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פ.י.מ.פ.

(Analyzing Bowie: It`s No Game (part 1

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`It`s No Game` is the track that opens Bowie`s fourteenth studio album, and we already know what to expect: an exposition track, which contains the themes that will be worked through the album. In his seventies albums we got used to these exposition tracks conveying an existential crisis which would then be resolved in the following tracks, but that seemed to have ended with the opening track of Lodger: `Fantastic Voyage` does not express a sense of crisis but rather of consummation, as it seems Bowie has resolved the problems that plagued his spirit. It is still an exposition track in the sense that it contains all the themes developed in the other tracks, but these tracks are also quite happy and content overall. Now, a year later, we have come to the opening track of his next album Scary Monsters. Is he still in a good mood?

Right away, we realize that the answer is no. The music is tortured and arduous, using Robert Fripp`s guitar in pretty much the same way as on the "Heroes" opening crisis track `Beauty and the Beast`, and it is joined by a Japanese female vocal that speaks not in the cute and submissive tone we`ve come to expect from Japanese women but in an angry male samurai manner. This creates a disconcerting effect, and we realize we have another existential crisis on our hands. What is the problem now? Well, the woman is already presenting the lyrics, but she speaks Japanese so most of us can`t understand. But then Bowie comes in, singing in what sounds like a scream of terror, and starts to unfold the situation.

Silhouettes and shadows watch the revolution
No more free steps to heaven
It`s no game

Back when rock`n`roll was young and youth culture was in its infancy, Eddie Cochran wrote and performed `Three Steps to Heaven`. Reaching Heaven seemed so easy back then, as rock`n`roll seemed to be opening all the doors. The youth culture that sprang with rock`n`roll believed it was creating a better world, that it will succeed in bringing Heaven on Earth. This is what the revolutionary sixties were about, and when they failed to bring the promised utopia Bowie started to deconstruct rock`n`roll and show different ways to get to Heaven, maintaining the dream for the seventies as well. He did that throughout the decade, but now, he tells us, the way to Heaven seems blocked. All the former ways of life that he and his revolutionary friends have created have become silhouettes and shadows of their former selves, and apparently he can`t create a new one. How come?

I am barred from the event
I really don`t understand the situation
And it`s no game

Here`s the answer. Bowie is a happy person now, a person who has matured and accepts himself for what he is and takes responsibility over his life. But with that, he cut himself from the psyche of youth and can no longer understand youth culture. And since his entire ethics and art were rooted in youth psyche, he is now lost. He feels he can no longer comment on the situation, can no longer be connected to the spirit of the time, can no longer draw from the wells he always drew from to create the art that would shoot him to the heavens. Where can he go now?

Documentaries on refugees
Couples `gainst the target
You throw a rock against the road
And it breaks into pieces
Draw the blinds on yesterday, and it`s all so much scarier
Put a bullet in my brain, and it makes all the papers

Desperately trying to reconnect to youth psyche, Bowie resurrects a song he wrote when he was sixteen, titled `Tired of My Life`. One of the verses of that song went: "Throw a rock upon the road and it breaks into pieces / Shake a branch upon the snow and the sun is defeated / Pull the curtains on yesterday and it seems so much later / Put a bullet in my brain and I`ll make all the papers". The boy who wrote that song was trying desperately to leave a mark on the world, even by extreme and violent measures. The thirty-three year old Bowie who tries to re-enter that state of mind finds it scary, and he is more sensitive to the pain that such violence does to the world. He no longer cares only about himself, but feels responsibility for the fate of others that he sees in TV documentaries. The thought of suicide once excited him as he thought it would make him famous, but now he sings that line as though he thinks of all the sensational ugliness his celebrity-death would cause. He simply cannot go back to the state of mind he once had.

So where`s the moral when people have their fingers broken?
To be insulted by these fascists - it`s so degrading
And it`s no game

Another part in `Tired of My Life` said "I don`t believe but I`m trying to decide / Which game is best for me, which can I bear", showing that he was contemplating which path he should choose, regarding each possible way of life as a game to be played and try to excel in. But now that he is older he knows that it`s no game, he knows that every choice he takes has serious consequences and he must be more responsible. The youth culture he helped form has resulted in many bad things, including the rise of new far-right sentiments which Bowie was partly responsible for. He`d like to make things better, but how can he do it if he no longer understands youth culture?

This, then, is the new crisis, and in some ways it is worse than any crisis he faced before, since he can no longer rely on his old methods to overcome it. He used to know exactly the steps needed to reach heaven again after he fell from it, but now, no more three steps to heaven. He must find a new way of life, a way that would be compatible with his current psyche. "SHUT UP!" he screams, trying to make all these noises in his head quiet down so he can think of a way out. They finally do stop and make way for the rest of the album, where this new problem will have to be worked out.

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