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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Fashion

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'Fashion' is, arguably, the best showcase for the duet between Carlos Alomar's funky rhythm guitar and Robert Fripp's space-age noisy lead. It's a killer in a rock concert, a killer on the disco floor and a killer on the catwalk. At once connecting to the most primordial drives and the most futuristic fears, it makes you feel like you're dancing into ecstasy as the world crumbles around you. The lyrics, as expected, are kept very simple and allow you to get into the music. They do make some points, though.

There's a brand new dance
But I don't know its name
That people from bad homes
Do again and again
It's big and it's bland
Full of tension and fear
They do it over there but we don't do it here

The first line is very familiar to pop culture: there's a brand new dance, a new craze. Those new dances are usually invented by lower class people, by the "people from bad homes", and the people from higher classes regard it at first as vulgar. The singer evidently belongs to those higher classes, and he's not familiar with the dance yet other than knowing of its existence. But this is about to change.

Fashion! Turn to the left
Fashion! Turn to the right
Oooh, fashion!
We are the goon squad
And we're coming to town
Beep-beep
Beep-beep

The dance becomes fashionable, and once it does it gains an authoritarian position. You are expected to do the moves, to fall in line with this new fad. Whatever you were before has to make way for the new thing.

Bowie was always for change, but his changes were driven by something substantial and authentic. It was something he felt inside, and then managed to express aesthetically with a new style which those who felt like him could emulate. But fashion, as Bowie describes it, is the opposite of style. Fashion is about peer pressure, about herd mentality. It is a bad thing, and it leads to dangerous social and political consequences. People turn to the left or to the right as the wind blows, instead of developing a worldview of their own.

Listen to me - don't listen to me
Talk to me - don't talk to me
Dance with me - don't dance with me, no
Beep-beep

Fashion is fickle. One day it tells you to do one thing, the next day it tells you to do the opposite. If you try to resist, you'll be hooted out of the way.

There's a brand new talk,
But it's not very clear
That people from good homes
Are talking this year
It's loud and tasteless
And I've heard it before
Shout it while you're dancing
On the dance floor

It doesn't always come from the lower classes, though. The higher classes may not invent dances, but they are usually those who create the brand new talks, the dogmas that take hold of our minds. And those dogmas, once they become fashionable, pervade all the way down to the dance floors. That's no good either.

In a 1973 song called 'People from Bad Homes', which Bowie wrote for his protégé band Eva & the Astronettes, the opening verses say: "People from bad homes / Don't have the time / To look things over / Make up their minds / People from good homes / Don't have the minds / To care for bad homes / Don't have the time". Bowie always tried to bring those two worlds together, to take the dances created by the people from bad homes and combine them with the talks created by people from good homes and create something that is whole and meaningful. In the process, he taught a new generation of kids to always look for new styles, to constantly change. But now he finds himself out of the game, looking at it from the outside and damning it. In the new pop world, he finds very little meaningful style. It's all hollow fashion, representing nothing spiritual. And when it has no substance, it has no ethics either. In '"Heroes"', Bowie determined the ethics that would ensure that the ch-ch-ch-changes lifestyle would be moral, but the world he describes here does not follow those ethics. Any goon squad can come marching into town and set its own rules, as there is no measuring rod to determine which rules are better than the others. And the only thing Bowie can do against this situation is to make a fashionable dance record out of it.

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