Saturday, October 23, 2010

Juxtaposition Lyricism

Marc Spitz just put out the paperback to his David Bowie bio , and I desperately want a copy. It'll have to wait until next month. Because of that, I'm doing a lot of Bowie listening (even more than I normally do). What keeps striking me over and over again is the interesting juxtaposition of images in his lyrics. The sudden way words will collide with one another. It's one of the reasons I'm a big fan. So, for no reason other than that I want to, a collection of my favorite Bowie lyrics* in no particular order, today (and avoiding some of the more often-heard songs of his Glam period in favor of some that I prefer from his later-ish albums):

this bit from "Black Tie, White Noise" strikes me as one of the most powerful truisms in a song ever:

They'll show us how to break the rules
But never how to make the rules
Reduce us down to witless punks

and you can't talk about that same album without mentioning the anthem "Jump They Say" because of this point he makes:

They say hey that's really something
that you should get some time
I say he should watch his ass, my friend.
don't listen to the crowd
when they say 'Jump'
Got to believe somebody
Got to believe

a sentiment he echoes a bit once we get to "No Control":

Every single move's uncertain
Don't tell God your plans

and then a really interesting flash of an echo in "We Prick You"--that for us in the last few years of the 90s, it seemed like the push for social change got lost in a rampant sex culture:

Revolution comes in the strangest ways
I'd rather be inside you

of course, Bowie isn't going to be able to resist taking a poke at the ridiculousness of the heteronormativite mindset, never put better than this bit from "Boys Keep Swinging":

when you're a boy
other boys check you out

or here, in "Hallo Spaceboy" (which kills me every time I hear it):

And I want to be free
Don't you want to be free?
Do you like girls or boys
It's confusing these days

"Diamond Dogs" contains some of my favorite post-apocalyptic image-mash (it's hard to listen to this song without thinking of something like Delany's novel Dahlgren):

Crawling down the alley on your hands and knees
I'm sure you're not protected, for it's plain to see
The diamond dogs are poachers and they hide behind trees
Hunt you to the ground they will, mannequins with kill appeal

I am amazed at "We Are The Dead" for capturing so perfectly the feel of Orwell's 1984:

You're just an ally of the lecher pro creator for the virgin king
But I love you in your fuck me pumps and your nimble dress betrayals
Oh, dress yourself, my urchin one, for I hear them on the rails
Because of all we've seen, because of all we've said we are the dead

the chorus from "Ashes to Ashes" has always been one of my favorites:

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom's a junkie
Strung out in heaven's high
Hitting an all-time low

as has this bit of pre-chorus and chorus out from "I'm Afraid of Americans":

God is an American
God is an American

Yeah, I'm afraid of Americans
I'm afraid of the words
I'm afraid I can't help it
I'm afraid I can't
I'm afraid of Americans

lots of songs are about breakups, but the only lyric I've ever heard that precisely expresses what they always feel like to me is this one from "Bring Me The Disco King":

You promised me the ending would be clear
You'd let me know when the time was now
Don't let me know when you're opening the door
Stab me in the dark, let me disappear

I also love the idea of Bowie making his "Thin White Duke" persona a kind of anti-cupid in the song "Station to Station":

The return of the Thin White Duke
throwing darts
in lovers' eyes

Or casting his early 90's electronica incarnation as a kind of God of (terrible things)in "Telling Lies":

Me I'm fast like bad infection
Gasping for my resurrection
Swear to me in times of war and stress

which is, a sort of echo from the earlier "The Man Who Sold The World":

You're face to face
With the Man who Sold the World

which continues through "You've Been Around" in a way:

Where the flesh meets the spirit world
Where the traffic is thin
I slip from a vacant view
I should have thought of that
And the sound of tomorrow
Like a black-hearted vile thing

I love the images in this bit from "Dead Man Walking":

Two young men dancing under the lamplight
Shaking their sex and their bones
And the boys that we were
An alien nation in therapy
Sliding naked and new
Like a bad tempered child
On a rain slicked street

I also love this really simple but powerfully startling reworking of an old colloquialism from "The Motel":

There is no hell
Like an old hell

*= Of course, it goes without saying that these lyrics are all copyright protected by their individual songwriters (almost always Bowie himself) and that they are shown here without permission. If you are Bowie or one of the other copyright holders and object to my display of your material, please get in touch with me and I will gladly take the lyrics down.

No comments: