“Please don’t believe in me, please disagree with me”
David Bowie imagines a dark future, as usual. The technology we rely on and worship will someday turn on us and destroy the society it was meant to improve. He wrote this in 1970, when artificial intelligence was a sci-fi pipe dream and the internet was barely a glimmer in anyone’s eye. Little did anyone know that those things would very soon become driving forces in the fabric of everyday life, or that the possibility of a technology-driven societal downfall would be a very real worry. Basically, this song would not be out of place in a musical production about the upcoming Singularity, which is yet another thing that’s gone from being purely hypothetical to highly probable in a scarily short amount of time. Whatever shit happens, just know that David Bowie probably predicted it with his Martian space vision.
Please don’t DM me about this, supportive friends and family. I am not sad. (Also, learn the correct spelling of my name.) That having been said, this is totally my sad-girl jam. It’s a certain spirit-raiser and makes me feel fuzzy. Of all the people to get a headpat and a hug from in sad times, a young Cat Stevens would be pretty high up on the list, I think. Some people just have that natural soothing quality, like a human bowl of soup, which is both enviable and attractive. That’s who you want to have around when you’re weepy and inconsolable for whatever reason, like this person Lisa, who sounds clinically depressed and should probably see a doctor.
Every good songwriter eventually runs out of love songs and starts writing about killing people. Even David Bowie. It’s a long and star-studded playlist of songs about blowing people away with guns; or beating them to death with hammers; or cutting up their bodies and putting them in the freezer; or just vaguely threatening them with violence. It certainly wouldn’t be complete without a David Bowie entry. It’s also an increasingly problematic topic, but that’s hardly the writer’s fault. Obviously, this fantasy of bloodshed was written in a very different place and time from our own. Bowie was referring to news stories of violent and delusional veterans who commit crimes because in their minds the war never ended. It’s a song about PTSD and ties in with The Man Who Sold the World‘s theme of mental illness and psychological distress. No one knew that it would play very differently a few decades later. No one knew that shooting dozens of unarmed strangers for funsies would become our time’s quasi-acceptable violent bile-letting, akin to what lynching and burning down the neighbors’ village used to be. Not something to write lighthearted songs about.
“‘Rock and Roll’ is about me. If I hadn’t heard rock and roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet. Which would have been devastating – to think that everything, everywhere was like it was where I come from. That would have been profoundly discouraging. Movies didn’t do it for me. TV didn’t do it for me. It was the radio that did it.” – Lou Reed
Lou Reed has the final word. His life was saved by Rock & Roll, and he paid it forward with so many lives saved. Rock music is the message that life doesn’t have to be what it is. You don’t have to live, or be, or believe, the things you were born into; there are other ways of being. You can create another life, another self. Of course movies and TV don’t do that for you; those mediums are explicitly fiction. They are fantasy, they are escape. All they offer is the pretense of being someone else. Rock & Roll isn’t fiction. It’s real life. It’s a way of being. Rock musicians are the opposite of movie actors; they can only be themselves. Even if that self goes under a stage name and a drag revue’s worth of glitter, it’s still just that person telling their own story. And you can do that too. You might die doing it, but at least you life will be saved.
Let this be the only driving lesson you’ll ever need, and a lesson in living too. Take care in taking life lesson from Jim Morrison, who succeeded at living straight into an early grave. But, really, all you need in life is a firm hand on the wheel and a morning beer. You can just live one roadhouse to the next. Isn’t that the blues man’s classic life? We all want to be a bluesman, to be worthy of the blues. We want to live the kind of life that’s inspiring and conducive to art, and worthy of it. Even Morrison wanted that. He wanted to be more than a pretentious college kid with mystical aspirations; maybe all of the mayhem and self-abuse and falling out of windows was a quest for an authenticity and richness of experience that Army brat white boys don’t come born with. Or maybe it was just your garden-variety alcoholism coupled with megalomania. But it does make you think about what kind of experiences fuel great art. Do people who’ve had relatively easy lives need to go out of their way to break something within themselves in order to become great artists, or do people with shitty lives become great artists in order to heal themselves? Is it both? Or is the concept of being a ‘great artist’ just a social construct designed to sell products? Did Jim Morrison do all of the crazy stupid shit that he did because he was cracking open the well of greatness within himself, or was he sad and out of control and in need of help, and the greatness was just incidental? Or are we still talking about him only because he looks good on a t-shirt? Either way, it does seem to be a thing that the most creative people are the ones who drink beer for breakfast rather than the ones who rise at dawn to practice mindfulness.
“Wear you hair long, baby, can’t go wrong”
Riding a white swan is symbolically not the same as riding a white horse, just so you know. Swans represent grace, beauty and refinement. Marc Bolan had a vision of himself as a mythical character, a warlock warrior prince with a guitar. A swan was the perfect mode of transportation for such a fantastical personage, though he had a taste for nice cars as well. With that image, Bolan took his phantasmagorical collection of interests and rode to stardom. It was a harbinger of future fashions, the first glam rock hit from the first glam-rocker.
This is something that doesn’t get touched upon very often – a really dumb Bob Dylan song. At their best, Dylan’s cryptic verses fell just on the right side of silly. This is one time he clearly overshot the line, and he knew it. It’s like he started out in his usual vein of poetic seriousness, then said ‘fuck it’, scribbled down a random chorus and wandered off. However, it also happens to be one of his catchiest songs, so it’s enjoyed a life of its own. It’s best known as a novelty Manfred Mann hit, but it’s been covered by a variety of notables. Sing-along choruses have never been Dylan’s bag – he’s not a crafter of pop hits – so this may well be the singiest Dylan chorus ever. Which he still, gleefully, performs in concert. Perhaps he really wanted to contribute something to the culture that was just silly and fun. Wearing the voice-of-a-generation hat all the time gets wearying, you know.