Monday, January 4, 2010


Janine, for me, is the weakest number on the Space Oddity album, at least musically. I never paid much attention to it, but like all other tracks on that album, once I delved into it I was surprised to discover how much it preempts Bowie's later work. Particularly one song. Almost everything that I thought began with 'Changes', I now realize is already contained in this little ditty.

The Space Oddity album belongs in many ways to the singer/songwriter genre. The concept of singer/songwriter emerged in the late sixties, as part of the counter-culture's attempt to overthrow the "fake" world of pop music. So, rather than having songwriters writing songs from an "objective" point of view, and then handing them to professional singers to perform, songwriters were now expected to write songs about their personal feelings and experiences, and perform them by themselves, bearing their soul. The underlying notion was that if people would be honest with one another and show themselves for what they really are, a better society will transpire. Some of the songs on Space Oddity live up to this confessional ideal, especially 'Letter to Hermione'. But then comes 'Janine', and undermines the foundations which the whole singer/songwriter concept is built on.

Oh my love, Janine
I'm helpless for your smile
Like a Polish wanderer
I travel ever onwards to your land
And were it not just for the jewels, I'd close your hand

The singer is attracted to a woman called Janine, and wants to get to know her better. The process of getting to know her is giving him pleasure, as every human being is like a vast land, full of secrets and mysteries. It is a process that never ends, and he doesn't want it to end.

Your strange demand
To 'collocate' my mind
Scares me into gloom
You're too intense
I'll have to keep you in your place
I've no defense
I've got to keep my veil on my face

Janine, he finds out, wants to know him better as well. But she has a different idea of what it means to know someone. She is not about the never-ending process of exploration, but wants to know him all the way, to figure him out completely. And that frightens him: he doesn't want to expose himself in that manner, to be completely known. So he evades her, and keeps her at arm's length.

Janine, Janine, you'd like to know me well
But I've got things inside my head
That even I can't face

While Janine believes that we can and should be completely transparent to one another, he believes that we are not even transparent to ourselves. A human is not a simple being but a very complex one, and there are parts of himself which even he can't face, because they are too scary. Of course, there is no way he's going to let her bring these parts of him out in the open.

Janine, Janine, you'd like to crash my walls
But if you take an axe to me
You'll kill another man
Not me at all

Janine holds a simple, two-dimensional picture of what human beings are like: they have an "outer mask" which they show to the rest of the world, and an "inner self", a "soul". This is a very traditional view, and part of it is the belief that while the "mask" is constantly changing, the "inner self" remains the same, and is therefore the true essence of who you are, your "real self". So she believes that if she can break through the mask, she will get to his inner self, and see him as he really is. But he, once again, warns her that he isn't that simple. I think what Bowie is trying to say is this: there is no part of him that is constant, no part that is the "true self". Therefore, there is also no part of him which you can define as "fake", as merely a mask. Everything in his being is part of who he is, everything is subject to change, and everything masks everything else. So if she tries to remove what she believes to be his mask, she will only kill a part of him, and once that part of him is gone, he will become someone else. And so, she will never be able to get any closer to figuring him out.

You're fey, Janine
A tripper to the last
But if I catch you standing on my toes
I'll have a right to shout you down
For you're a lazy stream
In which my thoughts would drown

After explaining to her what he is like, he tells her that she is the same. He describes her as "fey" and "a tripper", which suggests that she too is ever-changing and cannot be defined. However, she changes in a slower pace than him, she is a "lazy stream" compared to his torrential spirit. Therefore, if they try to move together, she will only slow him down.

So stay, Janine
And we can glide along
I've caught your wings for laughs
I'm not obliged to read you statements of the year
So take your glasses off
And don't act so sincere

So the "soul fusion", which is Janine's ideal, cannot work: there is no soul to fuse. That is, there is no constant part of their being which, once they manage to connect, will remain connected. Both of them will keep on changing, so the connection will be severed. And they cannot hope to remain connected by synchronizing their changes either, because they move at a different pace. He tells her to forget about it, and lighten up: they can't fuse their souls, but they can have fun for as long as their connection lasts.

Soul fusion, of course, was also what the Hippies were after, and the idea behind the singer/songwriter concept: you were required to bear your soul, so that your souls can connect and become as one. Janine represents this Hippie mindset, and by evading her advances, Bowie is snubbing this entire worldview. From now on, he will remain illusive, and there will be no more 'Letter to Hermione' type of confessions in his repertoire. And since he cannot face the things inside his head, he will dress them up in costumes when he drags them out of his subconscious, and deal with them on a symbolic, theatrical level. 'Janine', like most other tracks on the album, is a crystal ball that shows what the seventies would be like for Bowie.

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