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   >> Interpretation
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zigbot
(cracked actor)
07/21/04 02:22 PM
Revisiting Mr. Ed  

In a wonderful thread started by joe_c_ lion =>here, there was the beginning of a great discussion about one of my favorite Tin Machine songs, Goodbye Mr. Ed.

Anyone have any new thoughts on who Mr. Ed is, and what the song is about?

I have the sense that joe was on to something when he said the song was about painters and art.

I got to thinking whether it was about our misuse, abuse, neglect, or failure to recognize and reward art for what it adds to our lives.

The ghost of Manhattoes
Shrieking as they fall
From AT&T
Someone sees it all
Goodbye Mr. Ed

Andy's skull enshrined
In a shopping mall near Queens
Someone sees it all


"Manhattoes" was the name of a painting by Eric Fischl, and the Manhattoes were a native tribe that inhabited NYC. I also agree with joe_c_lion that the reference to "Andy's skull" is a reference to Andy Warhol and perhaps his painting of a skull, which joe provided a link to in the earlier discussion.

These first few lines of the song I see as art trying to break free of how we humans limit or abuse it. I picture the "Manhattoes" painting hanging in a board room of some sterile corporation housed in the AT&T tower, where no one recognizes the art as anything more than a wall decoration. I picture the art becoming animated, incarnate, and jumping to its death/escape just to get out of this sterile environment. It's shrieking as it falls--shrieks of pain and release.

Meanwhile, Andy's skull painting is "enshrined in a shopping mall in Queens." Again, an odd place for art. It is "enshrined" and probably displayed somewhere with some reverance and care, but it's in a damn shopping mall for God's sake! No one there probably appreciates it.

These works of art, simply by being placed in irreverant settings, are being ignored. But, Bowie warns "someone sees it all," letting us know that someone IS seeing through the corporate takeover of art and recognizing it for what it is.

Icarus takes his pratfall
Bruegel on his head
Goodbye Mr. Ed


This is my favorite set of lyrics from this song. Icarus takes his “pratfall.” Interesting phrasing, that. In Pieter Bruegel’s painting Landscape With The Fall of Icarus, which is used with such great effect in the movie The Man Who Fell To Earth, we see a pastoral scene of rural life-as-usual. There are people stirring about and tending the land, animals grazing, a quiet body of placid water. Nothing spectacular—until you notice, in the lower right corner, a small splash in that otherwise still water. Icarus has fallen. Only his legs remain visible, as he falls head first into the water. Yet his fall is undetected. A great and sorryful thing has occurred, yet no one seems to have noticed it at all.

In The Man Who Fell To Earth there is a scene where the camera focuses on an art book with the Bruegel painting on the right page, and the following notation on the left page:

"In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to do on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."

But in Bowie’s recounting of the story in Goodbye Mr. Ed, Icarus is taking a “pratfall.” He is not only drawing attention to himself, but doing so deliberately, flamboyantly, and perhaps with a sense of irony or artistic expression—performance art, if you will. By taking his dramatic pratfall, Icarus turns “Bruegel on his head,” giving the painter’s version of the undetected fall the big middle finger. “Fuck you, Mr. Bruegel,” Icarus personified seems to be screaming, “if I have to die, I will do so in grand, melodramatic, and show-stopping fashion.” Art will be heard. Art will be seen. Even though many a man’s real fall from grace may go undetected, turn it into art and the fall will be noticed, remembered, and applauded.

You will recall that in The Man Who Fell To Earth, Newton splashes down in a similar fashion, and assumes his fall to Earth was undetected. Yet "someone sees it all"--a strange, shadowy man did see Newton, and his having been seen eventually led to his betrayal. The somewhat ominous refrain of "someone sees it all" throughout Goodbye Mr. Ed reminds us that someone is watching, and that there will be accountability at the end of the day.

Four and twenty black kids
Some of them are blind
Someone sees it all
Tolerance of violence
By the fellows with no heads
Goodbye Mr. Ed


I haven't really analyzed this part yet. But I agree with joe_c_lion's observation that Bowie is paraphrasing of the following children's poem:

Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn't that a dainty dish,
To put before the king?
The king was in the counting-house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlor,
Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes;
When down came a blackbird,
And bit her on the nose.

This amazing blackbird pie is brought for the king, yet he doesn't even appreciate it. He is too busy counting his cash. The queen is stuffing her face with food, and the lowly servant is going about her chores. Everyone is either too pompous, pampered, or downtrodden to bother to notice beauty, art, or a scene as surreal as singing blackbirds emerging from a pie. Art and beauty go undetected yet again, but in the limmrick, one of the blackbirds takes revenge. It bid the maid's nose! "I will not be ignored," the blackbird personified seemed to say.

But in Bowie's retelling, the blackbirds are now black kids, and some of them are blind, although "someone sees it all." He also notes it is "tolerance of violence by the fellows with no heads." Not entirely sure what this means, other than perhaps a commentary on the white elite ignoring the plight of minorities and being blinded to their struggle and their reality. Instead, the rich would rather count their money, stuff their faces, and buy art they don't even like, notice or understand, just so that they can possess it. A sad, hoarder's mentality driving their fat, empty lives.

Some things are so big
They make no sense
History's so small
People are so dense
Someone sees it all
Goodbye Mr. Ed


I think this is a comment on how history only selectively records the human experience. Dispite all the "big" incomprehensible things we all encounter in our lives, we don't understand most of them, so we never record them properly. Consequently, recorded history remains "so small," for people are "so dense." Again, though, Bowie ominously warns us that the facade is not perfect. Some CAN see through it. "Someone sees it all."

Never mind the Pistols
They laid the Golem eggs
Others came to hatch them
Outside the pale
Someone sees it all
Goodbye Mr. Ed


As joe_c_lion noted, the word "Golem" means embryonic or primitive matter. So, here we are told to "never mind the pistols," which is clearly a reference to The Sex Pistols, because although they laid the eggs of a new musical style, "others came to hatch them." Other artists appropriated what the Pistols had started to germinate, and it seems Bowie is saying the later artist improperly got the praise that should have gone to the Pistols. I think this is another statement about the abuse of art, sometimes by artists themselves. They steal from one another, appropriate each other's ideas, take all the credit, and forget to thank their inspirations. But "someone sees it all," they will be accountable.

Which leads us to the final--and unanswered--question: Who the Hell is Mr. Ed? I can't imagine it's the horse from the old TV show, or maybe it could be. I (thankfully) was born in the 60s and did not have to endure the 50s, a decade I view as unbearably obcessed with creating an image of perfection and domestic bliss while under the surface all the bile that would erupt into the 60s was festering. I despise the fake perfection of 50s images and 50s values. So maybe Bowie is kissing all that b.s. goodbye, in the form of Mr. Ed.

Or, I was wondering if the "Mr. Ed" might be an artist whose first name is Edward. I got to thinking a bit about Edward Hopper, a NY-born American realist painter. Maybe Bowie is saying goodbye to realism at a time when the world--and the art world--is embracing a more chaotic, and more "realistic" view of itself as expressed in surrealist or impressionistic art. Was "realism" really real? Or was it all a fake veneer, kind of like the 50s images of wholesomeness. Isn't "reality" more like surrealist images than it is like the serene still-life depictions the realist painters once produced?

Goodbye to Edward Hopper. Goodbye to realism. Goodbye to the corporate takeover of art by those least equipped to understand and be moved by it. Goodbye Mr. Ed. Your end is near. The facade is breaking. "Someone sees it all," and your lies will be exposed and you will be betrayed.

Did any of this make sense? LOL

zigbot

I'm Bowie's "Publicist"


 
Entire thread
Subject  Posted byPosted on
*Revisiting Mr. Ed  zigbot07/21/04 02:22 PM
.*Re: Revisiting Mr. Ed  Shoes09/11/04 00:34 AM
.*Re: Revisiting Mr. Ed  ulfdub10/22/04 01:13 PM
.*Hamlet, dear, your problem is clear  power2charm09/16/04 05:08 PM
.*Re: Revisiting Mr. Ed  Reality07/23/04 09:15 PM
.*Blackbirds about Blackbeard? Nope!  Spunkrat10/26/04 09:34 PM
.*Re: Blackbirds about Blackbeard? Nope!  pablopicasso10/27/04 03:12 AM
.*Re: Blackbirds about Blackbeard? Nope!  ulfdub10/26/04 10:58 PM
.*Goodbye Mr Ed Koch  EuropeanCanon07/23/04 08:18 PM
.*Neo-dadaism is Neo-dadaism, of course, of course  power2charm07/23/04 01:45 PM
.*Re: Neo-dadaism is Neo-dadaism, of course, of cour  AdamAdministrator07/23/04 11:11 PM
.*Re: Neo-dadaism is Neo-dadaism, of course, of cour  zigbot07/24/04 06:25 PM
.*Ed hunter  EuropeanCanon07/25/04 12:26 PM
.*Re: Neo-dadaism is Neo-dadaism, of course, of course  zigbot07/23/04 05:44 PM
.*Re: Revisiting Mr. Ed  schizophrenic07/21/04 02:35 PM
.*Re: Revisiting Mr. Ed  tzina11/28/04 02:55 PM
.*Re: Revisiting Mr. Ed  zigbot07/21/04 04:56 PM
.*Re: Revisiting Mr. Ed  AdamAdministrator07/21/04 09:49 PM
.*Re: Revisiting Mr. Ed  zigbot07/22/04 02:38 PM
.*Re: Revisiting Mr. Ed  schizophrenic07/21/04 05:34 PM
.*Re: Revisiting Mr. Ed  zigbot07/21/04 06:00 PM
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