In another thread (comparing Laughing Gnome and Little Wonder) someone brought up the issue of Outside -- specifically Ramona's comment about "small friends" being her own schizophrenic delusions...
Now, this didn't seem quite right to me. "I know who the small friends are" is the line, said in a mocking tone of voice, like she's holding a secret from whoever she's talking to (Adler I presume?)... Which struck a chord: I've had this idea for a while that Adler was the Minotaur, but I could never really make it fit and make sense to me. That last piece made it click -- let me explain.
Now, it originated with No Control -- given the way the vocals on the song go, the repetition of "deranged" (similar to I'm Deranged), I'd assumed it was a Minotaur track -- but no, in fact, it was "to be sung by Nathan Adler." Little things like "Don't tell God your plans," "forbidden words deafen me," "in memory, no control" all hint at a secret... This established a sort of equivalent between Adler and Minotaur, but one that doesn't really get cemented elsewhere -- not to mentioned I wasn't to into the idea of assigning a kitschy film noir twist-ending to the story.
But that was the problem: I was treating it like a film noir detective story, and that was the problem... Film noir (by this interpretation) is merely a motif, not the mode...
As I'm trying to put it together now, Outside seems to work as a schizophrenic self-accusation of equally imaginary characters. ie the Minotaur is not a delusion of Nathan Adler, or vice versa, but there is an equivalence of all characters as the delusions of one another... Some support to this:
First, back to Ramona's "I know who the small friends are..." Taking this as a reference to schizophrenia, she's in essence speaking to herself/everyone else, telling them she knows the secret to what's happening (in short, a delusion.) Then there's the line "All our friends / now seem so thin and frail" line from Strangers When We Meet -- and of course, the title -- seems to suggest a sort of alienation from the delusional social circle. Which makes sense as a moment of closure for the album.
The line "This is your shadow on my wall" from I Have Not Been to Oxford Town seems to suggest being punished for the sins of another... The whole song does, really, but this line seems to connect it to the self a little more: The idea of accusing another who is at once yourself (your own shadow). And of course, this leads into No Control, which seems to respond to the accusation, with traces of guilt (as mentioned above), not by the Minotaur but by Adler.
Another bit of evidence, this time from the liner story: Adler attempts to get clues to his case by rearranging his own writing. Now, this is a technique that goes back to the Dadaists and Surrealists -- on the surrealist end, they proposed that rearranging text would give new insight into the author more than the subject (although it has been used in other places to examine the subject, and in many cases both author and subject concurrently.) This definitely has a taste of schizophrenic self-investigation -- worthy of note.
Further, while we're outside of the songs themselves, let's take a quick look at something before we go back: You'll note that the characters assigned to given songs are indicated with the phrase "To be sung by," future tense. In a similar manner, the lyrics "She should say" introduce lyrics of Ramona's -- this connection brings the form of the liner notes into the album itself, and the fact that these are controlled characters becomes newly relevant.
Which I'll get into in more depth, but I want to mention that the whole album is rife with schizophrenic (I suppose I should be saying quasi-schizophrenic, as I don't think it's just trying to describe schizophrenia as a disorder or something, but just trying to explore that sort of state of mind) references -- from the constant dropping of names and references to strange figures which never occur again ("the angel-man," "Miranda," "Salaam," "the odourless man," "Mr. Walloff Domburg," and more, and of course the main characters), and then all of the characters who do speak seem to have the same quasi-schizophrenic mindset ("looking through windows for demons," "shame burns," pretty much all of No Control)... So I don't think it's much of a leap to use this as a common factor to connect all the characters (which naturally suggests that they are all delusions.)
But delusions of who? Again: That these are controlled characters becomes newly relevant. Yes, the finger points at Bowie. As much as he avoids calling his work self-expression (in the works I've read, at least), the connections there are certain. First is the structural thing, that these are quasi-schizophrenic delusions all under the watch of Bowie, but seemingly responding to him at points as well ("I know who the small friends are")...
I key the Bowieness primarily off of Hallo Spaceboy, however. Here, this seems to be a reference to his early identity as a sci-fi rock-star (from his Major Tom character to Ziggy Stardust persona)... The song seems to be about trying to escape this identity ("you're released but your custody calls / and I want to be free"): This seems to be the identity which dominates him most (in some sense), but the song and the album seem to be more concerned with his lack of identity, and the conflict they bring. ("This chaos is killing me.")
Maybe I should back up a bit (or should I say But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself): I don't like to psychoanalyze celebrities, but in interpreting Bowie I keep running into (over and over again) an apparent struggle with identity in much of Bowie's work. Ziggy Stardust, for instance, I take to be about the experience of going from person to rockstar seemingly overnight. He is also, obviously, in a state of constant reinvention -- so Outside seems to take on the issue from the standpoint of someone who is finally sick of that process, or who feels burdened by all the leftovers that come with it (all the people he's been, all the people he is). Which is similar to what I take Ziggy Stardust to be (although there he seems more shell-shocked than anything), with one really key exception: In Ziggy he gets involved with the specifics of the experience (rockstardom), whereas Outside seems more concerned with the meat of the issue, the experience itself -- hence the quasi-schizophrenic nature. It's not about being a celebrity or about being schizophrenic, it's about that sort of state of mind, that multiplicity of self.
But wait! There's more!
There's one more track that I haven't mentioned yet for good reason, because it takes all that and twists it, frames it uniquely. Yes, that is and has to be the title track, even the title itself: "Outside."
It's not about sitting tight in a corner and feeling overwhelmed by a lack of identity, no, it's about the strange introspection of being outside, of being watched, visible, public. The immediacy (happening now) the weight (they beat on the outside) and of course, the indulgence ("the fisting of life" really reminds of "lust for life")... And this is where I can't quite resolve it, honestly (how this sense of Outsideness really fits into the rest of the album -- maybe I need ot cut away or at least loosen up some of the strings I tied up above :) )
But anyway, any thoughts on all that?
(I can't stand my own mind.)