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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: The Secret Life of Arabia

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'The Secret Life of Arabia' is the closing track of "Heroes". Appropriately, it is also the closing track of the spiritual journey Bowie went through in his 1977 albums, starting from Low, going through Lust for Life and ending in "Heroes". So, what would the final note be?

I was running at the speed of life
Through morning's thoughts and fantasies
Then I saw your eyes at the crossfades
Secret secrets never seen
Secret secrets ever green

The journey started with 'Speed of Life', the opening track of Low, which portrayed Bowie's life at the time. He now goes back and tells us that he was "running at the speed of life", trying to keep up with the fast pace of modern life which has taken over his thoughts and fantasies, and (as we know from other tracks) losing himself in the process. But then, he says, something happened: "I saw your eyes at the crossfades". The "crossfade" is a technique in cinema of dissolving one image into another, in a way that one fades gradually as the other appears and for a moment we see them together. So it is a sort of a twilight zone, a place between two worlds, that alien place that Bowie always loved and where he always found his inspirations. In 'Station to Station' he expressed the worry that there are no such places anymore, but in '"Heroes"' he came up with new ethics, ethics that ensure there will always be places such as these, places that hold secrets to explore.

The secret life of Arabia
Never here never seen
Secret life ever green

Freeing his mind from the "speed of life", he has found new life beneath it, a secret life. With the main ethical principle of '"Heroes"' – the belief in the right of humans to come together in love despite cultural walls – Bowie opens up to the vast world beyond the walls of Western culture. There are many other cultures that are still alien and mysterious to our Western mind, but they are made of humans like us and we can break the cultural barriers and form bonds of friendship and love. And if we do that, we will always find new life in us and our spiritual world will be evergreen. Arabia, always a land that represented exotic mystery to the Western mind, here stands as a symbol to all those cultures and places.

The secret life of Arabia
You must see the movie the sand in my eyes
I walk through a desert song when the heroine dies

Bowie was always influenced by the cinema, seeing movies as models for ideal lifestyles. In 'Life on Mars?' he lamented that movies no longer provide alternative forms of existence, and his art since then could be seen as an attempt to write his own ideal life-movies. With the "Heroes" ethics, he has found the plot that will ensure he will always have a new meaningful movie to live out: a boy and a girl expressing their love against a hostile environment. This way, there will always be new "Arabian deserts" they can be heroes in, and when the heroine dies he'll search the desert for a new one. The world is still full of those deserts, just waiting to be explored and conquered. These lines bring to mind a Rudolph Valentino movie from the days when cinema was still young and full of endless possibilities, and we realize the new ethics will ensure it will remain that way forever.

It is an optimistic album closer, and the music fits the theme. This is not the dramatic, tragic, desperate mood of the tracks of side A, but a danceable, finger-snapping, feel-good number. A funky beat, some exotic rhythms and sounds to make us feel in Arabia, and a vocal of a man who has triumphed over his spiritual crisis and is now enjoying the world and wants to drink life to the fullest, all serve to put us in the right mood. All is well.

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