Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hamas moves?

The Prime Minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, announced in a press conference today that Hamas will be willing to accept a peace accord that will constitute a Palestinian state in the 67 borders (including Jerusalem) and a solution to the refugees, and will abide by it if it passes a referendum.

Not entirely new. They once made a similar promise to Jimmy Carter, and some of them said things to that effect in interviews. But it wasn't worth much, because most of the time they said the opposite. Today was the first time I saw a Hamas leader actually come out and say it to the cameras. This, in effect, makes it the new official line of Hamas.

No need to get too excited. Haniyeh didn't say that Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist, and didn't discard the Antisemitic Hamas Charter. Since he knows we are still a long way away from a peace accord, he knows this statement will not stand any tests. That basically gives Hamas the freedom to keep working for the annihilation of Israel.

Still, something very important has happened. If that is indeed the new official line of Hamas, it means the whole Palestinian consciousness shifts a little to the left. Implied in this statement is the possibility of recognition in Israel's right to exist. That means that Hamas supporters can now accept Israel. A small step, but very fundamental.

That's how you change reality, with small steps such as these. Since Hamas was elected, I awaited the day it would show signs of moderation. It took them five years to make the first step. Cheers.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who are the perverts that translate the Bible?

I recently became aware of a Bible verse that confounds American Evangelists, and causes them to lose sleep. The verse is Ezekiel 23, 20, and the story amuses me to no end. I'm completely secular, do not believe in God, and the only knowledge I have of the Bible is what I learned in school. And yet, it is very easy for me to see how silly their bafflement is. This is a good example of what ignorance can do to people.

Ezekiel 23 begins with Ezekiel telling us that he is speaking the words of God, and then he tells us the story of a man who wedded two sisters who were once prostitutes in Egypt, but then married him, and changed their names to Samaria and Jerusalem. Any person with a minimal knowledge in the history of the Jewish people realizes right away that the man symbolizes God, and the two sisters are the kingdoms of Israel and Judea. Then, continues the parable, the eldest sister prostituted herself to Assyrian lovers, and ended up being killed by them (in other words, Israel started to worship Assyrian gods, and ended up being destroyed by Assyria), while the young one survived, but became an even bigger whore than her sister. He blames her that she did not free herself from the corruption that was instilled in her back in Egypt, and now sleeps with everyone: Assyrians, Babylonians and whoever comes. In verse 20, he describes how the Egyptians corrupted her, and said that she lusted after Egyptian lovers, whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys, and whose sperm is like the sperm of horses. Ezekiel is basically equating worshiping other gods with bestiality, and tells us that to worship any other god than the God of Israel is akin to sleeping with horses and donkeys.

The traditional English translation, known as King James' Bible, is quite faithful to the Hebrew original:

"For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses."

But apparently Americans today are unable to read English, and need translation to Americanese. There are many new translations of the Bible, and with every new one, the verse went slightly further away from the source...

New International Version (©1984)
There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses

English Standard Version (©2001)
and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses

New Living Translation (©2007)
She lusted after lovers with genitals as large as a donkey's and emissions like those of a horse

Ooh! Kinky! Now we are talking about giant donkey dicks and massive ejaculations. Ezekiel wanted to disgust us, to make us feel like we are sleeping with a donkey, but in the new translations, it became a man with a penis as big as a donkey's, and the verse becomes alluring.

How did this subversion happen? I suppose it is because these translators grew into the modern world, and knew the expression "hung like a donkey". So when they saw the end of the sentence mentioning horse sperm, they translated "donkey flesh" into "donkey genitals" (there is no basis for that in Hebrew). And generations of Evangelists are now reared on this verse, and don't know how to explain it to their children...

Many of them, of course, also miss the symbolism of the chapter, fail to understand that it is a parable, and just read it straight. A Google search shows confused Christians asking why God uses such a language (since it is, remember, the word of God...), why he is so impressed by how Egyptian men are hung, and why he sees fit to bother us with a story about hookers. And nobody knows what to answer.

Worse, today there are Muslim clerics who use this verse to show Christians that their Bible isn't holy, and again, the Christians don't know what to answer them.

I'm telling you: by the time the Americans are done with it, they will turn the Bible into a great porn mag.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Multiculturalism has failed?

German Chancellor Merkel announced yesterday that the project of multiculturalism failed in her country. Others are saying it is dead. And not just in Germany, but all over Europe.

I am a firm believer in multiculturalism, and I don't accept that it is dead. But there's no point in a knee-jerk reaction against Merkel's announcement. One has to face up to the truth, and adjust accordingly.

The premise behind multiculturalism was that most people want to live in a free society, and given the chance, they would change their own culture and make it pluralistic. This did not happen. Some immigrant cultures only exploited their freedom to maintain a sense of isolation, supremacy and hate towards other cultures, and teach it to their children. I still believe that given more time, they would eventually change, but we are running out of time. The extreme right is exploiting the matter to gain popularity and spread hate against all immigrants, and anti-Western forces are using the immigrants as a breeding ground for their views. The more enlightened people need to adjust their views and come up with a better plan.

Freedom requires responsibility, and a free society can exist only if all its participants take it upon themselves to respect the freedom of others. So for multiculturalism to work, we first need to ensure that every culture actually wants to live in a multicultural society. If there are certain cultures who are not so inclined, then they should change. And if they are unable to change on their own, then they should be forced.

There is no need to force the Western culture upon them. Every culture has the potential to change and become pluralistic, while maintaining its uniqueness and core tenets. And every culture has enough enlightened people who can realize that potential, and change their culture from within. The new plan should be to neutralize the negative elements in the group, and strengthen the positive forces in it, those who can bring about the change.

Europe still has plenty of time. I'm sure they will eventually find a formula that works.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Roger Waters throwing bombs

The Anti-Defamation League has accused Roger Waters for using Antisemitic imagery in his recent performances of The Wall. Here's the offending number:

As we can see, the bombers are throwing the symbols of the three major monotheistic religions, as well as symbols of giant financial conglomerates. So the immediate message that arises is not Antisemitism, but lament that we are killing each other in the name of religion and for the sake of profit. It is a legitimate artistic statement, whether you agree with it or not. So the accusations against Waters are not justified.

However, I'm not completely exonerating Waters. The clip begins with a bomber throwing Stars of David, followed immediately by a bomber throwing dollar signs. This creates an Antisemitic combination of Jews and money, which Waters should have been wary of.

And anyway, I'm tired of Waters' simplistic, outdated politics. You'd expect him to get wiser with age, to appreciate the complexity of the issues he sings about, but he only gets dumber. There's only one thing I find more tiring, and that's the constant whining of the Anti-Defamation League.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Five Years
Soul Love
Moonage Daydream
It ain't Easy
Lady Stardust
Hang Onto Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock'n'roll Suicide

The years 1970-71 were the time when the last traces of revolutionary tendencies disappeared from rock music. In the late sixties, the Hippies believed that they are going to change the world, and the music that they created reflected and fueled that notion. But when time went by and the new order failed to materialize, most rockers looked for other inspirations, and the music changed. Rockers now focused less on politics and more on the music, and regarded rock as a "serious" art form, removed from the "meaningless" pop world. And since "seriousness" in music was defined by the terms created in the world of classical music, rock started to adopt its maxims, and create long, slowly-developing pieces of elaborate musical composition. Instead of three minute singles, rock now focused on creating concept albums - that is, albums that are a cohesive piece, not just a collection of disconnected tracks. Some albums even had a plot, a story that unfolded from beginning to end, like an opera. They saw it as progress, but what this development actually did was to weaken rock music, not only as a social force, but as an art form as well. It made it lose the thing that made it unique amongst the arts, and that is its presence in the real world. Rock'n'roll was born in the era of mass electronic media, so a single that was carried on the airwaves was heard instantaneously by people all over the world, creating a shockwave that would reverberate through society and induce changes and new ideas. Thus, the world became a stage, on which the rock stars could perform, and present new identities and attitudes. A concept album, on the other hand, was something that you had to go out and buy, so its message would reach only those who were already in the know. Thus, the rock artists were relegated to the role of faceless musicians, and lost the theatrical side of their art.

Into this world, David Bowie dropped The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars, a concept album that had a narrative, and yet, did not suffer from the ailments of other concept albums. Because here, every song stands alone as a single art piece, and is not subordinate to the overall narrative, but rather tells a story of its own. The narrative of the album arises from stringing these stories together, and remains very loose and flexible. And, more importantly, the songs had presence in the real world, in such a way that the story of the album amazingly played itself out in reality as well. Bowie was the first rocker to be self-consciously theatrical, to present a character who turns the world into his stage, and at the same time reflect on the nature of the relationship between this character and the world. This is what makes this album so unique in the history of art, and when we analyze the album, we must also see how its theatre unfolded.

I surmise, then, that Ziggy Stardust was the first serious attempt of rock'n'roll to reflect on itself, to figure out what it is, and what is its place in the world. When rock'n'roll sprang into the world in the fifties, it created a generational gap, and became the language of a youth culture that saw itself as more lively than the previous generations. In the first years of youth culture, there was no need for self-reflection: rock'n'roll just kept moving by its own inertia, providing a steady stream of great records and novel experiences, and constantly breaking new grounds. But when the Hippies took over, the rebellion became more serious, taking revolutionary tones and aiming to actually overthrow the order created by the previous generations. Rock'n'roll changed into the more stern music that was called rock, and the Hippies looked back at the three minute outbursts of early rock'n'roll as merely the budding of a new rebellious spirit, which now had to become more "serious". But the Hippie revolution failed, and only served to take all the fun and liveliness out of the music and culture of the youth. In his 1969 album Space Oddity, Bowie provided harsh criticism of the youth culture of the time, through allegorical stories about characters that have lost their way. This criticism continued in his next album, The Man Who Sold the World, but here he also delved deep into philosophical realms, and found a personal answer in the Nietzschean concept of the Superman. And in his next album, Hunky Dory, he turned his philosophical eye back on youth culture, looking at it through his Nietzschean prism, and aiming to point its rebellious spirit in another direction. The inquiries of Hunky Dory provided the blueprint of what needed to be done to save rock music, and put youth culture back on track. Now, with his next album, Bowie doesn't just point, but takes it upon himself to be the agent of change, to put his conclusions to the test. Ziggy Stardust, while seemingly playing the rock game of creating concept albums, undermines this game by going back to the source, back to three minute rock'n'roll, to unearth and scrutinize its most primal instincts, and rekindle its spirit.

So, in what way does the album subvert Hippie dogmas? First of all, it is an urban album. The Hippies preached a return to nature, to a rural Garden of Eden that supposedly existed before it was twisted by Western civilization. Bowie accepts their claim that the urban world causes alienation, but rejects their solution, and looks for the answer within the urban world, a world dominated by technology, mass media, shifting identities and cultural multiplicity. He does not look for a lost past, but for a new future, creating a science-fiction fantasy. Marc Bolan already showed the way, when he took his surrealistic imagery out of the Hippie fairytale land and into the big city, and Bowie follows his lead (and acknowledges his influence in 'Lady Stardust'). Another obvious inspiration is the urban poetry of the Velvet Underground, which he already paid tribute to in Hunky Dory, and is felt as a presence in this album as well ('Lady Stardust' evokes 'Femme Fatale', 'Suffragette City' nicks from 'White Light / White Heat', and the Spiders performed some VU numbers live). Stanley Kubrick's urban-futuristic nightmare A Clockwork Orange is another reference point, manifesting itself in the early look of the Spiders, in the electronic version of the 'Ode to Joy' used as the opener for the concerts, and in the word "droogie" dropped into the album. The back cover of the album invokes the sci-fi of Dr. Who, while the brilliant front cover puts Ziggy in urban settings, setting its nightmarish atmosphere, the backdrop to his tale.

The main theme in Hunky Dory is spiritual desolation, a feeling that all paths have been tried already, and there's nothing more that can excite and unite us. Ziggy Stardust picks up where its predecessor left, with two songs that intensify the feeling. 'Five Years' tells us that there is no future, nothing to look forward too, and 'Soul Love' expresses inability to find someone or something to love. The Priest appears in the first song as someone who people turn to for answers in such times, but in the second we find that his answer doesn't work. A little later in the album we find Bowie's cover of 'It ain't Easy', which expresses the desire to get to Heaven, but tells us that it ain't easy to get there in our current situation.

What is the way out, then? Hunky Dory suggested another possibility: if we can't get to Heaven by ourselves, then someone can reach down from Heaven and lift us up there. But Heaven doesn't necessarily have to be the afterworld – it can simply be another world, like Mars. And so, 'Moonage Daydream' presents Ziggy, an invader from outer space, who comes to endow us with a spiritual alternative.

Does this mean that Ziggy has come to take us to another world? No. The conclusion from Hunky Dory is that Heaven is not a place but a state of mind, a state of mind that is created when we go through a process of transformation, brought about by fusing ourselves with something alien. That is the secret of rock'n'roll, the thing that was lost when it became rock. Rock'n'roll sensations were always the outcome of someone fusing elements of their own culture with elements from an alien culture. In the American mind of the fifties, the perception was that "culture" means taking man further and further away from the jungle, so when white boys like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis sang and moved like blacks (considered as people who represent the jungle), it was something that was completely contrary and alien to the logic of the time. But many white kids felt that there were also positive qualities in black music, so identifying with those performers enabled them to internalize these qualities and make them part of their own identity, recreating themselves as something new and exciting. The same thing happened when the Beatles fused English working-class attitude with American rock'n'roll, when the Stones brought together Mersey beat with African-American R&B and existentialist attitude, when Dylan merged folk with beatnik poetry and rock'n'roll, and so forth. They all managed to put together things that previously did not mix, and created a new experience, a new identity. In 'Starman' and 'Lady Stardust', Bowie describes that spiritual moment of encountering an alien, and feeling more affinity towards it than towards anything you've ever experienced. He depicts the initial fear to admit that affinity, and the joy of allowing yourself to be conquered and transformed. If he wanted to transfer the story of the album to real life and revive the thrill of rock'n'roll, Bowie had to find a way to create a similar fusion. He spent the first half on 1972 perfecting the new identity, and when he performed 'Starman' on Top of the Pops in July, the story of the song materialized, and scores of kids who watched the show were forever transformed.

So what were the ingredients in this new identity, this new fusion, which created the desired alien effect? First there is the language of the album, a combination of the hippest American jive talk with old cockneyisms, and references taken from poetry and classic rock'n'roll records. Then there was the futuristic feel, achieved by the glittered-up Clockwork Orange look, and the sound coming from Ronson's guitar pyrotechnics and Ken Scott's gleaming production. But the two main ingredients were Ziggy's sexuality, and his stardom.

Ziggy's sexuality destroyed all the neat categories created in the Victorian age. He was neither male nor female, neither hetero nor homo. His sexuality was amorphous, and appealed to those many kids who felt that they did not fit into the existing categories, giving them someone to identify with. On the album, it builds up slowly: in 'Five Years' we already meet "the queer", who seems to be the one with most sensitivity and perception, the one throwing up at the ugly sight of the world, while other people are still drinking milkshakes obliviously. The queer stands out of society, so he can see things more clearly. In 'Moonage Daydream' Ziggy introduces himself as a "mama-papa" and a "bitch", hinting at his epicene sexuality. In 'It ain't Easy', it ain't easy to tell if the woman calling from inside is an actual woman, or a woman that is inside him (in the original record, it is clearly another woman). And it peaks in 'Lady Stardust', where Ziggy appears in all his multi-sexual glory. Ziggy turns out to be the queer who sees the world for what it is, and sings songs of darkness and dismay. On the way, Bowie gives shout-outs to gay icons Judy Garland (in 'Starman') and Lord Alfred Douglas (in 'Lady Stardust'), and even throws in some Vaseline for good measure. To bring this sexuality to life, Bowie hired his friend Freddie Burretti, a brilliant gay designer, to fashion clothes that would create the desired effect; performed obscene sexual acts on stage with his guitarist Ronno; and gave interviews in which he admitted to being bisexual. And just like 'Lady Stardust' follows 'Starman' on the album, so was the shock of seeing the alien on Top of the Pops followed by the shock of learning of his outrageous sexuality, at least for most of the public. Bowie intensified the attack with the 'John, I'm only Dancing' single, with its ambiguous lyrics and campy video, and opened a new era. The impact on our society is felt to this very day.

Next on the album comes 'Star', and guess what? Bowie/Ziggy did become a star shortly after the TotP performance. What was alien about stardom? It was alien because Hippie culture stayed away from the showbiz game of stardom, regarding it as "fake". What was behind this perception was the old notion that truth is something that is eternal, something that is beyond Man, and anyone who makes himself the center of the world (like stars do) is holding on to something that is fleeting, and therefore fake. But for Bowie, the truth is something temporary, something that should be sought in the here and now, and then turned into the center of your identity. And stardom is a way to turn this truthful identity into the center of the world, and allow others to feel this truth as well. Therefore, he went against Hippie dogma, and gave birth to a star. Learning all the tricks of past movie and rock'n'roll stars, and drawing from Warhol and his crowd, Bowie transformed himself into the shiniest star of them all. Ziggy wasn't just a star, but a starman, someone who has stardom as an innate quality of his nature, someone actually made out of stardust. And, like the plan he drew in 'Starman', he used the electronic media to project his image, and turn the world into his stage.

And so, Ziggy manages to do what the priest in 'Soul Love' failed to, and bring love into our lives. Instead of the divine love of Christianity, Ziggy introduces the church of man love. When a group of kids are transformed through adopting the alien image, they become as one against the rest of the world, and experience a feeling of togetherness and love. The birth of this brotherhood is presented in 'Starman', where the kids hide their newfound experience from their parents, but contact each other to share it. It peaks in 'Lady Stardust', where the band is altogether and everything is alright, and carries on into 'Hang Onto Yourself'. And let's not forget the anthemic 'All the Young Dudes', the battle cry of a new generation.

But 'Hang Onto Yourself' tells us something more: if you want to maintain this perfect state, where you feel at one with yourself and with others, you must constantly hang on to the essence of your identity, and not lose it in the exciting rollercoaster that your life has become. And since the essence of this identity is being an alien, Ziggy had to keep reinventing himself as an alien to hang on to himself. So the next move was to come on like some cat from Japan, with kabuki makeup, Kansai Yamamoto's clothes, and a red mane copied from a female Japanese model. Thus, Ziggy managed to remain an alien, and keep the community together a while longer.

But eventually, it has to end. After a while, the thing that was alien becomes normal and loses its effect, and the sense of camaraderie it brought with it also dissipates. The two main ingredients in Ziggy's identity – his sexuality and his stardom – eventually bring his downfall. In 'Ziggy Stardust', we see that Ziggy's stardom, the very thing that initially brought everyone to converge around him and unify in love, now becomes the thing that puts him above all the rest, and destroys the community. And 'Suffragette City' shows the sex taking over the love, and Ziggy sinking into a world of carnal pleasures, giving up his friendships on the way.

And so, the exploration into the nature of rock'n'roll ends with 'Rock'n'roll Suicide'. And suicide is indeed inherent in the nature of rock'n'roll: that unique fusion that puts you out of any preexisting category can work its magic only once, and for a short period of time, but when the world gets used to it, it becomes just another category, and then it loses the magic forever. Eventually, the unique fusion that Ziggy personified stopped being exciting, and he could no longer reach the same heights as before – he killed his own uniqueness by springing it on the world, committed spiritual suicide. He is left to wander the streets alone, wondering what he's going to do with the rest of his life, now that his personal truth has lost its power to thrill. This is what happened to rock'n'roll in the late fifties, when the first wave died, and again in the late sixties, when Hippie euphoria died. But 'Rock'n'roll Suicide' provides the answer: that certain fusion may die, but rock'n'roll doesn't die, because it is always possible to create another fusion. In the early sixties it was the Beatles who saved rock'n'roll and brought back the thrill, in the early seventies it was Ziggy who did it, and now, someone else comes and reaches down to Ziggy, to pull him up once more, and take him to a world of joy and love. And that's how the album ends: Ziggy may not be rock'n'roll anymore, but rock'n'roll will keep on living.

But here is also where the course of reality diverged from the course of the album. Because Bowie was not about to wait for someone else to come and save him, and take him out of the Ziggy identity and into another identity - he was going to do it on his own. When he saw that the processes of downfall he described in the latter part of the album were beginning to unravel in real life, he proceeded to perform a preemptive suicide, and free himself from Ziggy. At the end of his mid-73 tour, just before the final encore, Ziggy told a stunned audience that this was his last show, and then, in perfect theatrical timing, launched into 'Rock'n'roll Suicide' for the very last time. Ziggy Stardust was dead.

The audience might have been less shocked if they paid more attention to the development of Bowie's thought. Since 1967, when he became part of Lindsay Kemp's troupe, Bowie's aesthetic approach was that the artist should be a Pierrot clown, who presents a mirror-image to human race and exposes its faults. But in 'After All', one of the songs that presented his newfound Nietzschean direction, he made a slight shift in his perception of the clown, as he observed that "man is an obstacle, sad as a clown". So the clown isn't just a mirror to the faulty side of Man, but to Man itself. Man, Nietzsche said, is an obstacle that needs to be overcome, and replaced with the Superman, someone who has learned to draw joy from every aspect of human existence. So Bowie's characters would now be a clown that represents Man and his failings, enabling Bowie, the aspiring Superman, to transcend these failings and learn how to draw joy from everything. Ziggy, the clown, was a mirror-image of the rock'n'roll stars of the past, who were mere men, and were therefore bound to fall. But through him, Bowie could foray into the field of rock'n'roll stardom and experience all the joys of it, while evading the bad sides.

Actually, the Ziggy saga already had some precursors in Bowie's art, songs that told essentially the same story, and prepared the ground for Ziggy. Take 'Width of a Circle', for instance. It starts from a feeling of meaninglessness, but then, through homoerotic intercourse with a being from another world, the hero transcends to heaven. But after a while, that same intercourse drags him down to hell, and although his mind screams at him to let go, he is too much into it, and lets himself be taken all the way down. Through his intercourse with the Ziggy character, Bowie made it to rock'n'roll heaven, to the highest spiritual plane, and unlike the hero of 'Width of a Circle', he did break away in time, and saved himself from going down.

And even before that, there was 'Space Oddity'. Major Tom uses a man-made spaceship to transcend his world and float in blissful beauty, but then he relinquishes control to his spaceship, and it takes him to oblivion. In the same way, Bowie created Ziggy to transcend his world and experience the joys of stardom, but unlike Major Tom, he never lost control. He passed through the madness of the Ziggy period, and when he emerged out of it he was still at the helm, ready to stir his spaceship to explore new galaxies. Ziggy Stardust was dead; David Bowie was just getting started.

iamamiwhoami does something new

One of the most intriguing musical projects of the year was the mysterious appearance on youtube of a female singer who identified as iamamiwhoami. Her first video was uploaded on January 31:

What followed were some more short clips, each about a minute long, with cryptic names. Many people were hooked and subscribed to the channel, forming a community that tried to solve the mystery and figure out the identity of the singer. After a while, she started to upload videos oc complete songs, which were all quite enchanting, combining surrealism and ecology. But her face was always distorted somehow, to prevent recognition.

Every video exposed a little more, and eventually, as the community practically guessed already, she was revealed as Swedish singer Jonna Lee. Several weeks ago she released the final video of the project:

This project will be remembered as the first time that someone employed the fact that youtube has become the new center of pop culture, and found a way to use it for artistic expression. I enjoyed being part of it when it happened, and when it ended, I wondered what she was going to do now. Was that the end of iamamiwhoami, now that we know who she is? Apparently not, because today she uploaded a new vid, in which she asks her subscriber community to pick a volunteer. It seems there's something new brewing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rock'n'roll Suicide

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is an album about rock'n'roll. Its tracks deal with different aspects of the rock'n'roll world, and try to figure out what it is that made it such a sensation. The picture that arises is this: rock'n'roll is an ecstatic experience, as powerful as any religious experience. It is generated in the psyche of kids who feel alienated from the society they grew up in, and carry a certain shared sensibility inside them, a repressed "inner self" that they cannot express in the terms provided by their parents' culture. But then they encounter someone from an alien culture, who provides them with the music that speaks for that "inner self", and by identifying with that alien, they are set free. The result is a sensation of eruption, as if your bottled-up spirit breaks loose. That joyous eruptive sensation is what rock'n'roll is all about. Following that eruption, you also find other kids who are like yourself, and come together to share a bond of love and unity. But the rock'n'roll experience is a temporary one, and the sensation inevitably fades away. After a while, the music doesn't cause the same joy, and the unity in the group unravels. Eventually, you are brought down from the heights of rock'n'roll happiness, and back to the old and boring everyday existence. 'Rock'n'roll Suicide', the closing track of the album, is the record that asks: what then?

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette

The opening is a reference to the poem 'Chant Andalous' by Manuel Machado, who wrote: "Life is a cigarette / Cinder, ash and fire / Some smoke it in a hurry / Others savor it." In other words, you can either take your life slowly, or burn it quickly. Our hero wanted to live an exciting life, to burn as brightly as he could, and after a few false starts, when he pulled on a finger instead of the life-cigarette, he finally found a way to do it. But now his flame has burned out, while he's still a young man. What is he going to do with the rest of his life?

The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
You're a rock'n'roll suicide

Rock'n'roll is a joyful experience, but it is also a form of spiritual suicide. You can experience rock'n'roll when you have an alienated part in your being, an "inner self" that is repressed by society, and provides the energy for the rock'n'roll eruption. But rock'n'roll sets this part free, and transforms you: your outer-identity is now compatible with your "inner self", and the alienation is gone. And with it, goes the ability to feel the ecstasy of rock'n'roll. For just a short while, you experienced something cosmic, and got a glimpse at an existence of total, wall-to-wall happiness. But then it fades away, and you fall back to the ground, back to where you started from, but worse: after you've put your "inner self" out on display and let it become just another identity, you can no longer use it to generate rock'n'roll.

You're too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clocks waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don't eat when you've lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you're a rock'n'roll suicide

Our hero is out of cigarettes, and his time is out of joint. Once again, Bowie invokes Chuck Berry's famous definition of rock'n'roll: "Just let me hear some of that rock'n'roll music / Any old way you choose it / It's got a backbeat, you can't lose it / Any old time you use it". In 'Starman', Ziggy referenced these lines to tell us that he has come to bring rock'n'roll back, and even managed to deliver. But now his brand of rock'n'roll has played itself out, and we can no longer use it. Our hero tells us that he feels too old to lose it and too young to choose it, or as Jethro Tull would put it some years later: too old to rock'n'roll, too young to die. After living the rock'n'roll dream, everything else loses its taste, even food. How can he now go back to live the regular life, when he knows that there's something so much better?

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don't let the sun blast your shadow
Don't let the milk float ride your mind
It's so natural - religiously unkind

Stumbling blindly through life, he almost gets run over by a car. Cars, of course, are an essential part of rock'n'roll poetry, a symbol of discharge and freedom, from the days of 'Rocket 88' (considered by many to be the first rock'n'roll record) up to the modernized glam of T. Rex. But Bowie mentions cars only twice in the album, once in the opening track and once again in the closing, and he uses them to describe the shattering of the rock'n'roll dream. Who is driving that Chevy that almost runs him over? Could it be Don McLean, on his way to the levee to relive the glory days of rock'n'roll, only to find out that it had run dry and the music had died? McLean's 'American Pie', that reached #1 on the charts just as Bowie was developing his Ziggy character, is another record about the death of rock'n'roll, but its hero at least has an alternative to fall back on, as he has religious faith. Our hero doesn't have that faith, so he remains a vampiric presence, hiding away from the daylight, a shadow of a human. Until…

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

In the pits of despair, he finds salvation. The beginning of the passage clearly paraphrases Jacques Brel's 'Jef', in which the singer is trying to convince his despairing friend to get up from the sidewalk, and start living again. We imagine our hero sitting on the pavement, after being almost run over by the Chevy, where someone comes and picks him up. What Bowie tells us is that it doesn't matter who you are and what your experience was, there will always be others who can identify with you, who can understand your pain. And one of those others now comes to offer our hero a helping hand, and show him a new love.

In other words, your life cannot be reduced to one cigarette. Life offers you an endless array of cigarettes, and when one is burned out, you will always be able to strike another match, and start a new. You do NOT commit spiritual suicide with rock'n'roll, as our hero thought in his tangled up head. True, you exposed your "inner self" and destroyed it, but the "inner self" (as Bowie has been telling us for a while now) is not a fixed thing. When you transformed yourself and created a new identity based on your former "inner self", a new "inner self" was created along with it, and can now form the basis for a new transformation, a new identity, a new joy. You are never too old to rock'n'roll when you're too young to die – there will always be ways to revive the rock'n'roll experience. Just like Ziggy once came as a hand that reaches down from the skies to take the kids to heaven, someone else now comes to offer a hand to the post-Ziggy kids, and asks them to turn on with him, to burn brightly once more in an existence full of excitement, beauty and love:

You're not alone, just turn on with me
And you're not alone, let's turn on and be
Not alone, gimme your hands
Cause you're wonderful, gimme your hands
Cause you're wonderful
Oh gimme your hands

…and a sublime chord of hope and harmony brings the story to a close.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hamas aid

"Free Gaza!" rings the slogan, as the world is becoming increasingly moved by the plight of the Gaza people, and applies growing pressure on Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on it. Human rights activists from all around are on the move, setting out to rid the world of another evil. Before you pick up your gun, however, tarry a while and ask yourself: are you sure you know what you are fighting for?

Gaza, as you probably know, is ruled by the Hamas movement. You probably don't like Hamas very much. You probably deplore their religious fundamentalism and their authoritarian policies. Perhaps you also disagree with their terrorist tactics. Perhaps you've also heard of the Hamas Charter, and you know that it calls for the destruction of Israel. Yes, all these things you know about Hamas are true, but they are not the worst part, the part which compels Israel to retaliate the way it does. So, before you go any further, please allow me to introduce you to the core of the Hamas ideology, and the true nature of the Gaza government.

Following are excerpt from the Hamas Charter, with interpretations. I took the English translation of the charter from the Palestine Center website. Let's let Hamas tell us about itself.

"Hamas is calling upon the Arab and Islamic peoples to act seriously and tirelessly in order to frustrate that dreadful scheme and to make the masses aware of the danger of coping out of the circle of struggle with Zionism. Today it is Palestine and tomorrow it may be another country or other countries. For Zionist scheming has no end, and after Palestine they will covet expansion from the Nile to the Euphrates. Only when they have completed digesting the area on which they will have laid their hand, they will look forward to more expansion, etc. Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present [conduct] is the best proof of what is said there..." (article 32)

This is the gist of modern Anti-Semitism. Modern anti-Semites do not say they hate all Jews, only "Zionists". But their definition of Zionism has nothing to do with the actual Zionist movement. For the anti-Semite, a "Zionist" is a Jew who wants to take over the world and enslave it. The "proof" for this conspiracy is a book called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", a famous 19th century text written by an anti-Semite which pretends to be a guide book for Jews on how world domination is to be achieved. The anti-Semite defines himself against this imaginary "Zionist" danger, and his whole existence revolves around it: he can never quit the fight against Zionism, because it is the core of his identity. Hamas, we see here, is driven by this kind of Antisemitism, so it can never give up the fight against Israel.

There are several types of Antisemitism, and this is the most dangerous of them all. Why? Because these dreaded "Zionists" cannot be identified. There is no Jew out there who says he wants to take over the world, there are no Jewish organizations teaching The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. So how does one fight these scheming Zionists, if one cannot even identify them? Well, we saw what the anti-Semite solution was in the past: the Nazis, who held exactly this type of Antisemitism and believed that there is a worldwide Zionist scheme to take over, set out to preempt that danger by annihilating all the Jews, figuring that all Zionists would perish in the process. Genocide is the only logical solution of this type of anti-Semitic ideology.

"The Zionist invasion is a mischievous one. It does not hesitate to take any road, or to pursue all despicable and repulsive means to fulfill its desires. It relies to a great extent, for its meddling and spying activities, on the clandestine organizations which it has established, such as the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, Lions, and other spying associations. All those secret organizations, some which are overt, act for the interests of Zionism and under its directions, strive to demolish societies, to destroy values, to wreck answerableness, to totter virtues and to wipe out Islam." (article 28)

Modern Anti-Semitism is a conspiracy theory. It believes that Zionism is directing things from behind the scenes, and prepares the ground for its final takeover of the world. Actually, it is arguably the mother of all other conspiracy theories. It was born in Germany in the 19th century, and the Nazis adopted it, but the Nazis stopped short of blaming only the Jews. They believed that there are other evil clandestine organizations working out there, whose members are not Jews, but are still evil. The Freemasons, for instance, were on the Nazi list, and the Nazis sent them to the concentration camps. Hamas, we see, is not that pluralistic and generous in assigning the blame. According to its ideology, all these other organizations are merely fronts for the Zionists, as the Jews are behind everything. Hamas, we see, is more anti-Semitic than the Nazis.

"The Muslim women have a no lesser role than that of men in the war of liberation; they manufacture men and play a great role in guiding and educating the [new] generation. The enemies have understood that role, therefore they realize that if they can guide and educate [the Muslim women] in a way that would distance them from Islam, they would have won that war. Therefore, you can see them making consistent efforts [in that direction] by way of publicity and movies, curricula of education and culture, using as their intermediaries their craftsmen who are part of the various Zionist Organizations" (article 17)

Apparently, those conniving Zionist have also invented Women's Lib, for the sole purpose of distracting the Muslim woman from her sacred duty, which is to stay at home and raise Jihad babies. This is typical of anti-Semites: anything they don't like, they describe as a Zionist tool. If Hamas will be allowed to have its way, it will use this to oppress the people under its rule, and any type of behavior it doesn't like will be branded as "Zionist", and brutally put down. This is what will happen if you "free Gaza".

"The enemies have been scheming for a long time, and they have consolidated their schemes, in order to achieve what they have achieved. They took advantage of key elements in unfolding events, and accumulated a huge and influential material wealth which they put to the service of implementing their dream. This wealth [permitted them to] take over control of the world media such as news agencies, the press, publication houses, broadcasting and the like. [They also used this] wealth to stir revolutions in various parts of the globe in order to fulfill their interests and pick the fruits. They stood behind the French and the Communist Revolutions and behind most of the revolutions we hear about here and there… They also used the money to take over control of the Imperialist states and made them colonize many countries in order to exploit the wealth of those countries and spread their corruption therein. As regards local and world wars, it has come to pass and no one objects, that they stood behind World War I, so as to wipe out the Islamic Caliphate… They also stood behind World War II, where they collected immense benefits from trading with war materials and prepared for the establishment of their state… There was no war that broke out anywhere without their fingerprints on it." (article 22)

In short, the Zionists are behind every bloodshed, corruption and violence. Or, to put is as plainly as possible, the Jews are the root of all evil in the world. History tells us that when one group of people defines another group of people as the root of all evil, they will move to annihilate them on the first chance they get.

The Hamas Charter, then, leads to one logical conclusion: all Jews must be exterminated, in order to save the world. But in case it wasn't clear enough…

"Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them." (article 7)

In short, it is the religious duty of every Muslim to kill the Jews, to bring about Judgment Day. I did not bother to quote them, but the entire charter is laced with quotes from the scriptures, to prove that Allah supports the movement's anti-Semitic ideology. The Nazis, to remind you, never announced publicly that they intend to kill the Jews. Hamas is not that shy about its true intentions.

Antisemitism has always been a part of the Palestinian discourse, ever since the 1930's, when some Palestinian leaders borrowed it from the Nazis. However, it has usually been more of an overtone, not so much part of the ideology. With Hamas, it becomes the core of their ideology, the raison d'etre of their existence. So when the Palestinian people, at the first chance they got, voted for Hamas to lead them, Israelis were shocked and angered. A logical Israeli reaction would have been to regard this as a declaration of total war and react accordingly, but we Israelis choose to believe that the majority of Palestinians voted for Hamas for reasons other than Antisemitism, and we prefer to keep the peace process alive. Therefore, Israel keeps negotiating with more reasonable Palestinians, and in the meantime places a blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas from amassing weapons, and a strict embargo to prevent the Gaza economy from growing and getting stronger. We have vowed not to let the Nazi monster rear its ugly head ever again.

There was hope that Hamas, once in power, will become more pragmatic, and move away from its extremist ideology. If the Gaza government wants to end the blockade, all it has to do is announce that it recognizes Israel's right to exist. It should take them no more than five minutes, and it constitutes no capitulation on the part of the Palestinian people, nothing they haven't already agreed to in the past. But, even after years of blockade and war, the Gaza government refuses to do so. They would rather let their citizens suffer, than recognize Israel's right to exist. Why? Of course, because that would be giving up on their anti-Semitic ideology, the very thing that keeps them going. They can never do that.

Instead, Hamas uses a different tactic: let the people of Gaza suffer, and wait for the world to pressure Israel to lift the blockade. Once they achieve that, they will be able to import advanced weapons from Iran, with which they can totally disrupt Israeli daily life and economy, until they get Israel to agree to their demand: a long-term ceasefire, which will allow them to grow stronger and indoctrinate the Palestinian people on their anti-Semitic ideology, preparing them for the final battle to annihilate the Jews. They have time, and they assume that there are plenty of anti-Semites in the world that will help them, and many others gullible enough to support their "Free Gaza" campaign. And, guess what? They were right.

The last time that there was a government that was almost as anti-Semitic as the Gaza government was when the Nazis took over Germany. Back then, the world stood idly by and did not take the Nazis' anti-Semitic rants seriously, and the outcome was that 90% of Europe's Jews were wiped out. Horrified and dismayed, the world vowed back then never to allow this to happen again. Well, here it finally has the chance to stand by this vow, to oppose a government that has a self-declared anti-Semitic agenda. So what does the world do? That's right, it comes to the aid of Hamas.

Nothing has changed, nothing was learned.

Monday, September 27, 2010


The question of the morality of abortion continues to divide the human race, and remains tough to answer philosophically. I will attempt to take a stab at it.

So, is abortion murder? This question cannot be definitely answered - it depends on your set of a-priori beliefs. If you believe human life begins at the moment of inception (a belief that usually stems from a religious belief in the existence of a soul, which enters the body at that moment), then it is murder. If, on the other hand, you believe that human life begins only when consciousness is formed, then the notion that a cluster of cells can be perceived as a living human is ridiculous to you, and you will not see it as murder. And since we cannot prove or disprove any of these metaphysics, the debate is pointless.

But let's look at it from a moral perspective. Here we have to ask ourselves: why is murder immoral? There are, I think, two reasons.

First, each one of us has self-awareness, and knows that he or she constitutes an entire world, which wants to continue to exist. The thought that we will cease to exist horrifies us, and thus we perceive the act of terminating a person, an entire world, as morally heinous. What about abortion? Well, a fetus is not yet a self-aware consciousness, not yet a world that wants to continue to exist. Therefore, aborting it is not a moral crime.

You might claim that denying the fetus the opportunity to develop and become a consciousness is immoral. But this argument would be true only if existence was essentially a good thing, and existence, in essence, is neither good nor bad - it just is. Life can be either good or bad, so denying someone the possibility to be born into them is not immoral. Actually, a person born to parents who don't want him will most probably end up having a bad existence, so it could be argued that allowing him to be born is the immoral act.

The second moral crime involved in murder is the insufferable agony it wreaks on the people who loved the victim. Is abortion a crime, according to this criterion? Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. Parents often develop emotional attachment to their unborn child early on, and already dream of their shared future. But other times they feel nothing towards the fetus save the desire to get rid of it. The moral question should be decided on these grounds.

Let's take a hypothetical case: a woman finds out she's pregnant, feels joy about it, and starts to plan her life as a mother. But someone doesn't want her to have that child, and forces her to abort it. I consider this case to be a murder like any other murder.

On the other hand, when no one wants the child, there is no suffering involved, and therefore no crime against morality.

Bottom line: abortion isn't inherently immoral, but might be in certain cases.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Suffragette City

In 'Suffragette City', Bowie conjures up the memory of an important chapter in the history of liberalism, the chapter of the Suffragette movement. The liberal dream is to reach a world where every human will be free and equal, and able to pursue their happiness, and the Suffragettes, who struggled for and managed to secure women's right to vote, took us one step closer towards fulfilling that dream. Well, now we are after the nineteen-sixties, another glorious chapter in the history of liberalism. How much have we done to advance the liberation of women, to achieve the mission that the Suffragettes bequeathed us?

Hey man, oh leave me alone, you know
Hey man, oh Henry, get off the phone, I gotta
Hey man, I gotta straighten my face
This mellow thighed chick just put my spine outta place
Hey man, my schoolday's insane
Hey man, my work's down the drain
Hey man, well she's a total blam-blam
She said she had to squeeze it but she... then she...

Our hero is a guy busy scoring with a chick (or maybe several chicks) who is an animal in bed. This was one of the victories of sixties liberalism, of the sexual revolution: it emancipated women from the Victorian perception that sex is something that they do only to please men, and allowed them to enjoy sex as well. The introduction of birth control pills in the fifties enabled women to have sex more freely, and by the early seventies, young women were aggressively sexual. Ziggy, as the next step in the sixties liberation, celebrates this development, in a piece of grinding cock-rock that is a paean to the sexual powers of women.

But there is also another side to the story. This promiscuity drags our hero into a world of sexual joys that leaves him with no time for anything else, and he sacrifices his friendships and his work, to get more and more sex. The mention of "schooldays" may be a reference to Chuck Berry's similarly titled record, in which the heroes are living in the tension between school's repression during the day, and the release of rock'n'rolling and making out during the night. Here, however, there is no tension, and our hero can get sex as much as he wants, which means that it doesn't give him any release either, and he has to delve further and further into the world of carnal pleasures to get the same effect. In the process, he gives up on any other aspect of his life.

Oh don't lean on me man
Cause you can't afford the ticket
I'm back on Suffragette City
Oh don't lean on me man
Cause you ain't got time to check it
You know my Suffragette City
Is outta sight... she's all right

Again, this can be taken in two ways. As a straightforward celebration of sex, it describes the girls of the time as so wild that only a certain man, a man who has made the mental shift required by the sexual revolution, can handle them. The hero's friend is still stuck with the sexual inhibitions of the past, so he cannot come with him to this Suffragette City, because he'd only slow him down. But it can also mean that our hero is becoming someone whose friends can no longer lean on, as he is too busy scoring. This Suffragette City is a place of sexual paradise for a man, and it makes him forget about any other human value, betraying his friends and himself as he sinks further and further into it.

In short, it is another slice of Bowie's twofold edge. The song is celebrating the sexual revolution of the sixties, our new freedom, but at the same time hints that we are nothing but slaves to our base animal urges. It applies for women as well, of course: instead of trying to pursue the possibilities that the Suffragettes and their like have opened for them, they are squandering it all on immediate gratifications.

Hey man, oh Henry, don't be unkind, go away
Hey man, I can't take you this time, no way
Hey man, hey droogie don't crash here
There's only room for one and here she comes, here she comes

The final verse gives us more of the same, showing the hero discarding his male friends in favor of female companionship. The "here she comes, here she comes" is lifted from the Velvet Underground's 'White Light / White Heat', suggesting that he is about to get his mind blown. The mention of "droogie", however, makes it more sinister. "Droogie" is how Alex, the hero of A Clockwork Orange, refers to his gang mates, as they go on their rampages of assault and rape. It suggests that our hero may be enjoying the free spirit of his female counterparts, but deep down he gives them no respect, and sees them as nothing but objects to satisfy his desires. The sexual revolution proclaimed that it would bring more love to the world, but the world that Bowie portrays shows, or at least hints, that the guys have not made the required mental shift, and instead of making love, they are exploiting the freedom to give the ladies a "wham bam, thank you ma'am" treatment. There is no love here, just lust.

'Suffragette City', then, can be taken as an anthem for the sexual revolution, but also as a song about decadence, about betraying values for the sake of immediate gratifications. If we take the latter options, then it is an attack on the liberalism of the late sixties, which is endangering decades of feminist struggles. And as part of the Ziggy story, it shows us how the Ziggy cult, which started out as a "church of man love" in which no one was to be turned away on account of their sexual orientation, deteriorates into a tasteless orgy, in which any other kind of human ties are severed. During the album, we followed Ziggy's efforts to take us out of our miserable existence and lead us to a happy world. All his work is now down the drain.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ziggy Stardust

'Ziggy Stardust' is the song that started it all, the seed from which the Ziggy tree, or better yet the Ziggy forest, grew. Ziggy Stardust, at first, was merely the hero of this record, an archetype of a fallen rock star. It was yet another one of Bowie's comments on the rock world of the late sixties, an era which saw rock stars being treated like messiahs, and sometimes crumbling under the image. Only later, it seems, did Bowie connect this song with some additional songs that comment on other aspects of rock'n'roll and youth culture, and a larger narrative emerged. The entire album then became an analysis of rock'n'roll and youth culture, with Ziggy playing the leading role. In the context of the album, this is the moment of Ziggy's fall, and of the destruction of the subculture that grew around him.

So the record can be seen as another commentary on the collapse of the Hippie culture, and of cults or subcultures in general. But mostly, it is about the fall of the individual, the star. Bowie, of course, already had many examples to draw upon. There was Brian Jones, the beautiful narcissus, the perennial rebel who formed the Rolling Stones in his own image, until that image drove him into self-destructive drug abuse and early death. There was Syd Barrett, leader of Pink Floyd, who embodied the spirit of the psychedelic movement in England, until the psychedelics robbed him of his own spirit and left him an empty shell. There was Jimi Hendrix, worshipped for his guitar heroics, and put on such a high pedestal that he fell to his death. There was Jim Morrison, the messianic cursed poet, who wished to embody the search for the ultimate truth, and sacrificed himself in the process. Finally, and a little more obscurely, there was Vince Taylor, a minor rock figure in England who became a big star in France, until he started to believe he was the second incarnation. Bowie knew Vince personally and witnessed his mental deterioration firsthand, and took it all into the Ziggy image. Ziggy, in short, is all of these rockers put together. Let us now see how his tale plays out.

When we set forth to analyze 'Ziggy Stardust', I believe we should pay attention to the way it is sung. Bowie switches his vocals several times during the record, and to me it suggests that the story is told by several different people, each from a different perspective – kind of a miniature Citizen Kane. It is the Spiders who are speaking here (let's call them Ronno, Weird and Gilly), telling their story, and each tells it a little differently. I will therefore heed Bowie's vocal changes, and assume that the speaker changes as well.

Ziggy played guitar, jammin' good with Weird and Gilly,
And the spiders from Mars

The track begins where the preceding one ends. In 'Hang onto Yourself', Ziggy introduced his act in the plural: "we're the Spiders for Mars". There was no one in the band who was above the rest – it was a communal affair. We find the same thing here: Ziggy is jamming with the rest of the Spiders, and the music is an expression of the collective spirit of the band. However, here it is told in past tense. Did something happen to change the situation?

He played it left hand
But made it too far
Became the special man, then we were Ziggy's band

"He played it left hand" immediately invokes Hendrix, and paints Ziggy as a shamanic figure, electrifying his audience with his ecstatic guitar playing. Seems that the speaker (let's assume it's Ronno, since he mentions the other two) is in it just for the music, and doesn't seem to grasp this more spiritual side: he describes Ziggy's playing in technical terms, when actually, the guitar hero doesn't just play an instrument, but turns it into a conduit to conjure up the spirits of our time, and set them into our souls. He takes us with him on a journey, and through identifying with him we rise above our boring everyday existence. But herein lies the snag: because of this ability, he is elevated above the band, and the initial unity breaks. At first, Ziggy was merely the mouth that expressed the collective spirit of the subculture, a spirit that engulfed the fans and the band. At some point, as the result of the reverential relationship between the rock hero and his audience, it became all about Ziggy.

Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo
Like some cat from Japan
He could lick 'em by smiling
He could leave 'em to hang
He came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan

A different voice speaking now (let's say it's Weird), describing it from another perspective, showing a deeper perception of what makes the rocker so special to his fans. He talks about Ziggy's singing (with which the rock hero gives a voice to our innermost feelings), his otherworldliness (Japan, back then, was as otherworldly as you could get), his unique hairstyle (an essential part of any rock'n'roll sensation), his ability to manipulate the crowd, his sexual prowess, his ecstatic delivery (the "screwed up eyes" can be a reference to Bowie's own weird eyes, but also calls to mind some holy roller with his eyes rolled up), and his being "so loaded", either with the help of drugs or simply as a quality of his volatile personality. It is this package, along with the guitar, that enables him to fire up the wild part in us, and take us as high as we can ever get.

So where were the spiders, while the fly tried to break our balls?
Just a beer light to guide us
So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands?

All the Spiders singing together now, complaining about being left behind, and plotting revenge on Ziggy. "The fly" could be the band's manager, who is cheating them out of their share, while Ziggy does nothing to help them. On the other hand, we also get a hint of the spiritual poverty of the Spiders – the light that guides them is light beer – which prevents them from being true counterparts to Ziggy. These discrepancies lead to the breaking of the collective spirit, of that magnificent feeling described in 'Lady Stardust' - the band is no longer all together. Dissension, jealousy and resentment set into the ranks of the once united Ziggy cult.

Ziggy played for time, jiving us that we were voodoo
The kids were just crass
He was the nazz
With God given ass
He took it all too far, but boy could he play guitar

Now we get Gilly's perspective, and he, it seems, despised the whole thing from the start. He doesn't get the spiritual side of rock'n'roll at all, and rejects Ziggy's attempt to persuade him that the band is "voodoo" – for him, it was probably just a way to get money. He also marks Ziggy's messianic quality, his divine sexuality and his guitar heroics, but says that he was merely "playing for time", as if the whole thing was just a scam, and that the way of life which the kids held so highly was actually nothing but crass styling. "The Nazz" is the title of a famous monologue by hipster poet and comedian Lord Buckley, delivered in jive talk and telling of a hip messiah called the Nazz. The speaker equates Ziggy to him, but from his point of view, when Ziggy was jiving like the Nazz, he was actually "jiving us" – i.e. lying.

Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band

Like most of Bowie's heroes, Ziggy is brought down by the very thing that made him rise. He started out by creating a superstar identity for himself, and that identity put him above regular people, and presented a new and heroic way of life which others could identify with, and come together in heavenly joy. But then, this creation of his own mind sucks him in, and takes over him. Rather than forgetting about his ego when he's among his friends, he behaves like he's above them as well. In the end, he becomes like a leper, who nobody wants any part of. Gilly, from his rationalistic point of view, tells us how Ziggy's egotistical antics ruined the scene, and prompted him to leave the band. "When the kids have killed the man" could mean that they killed Ziggy with their idolatry, which caused his ego to swell up and destroyed the good man he was at first.

But it can also mean something else. I hear echoes of 'Cygnet Committee' here, of a story about a messianic movement that turned murderous. Ziggy's new identity was meant to attract those people who suffered from the same alienation as he did, so that they could all come together in brotherhood. For them, he was indeed a messiah. But when he "sucked up into his mind", he (and some of his followers) started believing that because it worked for some people, it must work for all people, and that they should be made to see the light. I suggest that Bowie may be reacting to what happened in the rock world of the late sixties, when some of the Hippies started believing that their way of life presents the one and only truth, and set out to bring a revolution, sometimes resorting to terrorist means. Going by that interpretation, "the kids have killed the man" talks about an actual slaying, and the speaker realizes that the once benevolent Ziggy subculture has turned murderous, and that he must break up the band to prevent further bloodshed.

Ziggy Played Guitar

The catchphrase that opens and closes the record strips down the godly image of Ziggy, and reminds us what we are dealing with: just a guy who plays guitar. He is not the Son of God, not a holy man, not a seer. And yet, he became a messiah to his fans. Why is that? As we've seen, the one we've called Gilly seems to think it was all a mass delusion, and the fact that it didn't last seems to corroborate his stance. But not in Bowie's world. In Bowie's world, the fact that something doesn't last forever doesn't mean that it isn't real. For a while, rock'n'roll can take you to heaven, and the rock'n'roll star is therefore a true messiah, as long as he doesn't start believing that what he offers is eternal salvation. Ziggy is another in a line of Bowie heroes modeled after Major Tom, who created a vehicle that took him out of his world and into a joyful existence, but then took over him and swept him too far away, until he lost contact with reality. Ziggy, like Major Tom, took it too far, and therefore had to fall.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The masks are beginning to fall

So Helen Thomas, respected reporter and long time Israel hater, who just this week called the Israeli flotilla operation a "massacre", has been revealed (surprise! surprise!) as nothing more than a regular anti-Semite, who believes that the Jews are subhumans who do not deserve to have the same rights as other people.

When you scratch the surface of most of Israel's vehement critics, that is what you'll find.

It didn't use to be that way. In the past, it was rational to believe that Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the root of the problem, the cause of the conflict. Those of us who are inside the conflict knew it is more complicated than that, but many of us, including myself, also believed that the occupation is the main issue. And the position that put the blame entirely on Israel was understandable.

In the past two decades, however, Israel has transferred control of the Gaza Strip and 40% of the West Bank to the Palestinians, offered to give them control over more than 90% of the West Bank, and publicly acknowledged the right of the Palestinian people to form a sovereign state in these regions. The majority of Israelis is in favor of the two-state solution, and wants the two nations to live side-by-side in peace and dignity. Only the extreme right still rejects this solution.

How did the Palestinians react to these changes? How do they regard the rights of the Jewish people? Currently they have three leaderships. The Gaza government openly declares it wants to annihilate Israel, and its ideology implies that all Jews should be exterminated. The West Bank government accepts the two states solution, but wants one state (Palestine) to be ethnically cleansed of Jews, and the other state (Israel) to have a Palestinian majority, and give away its Jewish identity. And the leadership of the Israeli-Palestinians warns its people not to play any positive role in Israeli society, and refuses to acknowledge Israel's legitimacy, defining it as a colonial entity. You don't hear any Palestinians acknowledging that Jews are also natives of this land, and have a natural right to live in it. The most they are willing to do is accept that since they can't get rid of the Jews, they are willing to let them stay.

And yet, the global anti-Israel rhetoric has only grown increasingly more hateful and violent, and now uses inflammatory words like "apartheid", "genocide", "massacre", and other words that have no relation to the reality of the situation, but are thrown around generously to describe Israel's actions. How come?

I believe what happened is that the reasonable critics of Israel have realized by now that the situation is more complicated than they thought, and adopted a more careful view. So that left the Israel-bashing to the anti-Semites who disguise themselves as human right believers, and since the media tries to be "balanced", the side that is against Israel is represented by these anti-Semites, who are poisoning the minds of the viewers.

Well, I'm drawing a personal line in the sand. The view that blames "Israeli occupation" for being the root of the problem is no longer reasonable or defensible. I will no longer regard it as understandable. There are enough facts to refute it, and anyone who still holds it in the face of these facts does so disingenuously. Anyone who in this day and age puts the majority of the blame on Israel does so because they are an anti-Semite.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hang Onto Yourself

'Hang Onto Yourself' started life as an Arnold Corns record, with a rather nonsensical lyric delivered against a murky rockabilly backing. It seems to try (unsuccessfully) to recapture the excitement of rock'n'roll in its early days, when it was all new and didn't know where it was headed. The lyrics suggest that we are on the verge of breaking into something big, and the phrase "hang on to yourself" seems to be a warning not to get too excited, or we might blow it. When it was remade for the Ziggy album, however, the song dealt with the reality of what happens after you've already become a star, and was changed accordingly. This time the music is tight and edgy, the lyric is biting, and the phrase "hang on to yourself" gains a whole new meaning.

We are, then, already in the thick of Ziggy's success. The beginning of the album saw us plodding through depression and meaninglessness, but then finding a new way, a new promise for a life of excitement and joy. As a result, the rhythm of life escalates, and everything becomes livelier and stronger. 'Star' already speeded things up, and the next three tracks are among Bowie's most rocking numbers ever, as we take a ride with Ziggy through the heavens of rock'n'roll stardom. So hang on to yourself, we are on our way.

Well she's a tongue twisting storm, she will come to the show tonight
Praying to the light machine
She wants my honey not my money, she's a funky-thigh collector
Layin' on 'lectric dreams

Who is "she"? I'm not sure. It could be the band, coming to lay electric dreams on us, extract the buried honey within us, and take us through a tongue twisting storm. It could be a female fan, who is coming to the show tonight to get some of Ziggy's honey and crave his funky thighs. Or maybe "she" is ultimate happiness, which will descend on everyone who will attend the show, band and audience alike, and take them through a storm of electric dreams. In any case, it is a celebration of that wondrous experience that is a rock'n'roll concert.

We can't dance, we don't talk much
We just ball and play
But then we move like tigers on Vaseline
Well the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar
You're the blessed, we're the Spiders from Mars

In this verse, it is obvious that the speaker is Ziggy, who is introducing his band, the Spiders from Mars. Again, this is vintage rock'n'roll language, blending religious imagery, sexual innuendos and a touch of anarchy. Not much to analyze here: Bowie stays away from his usual multilayered poetry, and keeps it simple and punchy, like rock'n'roll should be.

So come on, come on
we've really got a good thing going
Well come on, well come on
If you think we're gonna make it
You better hang on to yourself

But the chorus does have a slightly deeper philosophical undercurrent. As we recall, Ziggy's "self" is something that he created, according to his (or actually Bowie's) perception that in order to be happy, you should recreate yourself as something alien. But this also means that this created self can bring you happiness only as long as it is still alien, and once it is no longer perceived as alien, the happiness fades. You should therefore remain in control of this self, so when the day comes when it no longer induces happiness, you can set yourself free from it, and recreate yourself once again. You should hang on to your self, remember the reasons for its creation, and not let it be distorted by the changing reality. The special traits of Ziggy's self were his superstardom and his multi-sexuality, and he managed to get the world to perceive him that way as well. But the outcome, as we see in this song, is that he is now exposed to all the temptations of superstardom and unbound sex, which have nothing to do with the initial reasons for his choosing this way of life. Ziggy is reminding himself to hang on to himself, to not lose himself to these temptations, but as the guitars go wild towards the end of the song, and the temptations are luring him "come on, come on", we can feel him losing the hang. Swept tongue-twisted by the storm of his own creation, getting lost in the electric dreams he put forth, slipping on the Vaseline, he is rushing towards his fall.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I was waiting for a revolution, and here it comes. Ke$ha represents a new generation in the pop world, and she's redefining the lines. Some major points:

1. For a while now it was obvious that the new pop is going to come from electro. In the second half of the previous decade, many pop artists forayed the electro field, but it was always mixed with other styles, and tended towards artiness. While the artists who made pure electro focused on the music, without presenting an image and trying to become pop stars. Ke$ha is the first to break big with electro that is pure, primitive and fun, which kicks at everything that came before. This is a new beginning.

2. Along with Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, Ke$ha shows us that you don't need to be a bombshell to become a desired pop star. All you have to do is behave the part, be provocative, wild and fresh, and transmit sex. In the past, such girls were relegated to the punk rock niche. Nowadays you can do whatever you want.

3. Regarding sex, Ke$ha poses a new female attitude, which allows itself to treat men as objects of desire, like men always allowed themselves in regards to women. If the basis of male pop was always "cars and girls", Ke$ha asserts that the basis of female pop is "boots and boys".

Of course, to have a revolution you need more than one artist. I predict that we will see more electro kids sprouting in the coming months, and that some established artists will rotate towards the sound. It's gonna be fun.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

So who will be the 3D Babe?

So far, Avatar remains the only movie shot in 3D. The revolution is here already, but only retroactively: every big-budget fantasy movie made in the last year (such as Alice in Wonderland) has been converted to 3D. The results are not impressive, and already there are people grumbling that 3D adds nothing, and just makes you wear annoying glasses.

The thing that will shut them up for good is the sight of a sexy actress in 3D. I was wondering who will get to be this actress, the Hollywood starlet that will forever be remembered as the 3D babe, the one who turned the world on to the new technology, the one who will do for 3D what Jean Harlow did for blond hair, Jane Russell did for cleavage and Ursula Andres did for the bikini. I'm ready now to place my bet. I'm guessing Iron Man 2 will be three dimensional, and I'm guessing furthermore that once the world gets a gander at Scarlett Johansson's curves in 3D, it will no longer be willing to settle for any less.

Retraction: I am told that Iron Man 2 will not be in 3D, so the race is still on. If I'm a director making a 3D movie right now, I'm casting Eva Mendes.

Monday, March 22, 2010


So, 'Moonage Daydream' and 'Starman' established that Ziggy is an alien, and 'Lady Stardust' revealed one of the traits that make him an alien: his bisexuality. The next song, 'Star', presents Ziggy's other otherworldly trait: his superstardom.

We have already encountered Bowie's fascination with the phenomenon of stardom, and how it connects to his dreams of a heroic existence. 'The Prettiest Star' suggests that we carry the memories of movies we saw, and out of them we can create ourselves as something bigger than life, like the silver-screen stars. And Hunky Dory contains several references to Hollywood and its stars, as well as eulogizing Andy Warhol and his aesthetic celebration of fabrication and glamour. But why do I call this "otherworldly"? Because it went against the grain of the Hippie worldview that dominated the rock world at the time, a worldview that demanded that musicians should be authentic and stay away from any artificiality and fabrication. Stardom was regarded as part of the "fake and meaningless" world of pop, which serious rock musicians were to stay away from. When Bowie and Bolan turned glam and embraced stardom, most critics dismissed them as sellouts who gave up on authenticity in exchange for fame and fortune. But they were wrong, because what Bowie does here is actually to undermine the entire Hippie worldview, and redefine our notions of "real" and "fake".

Why did the Hippies, and most other people, grasp glamour and stardom as something fake? Because their worldview holds the belief that we are defined by an "inner self", a core that remains stable, while our varying outer-identity is just the cultural mask we are wearing. The star persona is not who the person "really is inside", but a projection for the public's eyes, and therefore regarded as unreal. Hippies believed that rock should be an expression of authenticity, and that music is the way to remove the masks, and reveal ourselves as we really are. Furthermore, they believed that by dropping the masks, the boundaries between humans will fall, and the human race will unite in harmony and love. Playing the game of stardom, and putting the emphasis on one's "fake" outer persona instead of his real "inner self", were therefore regarded as something that hinders our chances to create a utopia.

Bowie, of course, saw things differently. As we know, he did not believe in an "inner real self", a permanent core that defines us, and regarded everything in our being as subject to change. In his worldview, what defines us is not who we are inside, but what we act out in the world, and if the way we act induces happiness, then it is real. In 'Andy Warhol', he tells us what would happen if we force Andy to take a cruise on his own, as if to tear him away from his regular actions and surroundings and give him a chance to search for his inner self: he will nevertheless continue to think about his art, and about other people. In other words, Warhol gets that the "real self" is not a personal inner thing that you are born with, but rather something you create and share with others. And that is why the star, who presents a distinct artificial identity that can be imitated by others, is actually a model of authenticity.

It is well known that the formation of a movie star, in the golden age of Hollywood, was largely the work of the studios, which created the persona for the stars, and then sold it to the public through a clever public relations machine. When it comes to music, however, our approach tends to be more romantic, and we want to believe that rock stars become so because of their musical talent. The perception isn't true in both cases: Hollywood stars become so mainly because of a quality they themselves possess, while the making of rock'n'roll stars does involve a great deal of conjuring. Bowie was now getting prepared to employ the lessons of decades of star making, and conjure up the biggest rock star of them all.

Of course, David Bowie himself is nothing but a stage persona conjured up by David Jones, and one of the tactics he used to market this alias was to blame it on another rock act, an act that became infamous for its inauthenticity. The Monkees, a band that was conceived by two TV producers who wanted to create an American version of the Beatles, hit American television in September 1966 as a weekly show, offering a combination of zany slapstick comedy, innocuous youth rebellion, and Beatlesque musical numbers written by professional tunesmiths. The personas of the band members were prefabricated by the producers and played by actors (including a Briton named Davy Jones), but many kids nevertheless fell under their charm, and hysteria didn't fail to ensue. Within a year, though, rock started taking itself more seriously, moving in the direction of authenticity and profundity, and the Monkees became a laughing stock (even the band members themselves rebelled against the concept, and tried to make it as a "real" band, writing their own tunes). In the collective memory of rock, the Monkees were remembered as a sham, a cynical attempt by the industry to cash in on youth culture. Bowie managed to escape the peril of being wrongly identified as Monkee Davy Jones when he changed his name, but by 1972, he was taking a fresh look on the world of rock, and finding merit in what the Monkees had to offer. The people who created the Monkees showed that you can actually determine the image of the band before you make the music, and also that you can make the public believe in it, through the electronic media. They were displaying their creativity not through the musical side of pop, but through the sides of identity creation and crowd manipulation, sides that late-sixties rockers didn't pay much attention to, but Bowie was now getting ready to explore. So while past heroes like Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, the Who et al. left the development of these sides to their managers, Bowie was to set a new standard, in which image creation and media manipulation are to be done by the artists themselves, part and parcel of their art. "I wasn't at all surprised that Ziggy Stardust made my career," he said years later, "I packaged a totally credible plastic rock star – much better than any sort of Monkees fabrication. My plastic rocker was much more plastic than anybody's." Bowie was about to redefine what rock was about: instead of focusing on the music and letting everything else revolve around it, the rock artist should first of all create an identity for himself, and everything else should revolve around that.

Another influence on Bowie's new perception came from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, an eccentric country & western performer who was convinced he was going to become a legendary star, and named himself accordingly. He was basically laughed off the stage, but Bowie was intrigued by the fact that the guy announced himself as a star before becoming one, hoping that he can get others to see him as such. Borrowing the "Stardust" moniker for his own creation, Bowie was determined to succeed where the Ledge failed.

In 1970, Bowie encountered another wannabe star, when he was approached by Les Payne, lead singer of the band Chameleon, who asked him to write a song for them. Chameleon were on the verge of breaking big, and Bowie penned a song called 'Star', which reflected the thoughts of every teenager dreaming of rock stardom. But Chameleon soon broke up and their version was not released, and Payne went on to miss a few more shots at fame, eventually making a name for himself as the rocker who almost made it. Bowie, on the other hand, did make it, and his revamped version of 'Star' became a central piece in the Ziggy story.

Tony went to fight in Belfast
Rudi stayed at home to starve
I could make it all worthwhile as a rock & roll star
Bevan tried to change the nation
Sonny wants to turn the world, well he can tell you that he tried
I could make a transformation as a rock & roll star

'Star', in a way, is an extension of 'Changes'. On that song, Bowie told us that there were "a million dead-end streets", and here he counts some of them. Tony went to fight for his country, still believing in the old notions of patriotism, but the country turned out to be a false idol. Bevan (a name that brings to mind Aneurin Bevan, and therefore socialism) tried to change the nation from within and achieve socialist utopia, but that proved to be unattainable as well. Rudi (probably a shout-out to his friend Freddi Burretti, a.k.a "Rudi Valentino") gave up on all ideologies and refuses to commit to anything, but that way, as Bowie already told us in 'Quicksand', only leads to spiritual starvation. And Sonny kind of sums up all those ideologies, who believed that in order to give meaning to your existence, you should strive to change the world for the better. 'Changes' overturned that perception, in teaching us that the change should not be done for the end result, but for the sake of the change itself, because through transformation we find joy. 'Star' presents the way of life that enables you to realize this new ethic: as a rock'n'roll star, he could perform the transformations he wants, and make his existence worthwhile.

So inviting - so enticing to play the part
I could play the wild mutation as a rock & roll star

And so he will become a rock'n'roll star, and through that, he believes, he will have the freedom to keep mutating, and keep living a wild and exciting way of life.

I could do with the money
I'm so wiped out with things as they are
I'd send my photograph to my honey - and I'd c'mon like a regular superstar

This passage deals with the more trivial temptations of stardom: money and fame. Bowie acknowledges that they are part of it as well, but as he told us in 'Changes', the aim is not to be a richer man, but a different man. Money and fame are seen as a secondary thing, while the main goal is self-creation. Bowie uses the term "superstar", a term Warhol used to denote those glamorous characters that surrounded him, and lived their entire lives as if they were stars on the silver-screen. This now becomes Bowie's ideal: he will present the rock'n'roll equivalent to Warhol's superstars, and create a persona who exists not only on stage, but in real life as well. He will become the star persona, and compel the rest of the world to see him that way. Thus, he believes, he will achieve the heroic existence he was dreaming of.

I could fall asleep at night as a rock & roll star
I could fall in love all right as a rock & roll star

Here, however, the rhetoric is going a little too far, and reveals the ironic side of the song, an irony that drips from the way Bowie sings these lines. The protagonist, it seems, believes a little too much in the power of stardom to provide happiness. The song goes against Hippie dogma and shows us that stardom is actually a positive thing, but these lines remind us that it has a dark side as well. It seems that the protagonist has gone over to the dark side, and fell into the entrapments of stardom.

Within the context of the Ziggy saga, this is the moment when our hero starts to lose it. When he initially took the stage, he did it because he wanted to express himself, and in order to find others who are like him, with whom he can come together in love. Now he starts to think about money and fame as well, and believes he can find even better love as a star, as someone who is above the crowd. We are at the zenith if Ziggy's rise. From here on begins the fall.