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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Sons of the Silent Age

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Sons of the silent age
Stand on platforms, blank looks and no books
Sit in back rows of city limits
Lay in bed
Coming and going on easy terms

"I'm living in a silent film" lamented Bowie in 'Quicksand', a 1971 record that expressed the feeling of being spiritually stultified and not knowing how to get out of it, not finding anything worth saying or getting out of bed for. Bowie's answer to 'Quicksand' was 'Changes', a way of life based on constant change, but as tracks like 'Beauty and the Beast', 'Blackout' and 'Sense of Doubt' have shown, he is now consumed with doubt about this way of life he offered the world and feels that it might have led to an ethically dangerous path. And so, he is back to his silent age, back in the quicksand. Worse, he knows that it is not only his personal problem now, but a generation of glam kids (those who "stand on platforms" like Ziggy did) might have been led astray by following his example. Like him, they are now rendered silent, not knowing how to tell right from wrong any more, not knowing which way they should go next. Unlike the other tracks of side A the tempo here is slow, as we are sinking into the quicksand of our thoughts once again. The dramatic saxophone enhances the atmosphere of doom, Bowie's vocal struggles to get through, and the sonic soundscape of "Heroes" is brought to a suffocating climax. It feels like the walls are closing in.

Sons of the silent age
Pace their rooms like a cell's dimensions
Rise for a year or two then make war
Search through their one inch thoughts
Then decide it couldn't be done

The wish in Hunky Dory was to find a way to break out of his room, to form a group of like-minded individuals who live together in harmony. Now, we are all back in our rooms, back in our loneliness. All the solutions to bring us together have in the best case led us to "rise for a year or two" – that is, to find temporary happiness – but then down a destructive path that turned us against each other. We are out of ideas.

Baby, I'll never let you go
All I see is all I know
Let's find another way down
(Sons of sound and sons of sound)

Bowie, however, refuses to give up. He still believes we should come together, still believes it is possible to find the way, and he vows to his fans that he will not abandon them but provide them with the solution. His voice soars out of the murk and becomes powerful and determined, and we realize that the slow tempo also signifies a state of contemplation aimed at finding a solution. "All I see is all I know" he sings. As always, he will not seek the solution in any external religion or philosophy, but base it on his own observations.

Baby, baby, I'll never let you down
I can't stand another sound
Let's take another way in
(Sons of sound and sons of sound)

As the backing vocal remind us, we may be silent when it comes to formulating rational ideas, but we are also the "sons of sound", sons of an age that expressed itself through creating new soundscapes. "I can't stand another sound" he says about the sounds that currently occupy our world, but his way to fight back is not to close his ears but rather to create a new sound. He blocked off the sounds and visions of the outside world in his previous album, but that was only so he will be able to find another way into it, a way that has meaning and is ethically wholesome.

Sons of the silent age
Listen to tracks by Sam Therapy and King Dice

Rather than listening to tracks that present heroic and joyous ways of life, the sons of this age listen to tracks from bands whose names suggest they offer merely a soothing remedy or regard life as ruled by chance. The solution he's looking for, the new "way in", will have to bring back heroism and control of your destiny.

Sons of the silent age
Pick up in bars and cry only once
Sons of the silent age
Make love only once but dream and dream

Seems like all types of connection we form with other people are a one-time thing and then we break up. And yet, we dream of another life, a life where relationships can last for ever and ever. The new way of life we are seeking will have to find the balance between this reality and our dreams, between the fleeting nature of love and our wish that it will last.

They don't walk, they just glide in and out of life
They never die, they just go to sleep one day

The final couplet talks about the meaninglessness of our current existence, which makes life seem not much different than death. We must find a way to make our existence count.

The song was not performed on the first decade after its inception, but was then given a fancy rendition on the Glass Spider tour.

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