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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Loving the Alien

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"Love thy alien" was Bowie's main message throughout his career, and he said it in many different ways. Through opening yourself up to an alien you can receive something that breaks your own logic, and by adopting it you can achieve the transformation that brings ecstasy and joy. Many times he was himself the alien, a character that went against the period's logic. By 1984 he became more entrenched in the mainstream, no longer an alien, but he still believed in that message. 'Loving the Alien' takes another look at this theme.

Watching them come and go
The Templars and the Saracens
They're travelling the holy land
Opening telegrams

The opening of the record places us in the times of the crusades. We are watching Christians and Muslims fighting over the holy land, in a never ending battle. The "watching them come and go" line suggests that it is about more than that, that the Templars and the Saracens are merely exemplars of many similar groups that existed throughout human history.

Torture comes and torture goes
Knights who'd give you anything
They bear the cross of Coeur de Leon
Salvation for the mirror blind

Those groups are killing and torturing each other, believing that in this way they are bringing salvation to humanity and saving it from what the opposing group represents. But in truth, they are mirror images of each other. They are just too blind to see it.

But if you pray
All your sins are hooked upon the sky
Pray and the heathen lie will disappear

The two sides believe that they are doing the word of God, and that makes everything they do right while everything the other side does is wrong. The sins that the people on the other side perform are attributed to them being evil, while our own sins are a necessary evil which will be forgiven by God if we pray.

Prayers they hide the saddest view
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
And your prayers they break the sky in two
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)

In the chorus, the narrator is making his own view known and judges the views held by these religious zealots as sad views that lead nowhere. The backing vocals, in the meantime, suggest the alternative: love the alien, the one holding views that seem strange to you, and try to understand his logic. But of course, the religious zealots are incapable of doing that: they are following their doctrines and cannot open their minds to anything else. The result is that they will keep killing and torturing each other forever.

Thinking of a different time
Palestine a modern problem
Bounty and your wealth in land
Terror in a best laid plan

And so we come to our own time, where the holy land is once again a battleground between two groups that are incapable of opening up to understand each other's position. The "best laid plan" line possibly hints that Bowie agrees that the plan to divide the holy land between Jews and Palestinians was the right one, but this plan also gave the opportunity for religious zealots on both sides to thrive and terrorize the other side's population. The use of the word "Palestine" to name the holy land makes sense in the context of the lyrics – we started out in the middle ages, when that's how it was called in the West, so it makes sense to carry the name to the modern age – but I suspect there's another reason. In the 1980s Israel and its Western allies were still denying the existence of the Palestinian nation and were trying to erase any mention of it in the media, and that was Bowie's way of bringing the word to the Western airwaves and consciousness. Bowie, the artist who always tried to put a mirror in front of his listeners, is trying with this line to bring at least the Israeli side to look in the mirror.

Watching them come and go
Tomorrows and the yesterdays
Christians and the unbelievers
Hanging by the cross and nail

And so it goes on, as humans refuse to learn the lessons of history as they carry on killing and crucifying one another in the belief that they know how to end this vicious circle. But in this way, it will never end.

Prayers they hide the saddest view
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
And your prayers they break the sky in two
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)

You pray till the break of dawn
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
And you'll believe you're loving the alien
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)

The two lines added to the chorus deliver the final blow: those zealots are incapable of changing and loving the alien in the way Bowie suggests, because they believe that they are already loving the alien. Their religion (or ideology) tells them that they are acting out of love for humanity, that they are saving the people they are slaughtering and torturing. And so they doom themselves to keep on killing, and also never to know the joy of transformation and change. Bowie has no real solution to offer to this problem – all he can do is show us what we are.

'Loving the Alien' is generally considered to be the best track on the Tonight album, the only truly worthy addition to Bowie's catalogue. As such is was revisited in the 2000s, in a rendition that eliminated the more annoying aspects of eighties production.

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