I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Friday, March 25, 2011

David Bowie Aladdin Sane (1973: RCA)

1. "Watch That Man" - 4:25
2. "Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-1972)" - 5:06
3. "Drive-In Saturday" - 4:29
4. "Panic in Detroit" - 4:25
5. "Cracked Actor" - 2:56
6. "Time" - 5:09
7. "The Prettiest Star" - 3:26
8. "Let's Spend the Night Together" - 3:03
9. "The Jean Genie" - 4:02
10. "Lady Grinning Soul" - 3:46

While The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is often credited as the best Bowie album and the reason David Bowie is a household name, I think that the album's greatest strength lies elsewhere. While on the Ziggy Stardust tour, Bowie wrote an even better album titled Aladdin Sane (or as Bowie has called it, "Ziggy goes to America"). Songs like "Panic in Detroit" point to this origin of Aladdin Sane most obviously, but it has been suggested that all of the songs on the album have some location they're pointing to.

Aladdin Sane is a story of "A Lad Insane," a young man diving into the abyss of mental chaos, a theme that is propagated by a musical interplay between order and dischord. The fact that this album was written on tour and much of its mythology gives images of a touring celebrity, one can assume that, like the Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here, Aladdin Sane points to the difficulties of sudden success and its effect on the human mind.

I think that limiting an album like Aladdin Sane to one theme can be dangerous. In fact, I think that Aladdin Sane could not have been successful if it didn't speak to the rest of humanity in some way, people who will never become celebrities but remain, like Bowie, freaks, the people on the outside. There are certainly themes of love, lust, loss and disdain present on Aladdin Sane, and who can't connect in some way to that.

Bowie is the foreigner in America who both belongs (is from England) and doesn't belong (is an all-out American rock star, and what rock star doesn't belong in America?). His religious zeal for a transcendent love that fully welcomes desire breaks through opposing forces - citizen/foreigner, gay/straight, majority/marginal - freeing all of us to come out (not out of the closet so much as out on the stage) as exactly who we are.

The experience of "A Lad Insane"/Aladdin Sane is never far from any of us.