arrival of an Orwellian dystopia and the ironically hymnal `Big Brother`, the album closes with `Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family` which shows humans becoming nothing but repetitive machines. Bowie was an early proponent of disco, but by 1976 he began to see dark sides in it. European electronics started to seep in, and along with the growing reliance on strobe lights and technological pyrotechnics in the discotheques it made the style seem increasingly soulless and robotic. The style of Station to Station, relying on funk but making it whiter and with electronic supplements, is somewhat akin to disco (and was even defined by some at the time as a disco album), but `TVC15` distances it from it. The track is funky and danceable, but it isn`t slick and polished like disco but rather loose and jaunty. There are parts that sound mechanical, but that is intentional and comical, as if he is satirizing disco.

We are thrown into this mix right from the start, with the "oh-oh-oh-oh-oh" vocals that throw us back to the Yardbirds` rendition of `Good Morning Little Schoolgirl`, as if attempting to return to the raucous rhythm `n blues of the mid-sixties. But as we are getting ready to hear a love lyric like `Good Morning Little Schoolgirl`, something else is being thrown in our face.

Up every evening `bout half eight or nine
I give my complete attention
to a very good friend of mine
He`s quadraphonic, he`s a,
he`s got more channels
So hologramic,
oh my TVC one five

Like every other track on the album, we have a hero living a dull and meaningless existence and looking to hang onto someone external to find happiness. On the other tracks it was a woman or a divine being, here it is a state of the art television set. This brings to mind the alien that Bowie just played in the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, who would spend his time observing human behavior through TV sets until he got hooked and addicted to them.

I brought my baby home, she
She sat around forlorn
She saw my TVC one five, baby`s gone, she
She crawled right in, oh my
She crawled right in my
So hologramic,
oh my TVC one five
Oh, so demonic,
oh my TVC one five

The story of addiction to TV goes one step further and becomes a sci-fi nightmare, in which the hero`s girlfriend is so drawn into TV land that she gets sucked right into it. It was reportedly inspired by Iggy Pop, who told Bowie during a drug hallucination that he saw his girlfriend being swallowed by a television set. In Bowie`s hands, it becomes a tale symbolizing how the world of technology is overtaking humanity.

Maybe if I pray every, each night I sit there pleading
"Send back my dream test baby,
She`s my main feature"
My TVC one five, he, he just
Stares back unblinking
So hologramic,
oh my TVC one five

The hero has become a TV worshipper. It is his god, and he prays to it even though it doesn`t answer.

One of these nights I may just
Jump down that rainbow way, be with my baby, then
We`ll spend some time together
So hologramic, oh my TVC one five
My baby`s in there someplace
Love`s rating in the sky
So hologramic,
oh my TVC one five

The submission to technology is complete: instead of wishing to save his girlfriend and bring her back to reality, he wishes to join her in the land of TV reality. We are reminded of `Columbine`, where the hero Pierrot followed his sweetheart Columbine into the world of the looking glass. But Pierrot found something about himself in that world and was able to come out of it. Here, the hero just wants to lose himself in the tube. Technology`s victory over humanity is complete. Even love is now described in terms of rating, the terms of TV land.

From here on the hero is overtaken by ecstasy as he is swallowed by a world of transition-transmission and expresses his love for his TVC15. Overall it has a comical effect which dulls the nightmarish character of the lyrics, but this is just the beginning. In Bowie`s subsequent albums, and in the music of the new wave that was just around the corner, the relationship between humanity and technology will be discussed in more serious tones.

`TVC15` is one of those examples to an art piece that the artist and the fans don`t agree on. While the fans mostly find it to be the weakest track on the album, Bowie seems to like it very much and performed it many times over the years. Some examples:

1976:

1983:

In one of the larges TV events ever, 1985`s Live Aid, Bowie couldn`t help but throw some irony into the charity show, and sing `TVC15` to hint that this is an example of a TV takeover:

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