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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Let's Dance

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Afric sands ensorcel us,
Afric seas & skies entrance
Velvet, lewd & luminous
Night surveys our soul askance!
Come my love, & let us dance
To the Moon and Sirius!

This is the closing verse of the poem 'Love to Leah' by Aleister Crowley, known not so much for his poetry as for his black magic and mysticism. The poem celebrates his love for his wife, as they dance themselves into a trance in the mystical world that surrounds them. Back in the seventies, Bowie was flirting with Crowley's writings, diving into the dark regions of the magic world. In the early eighties he was trying to clean up his act and get away from these unsavory influences, and 'Let's Dance' is partly a celebration of his overcoming of them, filtering the black magic out of 'Love to Leah' to leave only the ecstasy, love and dance. For Crowley, astrology was a real thing, and the Moon and Sirius had a symbolic meaning. In Bowie's version they become just "serious moonlight". Crowley was celebrating his belonging to the kingdom of night. Bowie wants to step out of his shadow and bring the day.

The record begins with a vocal harmonic buildup, reminiscent of fifties doo-wop numbers like Danny and the Juniors' 'At the Hop'. We are back to basics, back to good old happy and danceable rock'n'roll. It is a monster dance record, an anthem to the ecstasy you can reach through music and dance. But 'Let's Dance' isn't all sunshine and roses.

Let's dance
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues
Let's dance
To the song they're playin' on the radio
Let's sway
While color lights up your face
Let's sway
Sway through the crowd to an empty space

We have another mystical reference here: in Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale 'The Red Shoes', a vane girl's red shoes become enchanted and cause her to dance incessantly without being able to stop or take them off. Bowie wants us to put on those shoes, to experience the same type of ecstatic dance. Apart from that those are regular rock'n'roll lyrics, but the last line says something more: we are dancing and grooving together, but we also want to escape the multitudes of humans and find a place all of our own.

If you say run, I'll run with you
If you say hide, we'll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
Tremble like a flower

It is a love song, and the lovers know that they have something special, something worth holding on to. This is why they want to get away from the world, to protect their love from it. While the lovers in '"Heroes"' deliberately put their love in the line of fire to express their defiance in the face of a hateful world, the lovers here are not that heroic. They just want their love to last.

Let's dance
For fear your grace should fall
Let's dance
For fear tonight is all
Let's sway
You could look into my eyes
Let's sway
Under the moonlight, this serious moonlight

But like the lovers in '"Heroes"', and in many other Bowie records, they know they can't win. Love dies, your grace falls in the eyes of your lover, and this night might be all that you have. Bowie's heroes are always living in the moonage and dreaming of a day that will come and bring endless sunshine, but that day never comes. He may have found a solution to the other questions that plagued his mind and art throughout the sixties and seventies, but to this fundamental problem he still doesn't have an answer – we are still in the moonage, and everything we do is done under the serious moonlight. Love is a wonderful thing, but it is also accompanied by a lot of pain and fear because you know it doesn't last. The only advice he has for us at the moment is to enjoy it while it still burns on, hold your lover tight, and dance.

The longer album version, with some more Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar work.

At its core, 'Let's Dance' is a dance anthem, a record you should dance to and not analyze too much. It serves its purpose very well, and became giant global hit and Bowie's most successful record ever. It is one of the main reasons he became one of the biggest pop superstars in the world in 1983, and why multitudes of new fans flocked to see him in the Serious Moonlight tour. And it is still, to this day, one of the greatest dance anthems ever.

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