Loving The Alien
Is a song primarily about about western attitudes towards muslims, and relationships both modern and ancient between muslims christians jews and God, with a strong tilt towards the middle east in particular. The lyric "Loving The Alien" is easily one of his best ever, relating all at once to a hatemongering-zealots relationship with his own conscience and god (the "alien"s), Western eagerness to indulge in debasing views of muslims (and vice versa), and a simple message to love and accept those different than you. Im sure it also caused a few raised eyebrows from Angie when she heard the name.
Written around the 1983-1984 period, this song was at least in part inspired by the Lebanese civil war. There were three combatants in that war, the muslims, comprising both ethnic lebanese muslims and palestinians, the Israelis (who sought to achieve advantage by playing Christian against Muslim), and the christian phalangists, who are partly descended from the ancient crusaders (and behaved with a similiar attitude). The war was tragic and thousands of innocents died in atrocities inspired by religious hatred, and religious hatred masking greed. However i stress that i feel these events were an inspiration alone, not the core of what the song is about.
"Watching them come and go
The templars and the saracens
They're traveling the holy land
"The templars and the saracens" - The two main combatants during the crusades. Christian and Muslim "holy warriors" respectively. "They're traveling the holy land" - middle east (obviously). "Opening telegrams" - Obviously the sender of the "telegrams" is cynically presumed to be God. Telegrams meaning Messages from God.
"Torture comes and torture goes
Knights who'd give you anything
They bear the cross of coeuf de leon
Salvation for the mirror blind"
Firstly, almost certain the lyrics are incorrect, and that it is "Coeur de Leon" (Meaning Lion Heart - as in Richard the Lionheart), instead of "coeuf de leon". "Torture comes and torture goes Knights who'd give you anything" - "give you anything" seems to suggest charity, but actually means "torture" & persecution. In the video, the torture takes the form of forcing a knight to look at his own soul. "Salvation For the mirror blind". "mirror blind" - refers to being unwilling to examine ones own actions in a moralistic or conscientious way, being a judge of the faults of others but not yourself, a hypocrite, in the video when the knight looks into a mirror, he sees an "Alien" (blue skinned - in prayer - luminescent teeth) or stranger which symbolises a religious fanatic, the figure is strange "Alien" to him because he seldom looks there (inside himself). The "Salvation" of the crusaders are their flags and banners (Christian allegiance), these (things) are the only expressions of their faith that exist, the badges of the religion they use.
"But if you pray all your sins are hooked upon the sky
Pray and the heathen lie will disappear
Prayers they hide the saddest view 1.
And your prayers they break the sky in two 2.
You pray til the break of dawn 3.
And you'll believe you're loving the alien 4."
The idea of attaining immediate forgiveness/redemption through prayer alone, is primarily a christian one, therefore i think these lines are directed to christians. "Sins are hooked upon the sky" - recalls the "mirror blind" lyric, the sins are out of the way, out of sight, so the individual doesnt have to learn from them and thus is doomed to repeat them. "Hooked upon the sky" suggests damaging or defaming God (or genuine religious faith), hooked suggesting both harm (as in a fish hook) and pleasure-seeking-addiction, "sky" is partly a metaphor for God, partly literal. "Pray and the heathen lie will disappear" - In the video Bowie sits on a mound of rocks and throw one through a window upon which is painted a black figure on horseback, the rock passes through and strikes a real sculpture of the same figure, behind the window. This could symbolise christians trying to destroy a different religious viewpoint (the window) but in actuality they are harming God (the sculpture) who presumably lies behind all religious devotion, another interpretation of this is that the black figure represents armageddon (horseman) which they are unwittingly helping to unleash, yet another interpretation is it is about the destruction of the image of another religion (muslim as "alien") (Painted window) which makes the islamic reality (sculpture) match the bad image they believe in (image on the now broken window). The "Heathen lie" - Bowie may also be calling the religious-intolerance-there-is-only-my-god attitude the "Heathen lie", of course this also (in polarity) could mean praying for the destruction of competing religions "Heathen lie". "Prayers they hide the saddest view" - the "saddest view" being a view that can accept only one religion, one window to God. "And your prayers they break the sky in two" - the religious activities of fanatics are violent (Lebanon civil war), recalls the earlier lyric -> "pray and...sins hooked up to the sky", now the "hooks" are tearing the sky in "two". "You pray til the break of dawn" - "dawn" meaning hope, peace, cannot arrive until these kinds of prayers end. Also "break of dawn" means the destruction of peace, which is what they are "pray"ing for. The Chorus varies the second time, it is now "your prayers will break the sky in two, a prediction of disaster.
"1.(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
2.(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
3.(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
4.(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)"
"believing the strangest things loving the alien" - in part the "Alien" here is God, God being described as a distant stranger "Alien" to the "mirror blind" religious fanatics, however "Loving the Alien" is mainly directed in general at the west, the west is "loving" the image of muslims as bizarre and strange "believing the strangest things, loving the alien" - , instead of loving the real people, they have fallen in love with the image of muslims as "Alien". The "wedding" in the video (between a christian and a muslim) sums it up, the muslim is a woman clad in a Burqa, symbolising an extreme outsiders prejudiced view of that religion. The man is in a suit. The woman has dollars fixed to her Burqa (symbolising another prejudgement - that arabs are rich), the woman is the "alien" view of muslims, in another view she wears a metal visor like a mask around her face. The couple walk through a war-devastated city-scape, (which i believe was inspired by Beirut). The man represents the west, his suit is finely tailored, his bearing aristocratic and cold, a model of respectability and aloofness (reflecting the wests view of its own superiority and a hypocritical attitude of displeasure at the marriage). I believe the "wedding" also symbolises the marriage of the corporate west to oil barons in the middle east, the dollars symbolise oil wealth (The reasons why he is marrying her), when she tries to take the dollars off herself it symbolises she is not pleased with these grotesque perceptions (could symbolise a need for understanding and sympathy for her people (that they are not that rich) or anti-west feelings or both). At the end of the video when bowie appears as a crusader with a cross on his shield (going into battle), the muslim woman touches his shoulder, indicating that she is supporting him in his crusade, this is because she is a merely a symbol of a certain bigoted western perspective on islam that makes it easier to dehumanise them, she was made in the west, and her existence is necessary to maintain distorted perceptions in the west which makes it easier to hate and harm them.
Thinking of a different time
Palestine a modern problem
Bounty and your wealth in land
Terror in a best laid plan
These lines are directed to the Arab populations. The lines refer to the "problem"'s of these people, both "modern" - Palestine and ancient - The Crusades. "A different time" refers to the middle ages, when the crusaders invaded these lands seeking wealth and land - "Bounty and your wealth in land". The stealing of Arab land and wealth during the crusades was "Terror in a best laid plan", Bowie is possibly comparing this act to the situation in Palestine (The Palestinian-Israeli conflict over land (which the palestinians are losing) which has been steadily ongoing since 1948, and palestinian "terror" being a part of a modern "best laid plan" - making it easier to hate and thence harm - them). In the video when he says "terror in a best laid plan" - he is on his knees and touches the muslims hand, and she is burned upon the hand, he then appears pleased by this, symbolically this is important, in their "dealings" the muslim ends up with the worse share of the blame.
"Watching them come and go
Tomorrows and the yesterdays
Christians and the unbelievers
Hanging by the cross and nail"
The prediction of the future-continuity of the cycle's of religious violence is summed up with "Tomorrows and the Yesterdays", this relates to "and your prayers will break the sky in two". "Christians and the unbelievers" confirms that the bulk of Bowies bitterness is levied against the christians, since the term "unbelievers" carries a whiff of disaproval from Bowie. "Hanging by the cross and nail" is a crucifiction image obviously. The cross in this context represents religious zeal, the nail represents violence, the fanatics are ensuring continued suffering through their actions. At the very end of the video, a normal muslim woman approaches an alien christian Bowie (in blue paint) and kisses him, indicating that muslims too, are loving the christian "Alien" (instead of the real christian), the christian Alien (representing christian victims of the outlook) doesnt like to be treated so strangely either (in the video he shakes and grimaces while travelling through a space scene). The moral of the tale is to see through vicious prejudices and accept each other as human beings, a song about ignorance.
In reply to:
but I don't understand the end (the shaking bed in the video) as I always thought it would symbolise Bowie's death, I mean the space scene and all...
In the bed Bowie's character (Symbolising Christians or The West) has blue skin, he is an Alien, this time the Muslim girl is of normal appearance (Indicating a real muslim), she kisses him, indicating that she loves him (As an Alien), she is Loving The Alien. The scene means that some Muslims too love to believe their strange prejudgements about Christians, just as Many Christians love to believe their prejudgements and myths about Muslims. The scene is the reverse of the wedding scene where the Christian Bowie marries the outlandishly attired muslim girl.
In reply to:
The song seems to be very anti-religious but as I always saw it, the "But if you pray..." part represents a ray of hope, a positive thing. Praying is good and can save you but religion - no.
It only seems to be anti-religious, in actual fact Bowie is attacking the fanatics for not really caring about God in the first place, he makes this clear in the song, when he sings "They bear the cross of Coeur de lion, salvation for the mirror blind". Ie they only care about "things" such as their banners and dogma, and neglect their souls. It is the false prophets Bowie is decrying in this song, not God or religion.
Where he seems to be criticising prayers in general, he is actually criticising the wishes of the religious extremists.
But in a sense you could be right about prayer being positive in the song. Because in the line...
"Pray and the Heathen lie will dissapear"
The "Heathen Lie" could represent the lie that the other religions are "Heathen", and that "if you pray" you may come to understand this, and be enlightened.