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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Tonight

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For years, Iggy Pop and David Bowie lived as if every day was their last. The conclusion that Bowie kept on hammering in his records – that nothing is permanent and everything dies – was one that Iggy came to as well, but while Bowie found solutions to this snag Iggy was driven by it to a life on the edge. He was on his death trip, an existence of extreme highs and lows aimed to experience life to its fullest before it's over – he did not expect to live long. During 1977, though, Iggy's mood began to change. Living in Berlin, he and Bowie underwent a process of physical and mental healing, and both became more optimistic. This was particularly apparent in Iggy's case, and his Bowie-produced album Lust for Life sounds like a 180 degrees flip from everything he ever put out before. The album is a celebration of life itself, just the joy of living and breathing. 'Tonight' is one of its centerpieces.

I saw my baby
She was turning blue
I knew that soon her
Young life was through
And so I got down on my knees
Down by her bed
And these are the words
To her I said

The opening puts us in a tragic situation: the singer is kneeling by his baby's bed (hard to tell if it's a young lover or his baby daughter), and realizes that she is dying and will probably not last the night. The backing vocals are soulful, giving the record a religious feel, and they set us up for a faith based solution. As the singer declares he has words to say to her, we expect him to tell her about Heaven. But then, the music changes and becomes cheerful, and Iggy has a different message.

Everything will be alright, Tonight
Everything will be alright, Tonight
No one moves
No one talks
No one thinks
No one walks, Tonight

Everyone will be alright, Tonight
Everyone will be alright, Tonight
No one moves
No one talks
No one thinks
No one walks, Tonight, Tonight

The singer focuses not on the afterlife, but remains in the confines of this life. And he tells her: the only thing that matters is the here and now, and the here and now is good. The impending death of everyone and everything used to depress Iggy, but now he realizes that it doesn't matter. Life is a good thing, and as long as we have it we can and should enjoy it. If tonight is all they have left then he is going to live it to its fullest, and he talks as if he wants to freeze and crystalize the moment. In a way it continues what he always did - living every day as if it is your last – but it is no longer nihilistic. He no longer shrieks about the ecstasy of abandon, but sings in a warm and loving voice about the value of existence. This is not the egocentric Iggy of old who would find pleasure only in himself, but someone who looks for pleasure in human interaction. He is still aware that death is part of human existence, but it does not depress him any longer.

I am gonna love her to the end
I am gonna love her to the end

I will love her 'til I die
I will see her in the sky... Tonight

In the end, faith does creep back in. The singer vows to continue loving her until the end of his days, and hopes to meet her again in the afterlife. Happiness in the afterworld is still a possibility, but it is not the main theme of the record. The message of the record is that yes, love in this world is always temporary, but we should enjoy it while it lasts and not worry about what comes later. It's yet another building block for the overall message of Lust for Life.

For Bowie, too, 1977 was the beginning of a healing process, in which he solved most of the existential conundrums that plagued his mind and developed a mature, healthy personality. He no longer shunned society but tried to be part of it, and in 1983 his attempts produced the album Let's Dance that was a massive hit and turned him into a global superstar. Iggy, on the other hand, fell back into his bad drug habits and went through a few rough years, but by 1984 was picking up the pieces again. Bowie's 1983 rendition of 'China Girl', another song that Iggy wrote and he produced, was a huge smash and gave Iggy some royalties that helped getting him back to his feet. Encouraged by this success, Bowie would cover some more Iggy songs over the next few years to help secure his friend financially, and 'Tonight' was one of them. It even became the title track for his next album.

But Bowie's version is an altogether different affair. He dispenses with the intro, completely eliminating the whole part about talking to his dying baby, and the record thus becomes just a party song about the fun we're gonna have together tonight. Bowie turns 'Tonight' into a celebration piece by a man who went through enormous trials and has finally made it, so he wants to freeze this moment of triumph and just enjoy it without thinking of anything else. Tina Turner, another seventies survivor that became a superstar in the eighties (with Bowie's help) joins him to turn it into a love duet, and the two rejoice in their (and Iggy's) victory. Set to a laidback reggae beat, with marimbas that make it sound romantic and lighthearted, the music delivers the message home: don't think, don't worry, don't strive to anything; just relax, and enjoy this moment of glory. Not for nothing did it become the title track – this is also what the album is about.

Bowie's surprise appearance on Turner's show, performing the duet, is schmaltzy but irresistible:

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