I was always a shy and quiet child with very little that fascinated or moved me. I never played with other children, and I only did this when I was forced by my parents to "go out and be like the other kids." At the age of six, I was already thinking about the meanings of life and who I was in relation to it. This all changed when for lack of anything else to do, my grandfather took me to see the movie Labyrinth which introduced me to a force that can be considered as my greatest influence, teacher, and best friend. This was none other than the star of the film, singer, actor, painter, and writer David Bowie. A few weeks later after non-stop thoughts of this magical being, I begged my mother to buy me the soundtrack to the film in which Bowie sings several songs. She brought home the soundtrack and a tape of David Bowie's greatest hits entitled ChangesOneBowie. From here on in, nothing for me would ever be the same. Not only did I want to be everything that he was and still is, I felt that everything Bowie wrote related to me and everything that I was going through as I grew up. Even though throughout the 12 years of listening and being in love with David Bowie I have read and seen about a million interviews and read an equal number of biographies, nothing has effecting or meant as much to me as Bowie's lyrics. His lyrics to me are still the most fascinating pieces of art. There is passion and ice in everything he has ever done. He speaks of himself, doomed characters, and everyday thoughts, yet remains to reveal truths and showcase emotions and feelings that lie within us all. This is the main reason why what he has written and continues to write is so important. For even if we can't all be thin, white, British, unable to age, and seemingly perfect like David Bowie, his lyrics are mere reflections of us all. Through his cut-up technique and the conversational tone in his lyrics, David Bowie has shown us all his preoccupations and human reflections of alienation, fated situations, and how there is a tiny bit of hope in life. These are all emotions and feelings that we've all felt at one time or another and will continue to feel or think about throughout our lives.
By strictly sticking to simply David Bowie's words and shying away from his life, it is a bit harder to understand where he was coming from in some of his lyrics. But, it makes it easier to analyze what he says that is pertinent to us all and not simply showcasing notches in a timeline of Bowie's life or portraits of the man at different stages of his development as a creative force.
I'll begin this analysis with the ongoing Bowie theme of alienation. I remember hearing his first hit Space Oddity that cold night when I was still six, and I remember hearing it countless times afterwards, but it was not until I was 12 that Bowie's main emotion in that song hit me. I was alone in my room and I lit one of my first cigarettes to the opening chords of Space Oddity. By the time the song was over, I lay on the ground curled in a ball crying helplessly for hours as I listened to the song on repeat. The tale of an astronaut who goes off into space simply because he could not relate to Earth anymore as emphasized in the lines, "Here I am sitting in my tin can far above the world. Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing that I can do," (Man of Words, Man of Music, 1969) was such a metaphor to me of the own alienation and disillusionment that I was feeling at the time. I felt like I was just like Major Tom, and that the only place for me to escape was into space away from life and its tribulations. I've felt this emotion many times later in countless other Bowie songs, but I felt the greatest alienation in the lyrics of the song Scream Like a Baby where Bowie says, "I hide under blankets. Or did I run away? I really can't remember the last time I saw the light of day." (Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, 1980) Sometimes it is harder to deal with problems and situations that we normally can face, and we all have had the urges to just find an escape, which is the essence of alienation. Sometimes life is just too much to take and the only things to do are to either hide or simply run away, and both of these songs in understandable and conversational language make these points clear and easy to empathize with.
Aside from alienation, David Bowie's lyrics have been dominated with feelings of helplessness amidst fated situations. This naturally flows from feelings of alienation, but have more to do with growing pessimism and continued pain. How many times have you felt that everything was always crashing down around you? How many times have you felt that everything that you hold dear and care for has disappeared and soon everything will end? If you have any human emotions and feelings, then the answer to both of the above questions can only be "countless." And once again David Bowie has taken this into account in a number of his song lyrics, but in varying styles. To begin with, in his song Five Years, Bowie writes about the end of the world in five year's time as evidenced in the lines, "Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing. News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in." (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, 1972) Another song dealing with a sense of helplessness and the inability to do anything about it is I Can't Read. Here Bowie finds himself fated by who he is as an icon and a star and can do nothing about it. "I can't read and I can't write down. I don't know a book from countdown. I don't care which shadow gets me. All I've got is someone's face." (Tin Machine, 1989) Not that many of us can relate to this particular feeling because we are burdened by the trials of fame, we are meant to empathize and place ourselves in Bowie's shoes to a degree and bring that emotion into our own lives. In a way all that we have in life is "someone's face." We are mostly known by a select number of people, and to the rest of the world we are just another face or maybe even if we are lucky enough, another name. So this lyric and be taken even to mean that many of us are fated at times by mediocrity and a homogenized and isolationistic world. In a side note, upon listening to the chorus of this song, when Bowie sings, "I can't read shit anymore," (Tin Machine, 1989) he sometimes sings, "I can't reach it anymore," which is a definite tag of helplessness and a fate playing against an individual. In these two particular songs, Bowie seems to relay his own fatalistic and helpless feelings in fated situations for the entire world through flowing narratives. Whereas in another song dealing with fate entitled, Candidate, Bowie employs a William S. Burroughsesque cut-up technique to show the confused and fractured nature of fate and time itself. In the last lines of the song he sings, "I guess we could cruise down one more time. With you by my side, it should be fine. We'll buy some drugs and watch a band, then jump in the river holding hands." (Diamond Dogs, 1974) By cutting and pasting his lyrics together for this song, David Bowie simply plays with the emotions of fear and confusion that one feels when they are trapped and have no way out of a given situation. This once again proves how Bowie's lyrics are true reflections of human feelings and emotions.
Thus far it seems that Bowie's only preoccupations and concerns as a writer are pessimistic and geared solely to people who are down and out and have no where to run or hide. But staying true to his role as a sort of human mirror, Bowie does bring light and some rays of hope into our painful and fated lives. For example in a song like Absolute Beginners where Bowie states, "If our love song could fly over mountains, could sail over heartaches just like the films then there's no reason to feel all the hard times, to lay down the hard lines. It's absolutely true." (Absolute Beginners, 1986) he basically says that even if life is hard and impossible at times, there is still hope and that love is a truly powerful thing. For all of us that have ever been in love, this sentiment is beyond any basic truth that humanity has ever tried to philosophize away. Even in a typically dark and sad song like Quicksand, Bowie brings a ray of light into the darkness. After he says, "Don't believe in yourself. Don't deceive with belief. Knowledge comes with death's release," he comes in with the thought that, "I'm not a prophet or a Stone Age man, just a mortal with the potential of a superman. I'm living on," (Hunky Dory, 1971) Here he is saying that even though he may not be a genius, he is not an idiot and that he isn't above anyone else, but like all humans, he has the potential for greatness. Following in the same vein as Quicksand, Bowie writes in his song Rock N' Roll Suicide, "Oh no love! You're not alone. You're watching yourself but you're too unfair. You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care. Oh no love! You're not alone. No matter what or who you've been. No matter when or where you've seen. All the knives seem to lacerate your brain. I've had my share; I'll help you with the pain. You're not alone Just turn on with me and you're not alone." (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, 1972) Although this quote is basically self-explanatory, it fits in perfectly thematically with what is one of Bowie's main preoccupations. Using his fractured cut-up technique and placing uplifting lines in both of these songs after previous statements regarding hopelessness and pointlessness of life until death, Bowie is just showing once again aspects of confusion and insecurity within us all augmented with hope and something to drive us from day to day.
Although David Bowie may not have everyone in the world as a fan base, what he has written and continues to write applies to all of humanity. His words are a reflection of feelings and emotions that are in us all. If I never became a fan or grew up to the words and music of David Bowie, I can honestly say that I wouldn't be here today. He has been such an inspiration and a guiding light to me, that to a degree I feel that I do him an injustice by strictly analyzing his written texts. But, by doing so it is obvious to outsiders, fans, and people who simply aren't familiar with David Bowie at all that what he has said and continues to say is important and eternal in its message and meaning.
Bowie, David. Absolute Beginners, Absolute Beginners. 1986
Bowie, David. Candidate, Diamond Dogs. 1974
Bowie, David. Five Years, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. 1972
Bowie, David. I Can't Read, Tin Machine. 1989
Bowie, David. Quicksand, Hunky Dory. 1971
Bowie, David. Rock N' Roll Suicide, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. 1972
Bowie, David. Space Oddity, Man of Words, Man of Music. 1969
Bowie, David. Scream Like A Baby, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. 1980