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   >> Interpretation
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LaughingGnoome
(electric tomato)
05/23/03 09:00 PM
Bombers - Wasting Old Man Time  

Bombers

"Old man sitting in the white sand"
"Only one man could be seen and he was old and so serene"

Who is this?

1. God ?
2. Old man Time ?

I was thinking the former, but i am now inclined to believe it is Time, "white sand" - sands of time. So the Old Man "sitting on the white sand" represents Time.

The idea of the song according to this interpretation, is that the powers in the world, possess these powerful weapons which they cannot use "A-bombs, H-bombs, even very small ones", because to use them spells armageddon. But so long as they have them, and with time passing, the greater the chance that they will someday be used, the probability of our eventual demise increases the longer these weapons are with us, and the longer it takes us to come to our senses. The song is also about the wasting of Time, which is finite for humanity as our ability to destroy ourselves increases.


Now the "Waste land" on one hand represents the fact that they arent using the Nuclear weapons against other nations, the weapons have no use (waste). The weapons are in constant storage. But the nations are described as dropping bombs onto the "waste land", and it is the presence of Time on the wasteland that spurrs them on, "Die said the general, cobblers said the man". But it also represents wasting Time, Mankind has limited Time, which is being wasted -> "wasteland". "Only one man could be seen and he was old and so serene" - > Time is the unpredictable variable, the ingredient that means storing and not using Nuclear Weapons is no guarantee against their terrible power, even if they are not used currently, because they may be used someday (as described in the song) Time is a collaborator in the destruction of the world, described in the final part of the song. But Time is also described as a gift from God, 'sort yourselves out please, While you have the Time'.


Bombers - The Song

(CHORUS)
All clear wail the sirens
Sunshine on the wasteland
Old man sitting in the white sand
Think we're in for a big surprise
Right between the eyes

The calming lyrics "all clear wailed the sirens sunshine on the wasteland" is basically the wisdom of the men who have the weapons, ie 'we have them in safe storage, they will not be used'. Bombing a wasteland is harmless, "All clear wailed the sirens", and symbolises the apparent safety of keeping Nuclear Weapons un-used (Bombing a Wasteland). But their wisdom is flawed, for they had not reckoned on the presence of Old Man Time. "Old man sitting in the white sand", "sand" represents the sands of time. "Think were in for a big surprise right between the eyes" - refers to a disaster waiting to happen, sometime in the future.


Seemed a good idea
To drop a bomb on the wasteland here
Only one man could be seen
And he was old and so serene
Captain sat in his deck chair
And the red light flashed Beware
Pilot felt quite big-time
As the bomb sailed through the air
Well, they danced and sang
When the bang went bang
When the lights popped out
And the smoke began to clear
It was positively queer

"Seemed a good idea to drop a bomb on the wasteland here" The action of dropping a bomb on the wasteland symbolises keeping possession of nuclear weapons but not using them. It "seemed" perfectly safe (as it would in a time of peace). "Only one man could be seen and he was old and so serene" ->absolutely brilliant idea of Bowie to chose an old man representing Time (Time has often been represented as an Old Man in literature -> Old Man Time), "he was old" - so they take advantage of him (This idea of wasting Time will be further explored later). "Pilot felt quite big-time as the bomb sailed through the air" -> a pun here (and a clue) with the use of the word "big-time".

(CHORUS)

"Die" said the General
"Cobblers" said the man
So the Pentagon sent a cable
And the Queen a telegram
A-bombs, H-bombs, even very small ones
Ripped apart that sand
'Til the stench was just revolting
And the sky a greenish tan
But the soldier said "Sir,
there's a crack in the world"
And the figures went "squash",
and the bits flew far and wide
How the universe sighed!

Now time has passed, and attitudes have changed, suddenly there is paranoia and hostility on the part of the bomb holders. "Die, said the general", but the conventional bombs do not do the job, "Cobblers said the man", now a serious global situation has developed "so the pentagon sent a cable and the queen a telegram". Also there is a suggestion here that the war is between the nuclear bearing nations and Time itself, and that they are intent upon wasting (double entendre) Time. And then Nuclear war -> "A-bombs, H-bombs, even very small ones Ripped apart that sand". And so mankind's Time on the earth comes to an end as the "sands" have been "ripped apart". Some people seem to believe mankind is invulnerable, believing in the concept of the 'importance' of mankind as a defying factor to the realities of the laws of the universe, this philosophy is scorned in "How the universe sighed".

(CHORUS twice)

When the smoke had blown away
There was nothing left to view
Except a man dear Lord who looked like you
Floating high up in the sky

Basically the earths time is up. The Old Man Time is no longer interested in the earth, but is fixed in opposition to the earth, "floating high up in the sky". "Except a man dear lord who looked like you" - This association of God with Time is interesting, God gave the fools Time, which they wasted. This idea of wasting time is also explored in the lyrics "seemed a good idea to drop a bomb on the wasteland here only one man could be seen and he was old and so serene".

This great song, is brilliantly written, Bowie (it has been said before) sure was at the top of his game when it came to writing lyrics in the Hunky Dory period.






strangeDivine
(cracked actor)
05/23/03 09:30 PM
Re: Bombers - Wasting Old Man Time new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

It seems that we have been functioning on a similar wave-length, Brian, because just yesterday I was thinking about Bombers, and what a great song it is.

All clear wail the sirens
Sunshine on the wasteland
Old man sitting in the white sand
Think we're in for a big surprise
Right between the eyes

I'm not sure about the concept, so I will go along with your idea that the old man represents time. But to me the wasteland, the sunshine, the sand suggests the American deserts in the southwest, where nuclear weapons were originally tested. The powers that be thought "what's the harm, it's just a wasteland." We have yet to be thoroughly convinced that the effects of those early tests are not sill lingering on with us today. I think that is the reason for mysterious cattle mutilations, like the surveys the Ukranian government conducts quite officially in areas traumatized by radiation. During this infancy of nuclear technology they were not fully aware of the implications of what they had. They were in for a big surprise a few years down the line.


"Die" said the General
"Cobblers" said the man
So the Pentagon sent a cable
And the Queen a telegram
A-bombs, H-bombs, even very small ones
Ripped apart that sand
'Til the stench was just revolting
And the sky a greenish tan
But the soldier said "Sir,
there's a crack in the world"
And the figures went "squash",
and the bits flew far and wide
How the universe sighed!

This could still be taking place during the testing period or perhaps nuclear war has broken out, or perhaps it is a reference to Hiroshima or Nagasaki. During the early days some scientists entertained the idea that setting off a nuclear explosion could ignite the atmosphere: there's a crack in the world

The reality of what happened in Japan was no small matter. When the city awoke in the dawn of a nuclear wasteland, humanity was awakening to a new dawn of a new age. It was a message from the Earth, "in case any of you still had doubts, we are no longer living in the old world. You, man, now have to power to completely annhilate yourselves. The security of the old limitations are now completely gone."

When the smoke had blown away
There was nothing left to view
Except a man dear Lord who looked like you
Floating high up in the sky

This either takes place during a possible future nuclear holocaust, or perhaps he's talking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The line There was nothing left to view Except a man dear Lord who looked like you, is particulary powerful and significant. The man floating up in the sky is the bomber, the airplane pilot. The city has been completely destroyed, the pilot, detached from the actual catastrophe is all that's left. The fact that he says he looks like the Lord is intended to be taken in an ironic and bitter manner. Because man believes that he was created in the image of God, he "looks like the Lord. But why would someone created after the image of an all-loving God behave in this way? Raining down self-destruction? Man is not living up to his lofty ideals.




And here's to you Mrs. Robinson. Jesus loves you more than you will know.

Emil
(stardust savant)
05/24/03 06:45 AM
sorry to spoil the magic new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

I have a considerably more mundane interpretation. The song is an attempt to jump on the anti-war bandwagon, and the old man is simply an innocent victim, exemplifying the mindless killing of civilians that the US army was responsible for.
The song was excluded from the album because it had too little intellectual depth - it's not Bowie's style to write overtly and obviously political lyrics (he only deviated from that principle in Tin Machine, with sad results).

But it's interesting to see that you can interpret the lyrics as something much deeper... not sure that I agree, though.



LaughingGnoome
(electric tomato)
05/24/03 05:32 PM
Time Bomb new [re: strangeDivine]  

Thanks For Replying Guys.

Another thought occured to me today, as i was listening to this great song, the way i have interpreted the song was to suggest that a disasterous situation was being built up.

Ie A Time Bomb waiting to explode.

I admire your interpretation StrangeDivine, though i felt myself quite strongly that none of the events depicted in the song are real or actual. Instead i believe the entire song is built upon metaphors, and symbols, Bowie's philosophies about these ages of modern warfare. But yes, the idea of bombing a wasteland invites us to make those comparisons (To Nuclear testing), and this is in my opinion deliberate. And could also symbolise the evolution of weaponry in general (testing being one of the methods used to advance the acceptance of new weapons), to the point where we can destroy the world.

But considering your interpretation concerning nuclear testing "The figures went squash" -would suggest an uncertainty on the part of the generals and scientists supervising the testing as to what the outcome would be. And indeed, the scientists greatly underestimated the amount of radiation that could be produced in a nuclear explosion (this is a fact). Ie the "figures went squash" because the instruments werent designed to register values (eg for radiation) so high, the scientists hadnt brought better instruments because they had underestimated the radiation levels which would be produced. Also, saying "there's a crack in the world" might suggest damage only, not armageddon, the earth has been wounded.

Your interpretation concernign Hiroshima and nagasaki is interesting, it could be suggested that the "old man" is the japanese emperor Hirohito, defying western orders for his nations surrender (although history told us Hiroshima was in favour of surrender unlike his generals, and in 1945 he was not old). But if it were true then the idea of comparing the bombing of those japanese cities to bombing a wasteland would work if the western nations were dehumanizing the enemy. Ie there are no human beings here, drop the bomb.

Your explanation of the last part is good to discuss also. The idea of the bomber above being the only living person for miles. And the idea of saying the bomber looked like God, was built in his image. "Except a man dear lord who looked like you, floating high up in the sky."

In reply to:

The song is an attempt to jump on the anti-war bandwagon, and the old man is simply an innocent victim, exemplifying the mindless killing of civilians that the US army was responsible for.


Yes but i think in there lies its brilliance, it only seems like a vulgar catchy little tune with some big important themes. I disagree that there is a US only connection, since the UK is implicated also (This fact supports a WW2 connection, first suggested by SD). Also you suggest it is an attempt to jump on an anti war bandwagon, but this is the opposite of what Bowie was expressing in his music in this period. He despised such people (Cygnet Committee), he mocked them (Watch That Man). Maybe you are right, in that perhaps we are over-stating the lyrics' implications. But again this is hunky Dory, the interpretation you are implying is very simplistic, i cant imagine it coming from the same man who wrote quicksand, myself. Thats just my current feelings on the subject.


We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison

The Waste Land

AdamModerator
(crash course raver)
05/24/03 10:10 PM
White Sands / Wasteland new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

I see a possible connection to nuclear testing.

Picking up from what strangedivine said, nuclear testing is often done in wastelands - areas that are basically arid or swampy regions that are unusable for other purposes.

The most famous test site is White Sands, New Mexico. This is where the very first nuclear bomb was exploded, just prior to Japan (they didn't know what to expect with the first nuclear tests, hence...."We're in for a big surprise"). The area is also very famous for it's White Sand (a natural phenomena)......and sunshine.

All clear wail the sirens

Sunshine on the wasteland

Old man sitting in the White Sand

Think we're in for a big surprise

Right between the eyes



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AdamModerator
(crash course raver)
05/24/03 10:35 PM
Attachment
Walking this lunascape, nobody's eyes anymore new [re: Adam]  

<----------- White Sands, New Mexico. Probably the most extraordinary place I've ever visited. This picture I took at Sunset in 2002.


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AdamModerator
(crash course raver)
05/24/03 10:37 PM
Attachment
Sunshine on the wasteland new [re: Adam]  

<------- Another pic.


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LaughingGnoome
(electric tomato)
05/24/03 11:04 PM
Re: Sunshine on the wasteland new [re: Adam]  

Very Very interesting.

I have done a search for old man + white sands new mexico and surprise surprise!

A fairly well known "classic" novel had been written in 1962 by Edward Abbey, about one grandfathers refusal to comply with the demands of big government and remove his home from that area (where the US govt wanted to do nuclear testing). The novel is called Fire On The Mountain.

Here are a few links about it.

Amazon

And Here

The mans name was John Prather and back in the fifties it was a fairly famous incident.

From Here

In reply to:

The San Andreas Mountains belong to the military. The whole range is off limits. And because the sign says "DO NOT ENTER" I am drawn like a moth to those forbidden places. How I would love to clamber up and down the hillsides, look for the abandoned homesteads of Joe Pete and Christopher Columbus Woods who killed the last bear in the mountains. Locate the haunts of Mellie Potter whose picture in a historical publication showed a girl of uncommon beauty. And the Prather place, where eighty-two year old John Prather literally stuck to his guns and refused to clear off his ranch, the only one to do so. Confronted by his willingness to die for his land, and embarrassed by public attention, all the king's horses and all the king's men tucked their tails between their legs and slunk back to the Pentagon. They took all but fifteen of John's four thousand acres for the missile site, but they left him alone and he died there.


Perhaps the "Old Man sitting on the white sand" is this John Prather guy.

The only thing i dont get, if this were true, is why the queen is involved?

We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison

The Waste Land

LaughingGnoome
(electric tomato)
05/24/03 11:21 PM
Re: Sunshine on the wasteland new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

Here is a better discussion of the subject.

His story would certainly explain "think were in for a big surprise, right between the eyes". Because the Pentagon had to back down due to public pressure, in the end.

Eventually he died, and his land was taken by the US govt, but he had still beaten them, perhaps the final lyrics are in praise to him...

"When the smoke had blown away
There was nothing left to view
Except a man dear Lord who looked like you
Floating high up in the sky"


We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison

The Waste Land

strangeDivine
(cracked actor)
05/24/03 11:45 PM
Re: Sunshine on the wasteland new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

Gorgeous pics Adam! When I get around to taking my required youthful "finding-myself" travels, I will definitely make some stops in the American SouthWest.

This is all great stuff! I've never heard this story before, it certainly adds another element to the song in my mind. And it is also very poignant at the moment because in some cities, local governments are using their right to sieze private property when necessary in exchange for compensation, usually in situations like the building of highways, simply for tax purposes to improve their local economies. Many people feel that this is an outrageous violation of civil rights and it is being contested in the courts.

In reply to:

The only thing i dont get, if this were true, is why the queen is involved?


Like other allies, I'm sure Great Britain was involved in the Manhattan project. I guess the line is just an allusion to that. He could just have easily used Churhill instead of the Queen, but don't want repitition on an album.

And here's to you Mrs. Robinson. Jesus loves you more than you will know.


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