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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Always Crashing in the Same Car

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While the other tracks on the first side of Low are up-tempo or mid-tempo numbers, 'Always Crashing in the Same Car' is stiflingly slow. The chords are sustained and resonant, creating walls and carpets of sound, and Bowie's voice leans against them and slides on them, moving slowly and thoughtfully. The subject of the record is taken from a recent incident in which a drunken Bowie smashed his car in a Berlin underground parking-lot, but the reflective mood hints that there is something deeper going on.

But the real importance of the slow tempo is how it affects the music. Every Low track is a triumph of sound, but none more so than this one. The ray-gun synths and pneumatic guitar create a machine-like surrounding, making us feel like we're in a flying saucer gliding slowly through the stars. But actually, we are in a car.

Every chance,
every chance that I take
I take it on the road

As he did in his previous album's central track 'Station to Station', Bowie is describing his life as an existence of constant motion. Nothing wrong with that – this is after all the lifestyle he chose in 'Changes': an exciting life of taking chances and moving from one unique identity to another. But in 'Station to Station' he admits that he can no longer find any meaning in this lifestyle. The excitement is gone, and all the different identities he went through now feel just like stations on the same track, each similar to the other. Well, a year has gone by. Did Bowie manage to give new meaning to his lifestyle?

Those kilometers and the red lights
I was always looking left and right
Oh, but I'm always crashing
in the same car

Oh no, it is even worse. Those different identities are still seen as essentially the same thing over and over again, but now they are not described as stations, they are described as car wrecks. It was inherent in all of his identities that they had a short lifespan, that they were so extreme they had to burn fast, but it never mattered because he could then form a new identity and emerge phoenix-life from the ashes. But now that he can find no meaning to those identities, now that all he can remember is the endless hours on the road, it is their bitter end he remembers the most. He isn't moving from station to station; he is always rebuilding the same car only to stupendously crash it again. He claims that he was always being careful and observed the traffic rules, but to no avail – the end is always the same.

Jasmine, I saw you peeping
As I pushed my foot down to the floor
I was going round and round the hotel garage
Must have been touching close to 94
Oh, but I'm always crashing
in the same car

So that is what his life has become. He is living in a perpetual hotel, and just driving around it in circles. Actually, not just going in circles, but spiraling out of control. He is driving in a much higher speed than you are supposed to when circling a building, and it can only end in another crash. As always there is a woman in the story, but here she cannot be a savior. He is driving too fast for her to do anything but watch.

However, the music does not feel like spiraling out of control, and the story is told in past tense. As we know from other tracks on the album, Bowie has decided to drop out of this rat race, so this is him reflecting on a lifestyle which he is no longer living. The challenge he faces now is to build a new car, one that will not crash.

This song never crashes in performance.

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