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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Look Back in Anger

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And so, after years of living dangerously, of dancing on the edge of cliffs and almost falling several times, Bowie has come to the conclusion that life is good and that he wants to live a long and healthy lifetime. Whereas before he only cared about achieving joys in the Present and kind of assumed that he would die young, now he sees life as a fantastic voyage and wants to travel it all the way through. But that means that he has left part of himself behind, a part that needs to be dealt with.

"You know who I am," he said
The speaker was an angel
He coughed and shook his crumpled wings
Closed his eyes and moved his lips
"It's time we should be going"
(Waiting so long, I've been waiting so, waiting so)

The speaker is the Angel of Death, and he feels cheated. Bowie's best work came when he dove into the psychosis of his time, when he expressed the apocalyptic spirit of the seventies and the sense of imminent doom. In a sense, he sold his soul to the Angel of Death in order to get to know him better and create great art out of this knowledge. He lived the "live fast, die young" lifestyle of rockers, the lifestyle that slayed so many in the seventies, but with his intellect he managed to cheat the system and live fast without dying young. He is the man who sold the world, the man who never lost control and managed to stay alive even though he should have died alone a long long time ago. And now that he has determined to leave this lifestyle behind and grow old, to break his deal with the Angel of Death, the angel, naturally, isn't pleased.

Look back in anger, driven by the night
Till you come
(Waiting so long, I've been waiting so, waiting so)
Look back in anger, see it in my eyes
Till you come

Look Back in Anger, the famous 1956 John Osbourne play, has very little to do with this record except in the hero's feeling that his current existence is meaningless and in his looking back for better times in the past. You wouldn't think the Angel of Death would ever feel this way, but apparently Bowie feels like he managed to ruffle his feathers a bit. Unlike the hero of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Bowie played chess with the Angel of Death and managed to defeat him, at least for now. The angel will just have to wait patiently for decades until the inevitable day when they will meet again, and all he can do in the meantime is look back and reminisce about the days when they had such a good time together.

No one seemed to hear him
So he leafed through a magazine
And, yawning, rubbed the sleep away
Very sane he seemed to me

Bowie continues to smirk at death's expense, with the amusing image of the Angel of Death being made to sit in a waiting room and wait idly for his turn that never comes. Once he tempted Bowie with his dark mystique, but now he seems very mundane to him – life is better than death. It seems that Bowie is celebrating more than his own escape from death's clutches. The fact that "no one" seems to hear the Angel of Death indicates that maybe humanity as a whole has overcome the crisis and averted the apocalypse. As we see in 'Fantastic Voyage' Bowie is still worried that we will destroy our world, but for the first time he also acknowledges that maybe we won't. Maybe humanity isn't doomed after all, and the Angel of Death will not have his day of triumph.

Look back in anger, driven by the night
Till you come
(Waiting so long, I've been waiting so, waiting so)
Look back in anger, feel it in my voice
Till you come


We do feel it in Bowie's voice, in his superb delivery that expresses the angel's anger while also conveying the euphoric feeling that we have overcome the crisis. Looks like we're going to be alright, after all.

The most famous performance of this song is Bowie's 1988 celebrated collaboration with dance duo La La La Human Steps.

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