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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: The Passenger

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Unlike most of the tracks on Lust for Life, Bowie did not participate in writing 'The Passenger'. It was created by Iggy Pop and guitarist Ricky Gardiner, while Bowie only produced and contributed backing vocals. Furthermore, unlike many of the songs he produced for Iggy that year, this is a song he would never adopt and sing himself later in his career. Nevertheless, it is an important record in showing the transformation that David and Iggy underwent at the time, which produced the optimistic and humanistic vibe of Lust for Life. The theme is a theme which Bowie dealt with a lot in this period, and the sentiment expressed in it is a sentiment he will adopt as well. It is, therefore, an essential record in Bowie's development, and we should analyze it.

I am a passenger
And I ride and I ride
I ride through the city's backsides
I see the stars come out of the sky
Yeah, the bright and hollow sky
You know it looks so good tonight

In 'Station to Station' and 'Always Crashing in the Same Car', Bowie took a look at his life of traveling from one place to another and found it meaningless. Singing over repetitive machine sound, he described it as doing the same thing over and over again without having any fun anymore. Here, the sound is once again repetitive, but it is a warm and cheerful rock sound. And a life of traveling is not described as meaningless, but judged to be a good and happy way of life. Something has changed, then. Iggy and Bowie had overcome the philosophical crisis, and found new meaning in their life. But what was the mental shift that caused it?

I am a passenger
I stay under glass
I look through my window so bright
I see the stars come out tonight
I see the bright and hollow sky
Over the city's ripped backside
And everything looks good tonight
Singin' la la la la la-la-la la
La la la la la-la-la la
La la la la la-la-la la la-la

Iggy said that he was inspired to write the song by a Jim Morrison poem, and it might be helpful to discuss Morrison here. In the early songs he wrote with his band the Doors, Morrison expressed a desire to go beyond the ever-changing everyday life, to "break on through to the other side" and unite with eternal truth. For him, that was what the sex-drugs-rock'n'roll way of life was all about, and he went with it all the way into a trip of self-destruction. In the Doors' later albums, however, a different perception of life begins to emerge. Records like 'Roadhouse Blues' and 'Riders in the Storm' describe life as a long road down which we should travel. On this road there isn't any one final truth, just many different experiences that we meet. Morrison's road ended soon after, as his years of self-destruction took him to his final stop, but his thoughts travelled on.

The Doors were a major influence on the Stooges, Iggy's first band. The Stooges, unlike the Doors, were totally nihilistic, but in throwing himself into total abandonment Iggy would do something very similar to Morrison: try to break out of modern everyday life, become part of wild nature. And even Bowie had that side. In all his different incarnations there was always the wish to stand above everyday life, and it was the realization that he doesn't know how to do it anymore that led to the spiritual crisis expressed in 'Station to Station'. Here, however, we find something else. Iggy accepts that he cannot "break on through to the other side" and achieve mystical unity with the Cosmos – there will always be a glass separating him from nature, and he will always remain just a passenger going through this world. And yet, standing apart from nature, he realizes that it makes him feel good just to look at all the wondrous things in our world. No longer using mind-altering drugs, his window is clear now, and he suddenly realizes how beautiful and bright the world looks when you look at it like that. As Bowie joins in for the la-la-las, it sounds like the spiritual crisis is over.

Get into the car
We'll be the passenger
We'll ride through the city tonight
See the city's ripped backsides
We'll see the bright and hollow sky
We'll see the stars that shine so bright
The sky was made for us tonight

Just four years ago, in the track 'Death Trip' (on the Stooges Raw Power album which Bowie produced), Iggy took us through the horrors of the modern urban world, singing: "And now my four-wheel'll steer you 'round / Someday, are you blind / My voodoo-master my machine, baby, will not stand in line / A sick boy, sick boy goin' 'round, baby, losin' grip / Baby, wanna take you out with me, come along on my death trip / My death trip, honey, my death trip". Now, he invites us to join him on a different trip, a life trip. We are still going through an urban landscape and that landscape is still ripped, but oh, how beautifully it shines at night.

Oh the passenger
How how he rides
Oh the passenger
He rides and he rides
He looks through his window
What does he see?
He sees the sign and hollow sky
He sees the stars come out tonight
He sees the city's ripped backsides
He sees the winding ocean drive
And everything was made for you and me
All of it was made for you and me
'cause it just belongs to you and me
So let's take a ride and see what's mine

Now, Iggy feels at home in his world. He no longer wants to escape it; he wants to tour it and feels that this world was made for him. And not just for him – he feels part of humankind, and wants us all to enjoy this wonderful ride.

Oh, the passenger
He rides and he rides
He sees things from under glass
He looks through his window side
He sees the things he knows are his
He sees the bright and hollow sky
He sees the city sleep at night
He sees the stars are out tonight
And all of it is yours and mine
And all of it is yours and mine
Oh, let's ride and ride and ride and ride...

For five years, Iggy Pop and David Bowie were dancing on the edge, tempting death. Now they step back. Life is worth living, and as long as it keeps going, it is worth hanging on to. We are riders in the storm, but let's ride and ride and ride and ride.

In mid-1977, Iggy and Bowie toured England with Iggy's new material, presenting their new positive message as an alternative to the nihilism of punk. Bowie played keyboards, standing aloof in the shadows, while Iggy did his happy dance. 'The Passenger' wasn't written yet, but a few months later Iggy went on tour again, with a very similar setup but without Bowie, and gave this great performance.

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