Teenage Wildlife

IMPORTANT: Use your registry nickname as your username when logging in to Conversation Piece!

   >> Interpretation
Thread views: 6314 Previous threadView all threads**Threaded Mode

Pages in this thread: 1 | 2 | (show all)
(electric tomato)
07/03/03 04:26 PM
A Glass Asylum  

Im not going to go into the novel 1984 too much in this interpretation, mainly because i havent read it . Someone else who has can perhaps contribute more to that aspect. Anyway Diamond Dogs is Bowie's creation and is not completely faithful to the novel anyway, Bowie changed a lot. For other Bowie songs with a similiar theme, look to Scream Like A Baby and Slow Burn.

Don't talk of dust and roses
Or should we powder our noses?

"Dust and Roses" represents history, how things went in the past. One of the things that goes on in totalitarian regimes is either a complete re-interpretation of the past to suit propaganda (Nazi's), or the complete wiping of the past (Pol Pot's Angka party for example). "Powder our noses" in this context means doing something silly, something trivial, in the face of enormous implosive oppression doing something ordinary (maintaining a facade of normaility) seems strange, and for the regime keeping the masses distracted or occupied elsewhere is always important, to that idea i add that it also suggests drug abuse.

Don't live for last year's capers

As stated before a wiping of the slate is normal in a totalitarian governing system. The past must be forgotten or imagined in a way that suits the regime, if people remember how things were they may become disatisfied with how things are, and the ultimate goal is that they hunger for nothing better than what the regime allows them.

Give me steel, give me steel, give me pulsars unreal

I am unhappy with the "Pulsars" part, its possible, Pulsars had been discovered a few years earlier, but it seems very odd, in any case it is obvious to me that it is in fact "Voices Unreal". "Give me steel" is a militiaristic cry, totalitarian regimes tend to be martial. "Give me Voices Unreal" is interesting, firstly it represents a desperate escapist viewpoint, to take drugs and experience an alternative reality to escape from the depressing reality. Secondly (and most of all) it represents the need for other points of view (besides that of the facist state), the hungry mind cries out for food, "Voices Unreal" suggests madness, the narrator wishes he was insane (because the world has gone insane), or insanity is the gift Big Brother gives to his children, which brings us to the next lyric...

He'll build a glass asylum
With just a hint of mayhem

A "Glass Asylum" is very interesting, in a Glass Asylum there is the illusion of liberty. You cannot see the walls (made of glass) and so you dont even know you are imprisoned, a prison of the mind, kept locked by the power of the control of the flow of information - ie propaganda. An Asylum is where the insane live, which suggests society has been sentenced to limited freedom, and society must be insane to tolerate such a prison. "With Just a hint of Mayhem" - "Just a hint" is important because information is censored, the illusion of stability is essential, but in reality the world is in chaos.

He'll build a better whirlpool
We'll be living from sin, then we can really begin

These lines could be related to 1984-specific ideas, but they can be interpreted plainly anyway. A whirlpool is a downcurrent of water moving in a circle, dragging things down into endless depths (Interestingly while Orwell was in the middle of writing 1984 he barely escaped from a watery grave and being sucked into a real whirlpool). Basically this means 'spin', the art of mixing and presenting and hiding information to suit the agenda of leaders or politicians, an art of deception. Everything is turned around so that people become so confused they can no longer discern truth from half truth from lies. "A better Whirpool" is improving upon this system, which keeps people ignorant and deluded. "We'll be living from sin" - the choice of the word "from" here is very cleverly ambiguous, "living from sin" as in living apart from "sin", and "living from sin" as in living off "sin". "Then we can really begin" - is the regimes empty promises of the improved standard of living that their rhetoric suggests would follow.

Please savior, saviour, show us
Hear me, I'm graphically yours

This whole song is a twisted song of exagerrated 'praise' to the totalitarian state, it represents firstly how some people react under such regimes, quite literally (and utterly insanely) they praise and toast every retraction of liberty, some people learn to not just like the "Whirlpool" but to worship it and defend it to the death, learning to love the thing that keeps you small, that keeps you in chains is insanity manifest, it is the ultimate perversion of logic (which is what the regime teaches). The song is also a twisted satire, the narrator doesnt "want" Big Brother (can see the walls of the "glass asylum"), in which case his chants of defferential worship is deliberate mockery of the weak type of citizen he sees as the regimes ideal citizen. "Hear me, I'm graphically yours" - "Graphically" is a visual flesh and blood term. The narrator is Physically a product or creation of Big Brother. What i thought when i heard this (again, im not altoghether knowledgeable of the ins and outs of the entire story) is that perhaps the narrator is one of the mutants mentioned in Future Legend.

The clapping after each intonation at the beginning of the song adds to the theme of bitter mockery of Big Brothers' society. The song reminds me of watching an eighties Chinese leader (or some more modern leaders) greeting some peasants in a village, and preparing to award the village for good service to the peoples republic. Pretty girls step forward with big smiles and flower garlands, cameras snapping everywhere, everything choreographed, everything staged.

Someone to claim us, someone to follow
Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo
Someone to fool us, someone like you

These lines are Big Brother's claim, that people perversely need it, that it has essential roles, this is always the argument of a dictator, Stalin liked to think of himself as a father figure for his nation. Again the mockery, the satire of the regimes perverted teaching, and of the fools who fall in love with it shines through here. "Someone to claim us" is Big Brother (Role of Leader - to 'claim' people), "Someone to follow" is the expected role of his people, to follow like sheep, the relationship is knowing master, blind slave. "Someone to shame us" - as in the people must obey strict rules and laws, Big Brother will show them the way, and lead them to amend their sinful ways, also the regimes followers being 'shamed' by their own weak blind and foolish devotion to the thing that is oppressing them - "Some brave Apollo" - is the image of itself which the party is cultivating, but of course (like virtually every lyric) it is dripping with sarcasm and satire, for in reality the regime is fearful of allowing people to choose their own destinies. "Someone to fool us" - again this ties into the idea of mocking the regimes willing followers...its ideal citizens.

We want you Big Brother, Big Brother
I know you think you're awful square
But you made everyone and you've been every where
Lord, I'd take an overdose if you knew what's going down

The last three lines are a plea to God, when all else fails, speak to God, people when oppressed, seek a greater power to throw off their oppressors (Christianity was founded under the oppression of the Romans - for example), in this instance the only greater power is God. And of course therein lies proof of the magnitude of the problem. "Awful square" means un-cool, not trendy, this means that nobody is praying to God anymore, so God feeling abandoned thinks he must be "awful square". The narrator believes - "You made everyone... been everywhere". "Lord id take an overdose if you knew whats going down" - Even God is presumed by the narrator to be in the dark about what is going on, thus adding emphasis to the enormity of the web of lies and propaganda under which the narrator lives.

In summary this song is a brilliant vision of a Dystopian future in the truest sense of the world, this world is perversely viewed through a lens as though it were actually a utopia (as the Party would want you to believe perhaps), the clapping, the pseudo-joyous shouting in 'praise' from the oppressed to the oppressor. The mythical-heroic imagery, "Apollo", "Saviour". The desperate rousing cry "We Want you Big Brother". A brilliant vision from Bowie.

(electric tomato)
07/04/03 01:35 PM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

Ah nothing! Just thought id reply cause this thread deserved one. .

(crash course raver)
07/04/03 06:29 PM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

Why didn't I see this post before??

Very good interpretation of Big Brother. I've always loved that song so much.


With every mistake we must surely be learning.

(electric tomato)
07/04/03 07:34 PM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: revidescent]  

Thank You Revidescent.

It is also one of my favourite all time Bowie songs. The vocals where he sings "Hear Me Saviour Saviour Show us" is one of the most stirring and amazing single vocals he has ever done IMO.


(crash course raver)
07/05/03 00:33 AM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

Not a prob. :)

En réponse à:

The vocals where he sings "Hear Me Saviour Saviour Show us" is one of the most stirring and amazing single vocals he has ever done IMO.

That is the part in the song Ilove the most!


With every mistake we must surely be learning.

(cracked actor)
07/05/03 02:35 PM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

Why can't anyone respond to your posts without sucking your dick?

We all know how much I hate 1984 so I won't get into that...but I take the "glass asylum" bit as something very fragile. The whole system of control is easily broken, in theory. On another level, a glass asylum would be very easy to escape from, so we are left to assume that people WANT to be there, or else they would simply shatter the lies and walk away. Of course, this is not the case...which is where the hint of mayhem comes in.

A rock-and-roll Jesus with a cowboy mouth.

(electric tomato)
07/05/03 03:42 PM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: StrangeDrugs]  

I appreciate contrary opinions, and people telling me im wrong (as long as they can support what they write) too StrangeDrugs, and people adding to whatever i write. Anyway Revidescent simply enjoyed reading this interpretation, without giving an opinion on wether it is right or wrong, and i am glad for some feedback, anyway. Revidescent is a pleasant and intelligent person, and im grateful for her comments always. If only because it makes me feel i havent wasted my time, if i know someone actually reads it.

Your interpretation of 'glass asylum' is very good for consideration. The Asylum is made by the lunatics themselves....dont know how i missed that, but now that you mention it, it fits very well.

(mortal with potential)
08/22/03 06:32 AM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

I like your interpretation here LG, but would offer two thoughts. First is that as I listen to the song the phrase sounds like 'Pulses unreal' not Pulsars or Voices. This to me pulses is consistent with the previous lines. The song seems to be describing a nation's crisis reaction. They believe they are entering a tough new era where people must shed their adherence to the past and to harden themselves for the future. People need a strong leader who will harden them (give me steel) and charge them with energy, determination and a hope for the future that is just slightly unreal.

Second, You might also consider that 'asylum' means more than just a place for crazy people. Asylum is also a concept that can apply to any place where people seek shelter or safety be it from the rain, an evil stepmother or from political persecution. My dictionary says: A place, such as a church, constituting an inviolable refuge.

That prospective would make the expression 'Glass Asylum' somewhat ironic as glass is both fragile and transparent which could make it an especially poor place to hide out.

(crash course raver)
08/23/03 03:49 PM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: dymondog]  

I like what you wrote about pulses, to me it sounded almost as much like pulses as voices (but definetely not pulsars) as well. One non-serious consideration i gave to the possibility of it being "gimme pulses unreal" was if pulses were vegetables (peas are a kind of pulse vegetable), this would fit in very much with todays world, where thanks to genetic engineering we already have 'pulses unreal'. :)

Anyway, i like your interpretation of 'pulses unreal' referring to accellerating the flow of our blood, ie working extremely hard, giving super human effort, to the state.

Yes Asylum is where people take refuge. And yes this is very possibly what he intended with the lyric (as a double meaning, both an insane Asylum and a place of 'refuge'), i agree, it would especially make sense if the Asylum was where he wanted people to take refuge from The Truth.

(electric tomato)
08/24/03 07:58 PM
I never thought "God" new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

As always very indepth and very well written, but I disagree with the "God" idea in conjunction with the lines:

I know you think you're aweful square
But you made everyone and you've been everywhere
Lord, I'd take an overdose if you knew what's going down

You wrote "The last three lines are a plea to God, when all else fails, speak to God, people when oppressed, seek a greater power "- though true to the nature of people, the lines left a different impression on me. You mentioned earleir in your interpretation something about false praise being given to Big Brother, these lines to me suggest another dosage of satrical praise being given. Take note that the song also changes feeling and tempo when these lines appear. And the "people" in the song have just gotten through "praising" the Big Brother figure:

Someone to claim us, someone to follow
Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo
Someone to fool us, someone like you

And then of course follows the "We want you Big Brother..." line. The lines are spoken genuily, but through the change in beat and voice quality Bowie shows the true irony in the lines. "I know you think you're totally uncool and all, but you know what you've done everything for us- heck you even made us- and I just wanted you to know that I really like you. I'd do something drastic like take an overdose if you knew just how much I liked you." This fits with the mood of 1984 as well. Big brother in the book is a rather god-like figure who though feared, also tried to keep a "humble" attitude and play on the psychi of the people.

Those are my thoughts for what they're worth.

BOWIE @NO.1 and NORTH AMERICAN STREET TEAM- ask me about them

(electric tomato)
08/29/03 04:43 AM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

I get nervous when people say they haven't read 1984.

Miss Anders... I didn't recognize you with your clothes on.

The Shadow
(wild eyed peoploid)
08/31/03 03:39 AM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: LaughingGnoome]  

In reply to:

Don't talk of dust and roses
Or should we powder our noses?

"Dust and Roses" represents history...

Perhaps, but I'd contend that Bowie's intention was a different historical image than the one you suggest. We all know how literary he is and so he would have been well-read enough to know of the belief that the nursery rhyme Ring A Ring O'Roses...

Ring a ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down

...was a refrence to the Great Plague of 1665 when Bubonic Plague swept Europe and devastated cities like London, killing millions.

The "Ring a ring o' roses" being the tell-tale sign of the beginning of infection - a red expanding circle around a flea bite - the fleas having earlier sucked on rats (maybe the size of cats?) that were the carriers of the plague.

"A pocket full of posies" was what the people of London would carry about with them - a bundle of flowers, herbs and/or spices - to alleviate the smell of the rotting corpses that littered the streets (...the last few corpses lay rotting...).

A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down being a reference to the (wrong) belief that the killer disease was spread by sneezing (should we powder our noses - what if it makes us sneeze?).

Today, if you do a Google search, you'll find many people who claim that this interpretation of the rhyme is wrong, an urban legend etc, but in 1973/4 when Bowie wrote the song, it was accepted as fact. 1973/4 was also bang in the middle of the Cold War when apocalyptic visions were common fears held among young people, particularly those of an artistic bent, like Bowie.

Nowhere in Diamond Dogs does it go into the source of the apocalypse that has befallen the city and led to the year of the Diamond Dogs so I don't think it's stretching the imagination too far to suggest that Bowie combined ideas from Orwell's 1984 with other literary works to come up with the scenario. Alastair MacLean's The Satan Bug (1965) was a popular paperback at the time and it deals with the threat of a devastating disease that could sweep the world and kill much of the population. There were a number of similarly-themed films in the late 60s/early 70s. People were aware of the development of, and potentially devastating effects of, biological agents for the purposes of warfare and to some, especially those with fertile sci-fi-inspired minds, like Bowie, the threat seemed imminent (any day now). Dr Who creator Terry Nation's BBC series, The Survivors (about a small group, having survived a modern-day plague, struggling to rebuild some kind of society) would have been in pre-production at the time. We all know what a sci-fi buff Bowie was at that time. I think this was the imagery he intended to convey here, and it gels so well with Future Legend...

And in the death
As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare
The shutters lifted in inches in Temperance Building
High on Poacher's Hill
And red mutant eyes gaze down on Hunger City
No more big wheels

Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats
And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes
Coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers
Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue
Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now legwarmers
Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald
Any day now

The Year of the Diamond Dogs

...that it's difficult to see it any other way.

Ok, I know that "dust and roses" and "powder our noses" (also a British euphemism for urination - something that packs of dogs would do anywhere when they ruled the ruins) doesn't quite match with "ring o' roses" and the "pocket full of posies" (that were placed under noses), but they are sufficiently close in rythmn, rhyme and imagery (dust=death, roses=plague, powder=masking agent for the stink of death, noses=the things that sneeze when affected by dust and powder, spreading disease) to make one think and the coincidence of the Future Legend imagery to the Great Plague story is, I'd contend, conclusive.

Of course, Bowie returned to this imagery (as is his wont) some years later with As The World Falls Down (we all fall down) to explore a similar theme though this time, with Reagan and his band of hawks in the White House, a nuclear rather than biological apocalypse.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
The Shadow knows

01/20/08 03:44 PM
Re: A Glass Asylum new [re: The Shadow]  

Thanks for the interpretations, people.

As a songwriter myself, I've found this song immensely inspiring. Its certainly one of my favourite Bowie songs.

Pages in this thread: 1 | 2 | (show all)
Previous threadView all threads**Threaded Mode
Jump to

Teenage Wildlife Davie Bowie | Email Us! Forums powered by WWWThreads v5.1.5perl

Teenage Wildlife Home Page Bowie's music Info on Bowie Other Media Have your say! Search the Site Help me!

Toolbar (Interact)

Etete Systems