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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Red Money

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Closing the Lodger album, and thus pretty much drawing the curtain on Bowie`s European era, is this track that rehashes the track that started it all. It can be said that the European phase began with Station to Station, but it was `Sister Midnight`, a song that was written shortly after that album, that really set the stage for what David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Brian Eno did in Berlin. `Sister Midnight` opened The Idiot, the album that started the spiritual journey from the lowest low to the life-affirming heights of Lodger, and it is a track that describes a state of complete meaninglessness and emptiness. The answer it gave, if it can be called an answer at all, was a fantasy about a woman that can save him from this spiritual desert. It was an external solution, and something that was described as an addiction. But from that point began a journey in which Bowie found meaning and richness in life, and now he no longer needs to be addicted to something else. `Red Money` goes back to the melody of `Sister Midnight`, but it sounds much less repetitive and robotic, much richer in sound and variations, and much more cheerful. We are in a different emotional place.

Oh, can you feel it in the way
That a man is not a man?
Can you see it in the sky
That the landscape is too high?

The first four lines seem to be poking fun at the state of mind of `Sister Midnight`, where the hero couldn`t feel his humanity and looked for an external and unattainable answer. It could also be that he is talking about Western culture in general, a culture that was obsessed with creating a perfect society and believed that Man cannot be complete until we reach that goal. But that landscape was too high: human society cannot be perfect, and Bowie already made his peace with that realization in records like `"Heroes"` and `Fantastic Voyage`.

Like a nervous disease
And it`s been there all along
It will tumble from the sky
It`s been there all along

That landscape in the sky suddenly came tumbling down to earth, as we realize that the answer on how to live our life has been with us all along. We don`t have to create a perfect state in order to be happy. As his work of the time shows, Bowie realizes that we can be perfectly happy in an imperfect state (and actually, imperfection is a necessary condition to achieve happiness).

Project cancelled
Tumbling central
Red Money

So as the central piece of our belief came tumbling down from the sky and the project to achieve a perfect state got cancelled, what we are left with is "red money". What does that mean? It could mean that we are left with a world divided between communism (red) and capitalism (money) and we acknowledge that we cannot transcend this division and have to learn to live with it. It isn`t perfect, but it`s still something we can work with.

Can you hear it fall
Can you hear it well
Can you hear it at all

In `Sister Midnight` it was "can you hear me call", trying to connect to that unattainable ideal. Bowie uses almost the same word to alert us to the fall of that ideal.

I was really feeling good
Reet Petite and how d`ya do
Then I got the small red box
And I didn`t know what to do
`Cause my fingers could not grope
And I could not give it away
And I knew I must not drop it
Stop it, take it away


The red money, the symbol of our current world after the fall of the previous ideal, is apparently contained in a red box, and the red box is given to Bowie. Bowie said in an interview that the red box (which appeared in his paintings as well) is a symbol of responsibility. This is a new situation for him: with his realization that life is good and he wants to live it came the need to start behaving more responsibly. Furthermore, the new wave of bands that sprang up in the wake of punk saw him as a role model, adding to the responsibility on his shoulders. Bowie doesn`t really want this red box, he wants to keep on living the carefree life he lived in the past, but he knows he must handle it with care. In the final verses of Lodger, we are hearing Bowie becoming an adult.

Such responsibility
It`s up to you and me

It`s not only his responsibility, though. We have all gone through a growing up phase recently. The idea that the meaning of life is to get to a different place, to achieve that "landscape in the sky", was an idea that ruled Western culture for centuries. But in the seventies it started to be shaken, and Bowie`s work documented its downfall. His quest was to find an alternative answer, and it was a difficult task that took its toll on him. But he did manage to find an answer, and now, in the track that closes the decade for him, he celebrates and bemoans the outcome. This is our world now, the world that he and his generation have created. That means we have a responsibility to protect it.

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