And I’m Busting Up My Brains for the Words

Unfortunately, I don’t think that there’s room enough in a single blog post to do justice to the whole of David Bowie’s ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ album.

This concept album follows a sexually-free, rock ‘n’ rolling alien messiah who comes to earth in the final five years of its existence. I’m narrowing my focus to ‘Moonage Daydream’, the third track on the album (which wasn’t originally ‘shuffled’), and the first narrated from Ziggy’s perspective.

(If you haven’t listened to the track, I urge you to. There’s a YouTube video below. The original vinyl album cover contained the instruction ‘To be played at maximum volume’ – I’d certainly recommend it. For now, I’ve also included the lyrics below so that this piece makes sense.)

Actually, it was Mick Ronson’s electrifying guitar part which first tempted – no, captivated – me and made me keep hitting ‘repeat’. But the lyrics of this magnetising, dynamic tune hold even more intrigue, especially for a writer.

How much do the words actually matter?

When initially listening to a song, most people engage first and foremost with the tune; chords can seduce us, harmonies hypnotise, and choruses entice. And yet the lyrics which we do snatch in those early hearings are vitally important to our interpretation of the song – the one which sticks no matter what we hear of other people’s opinions, or even the songwriter’s intended meaning.

I picked up ‘love’, ‘for you’ and ‘baby’. To me, ‘Moonage Daydream’ was a quirky fantasy dreamt up as the narrator thought about an exciting new relationship. As it happens, it’s meant to be about the rock industry, sexual exploration and Ziggy’s unruly and unorthodox nature. Some people take ‘The church of man, love, is such a holy place to be’ to be a blurring of the lines between romance and religion; others an attack on exploiting sexuality to create a specific media persona; and a few even suggest that this is a criticism of growing technologies beginning to replace human relationships and affect behaviour. Honestly, though, I never fail to hear ‘my love’, and, though I know that Bowie neither wrote nor meant that, the line (for me) is still a profession of affection.

Whatever the interpretation, most listeners would agree that the first four lines, and indeed the chorus, are random at best and bizarrely incomprehensible at worst. And yet, they communicate a message – or, at least, a feeling – which means that the song isn’t confusing. Energy, passion and ambition are suggested by ‘rock ‘n’ rollin’’, ‘invader’, ‘coming for you’, and ‘alligator’, ‘mama-papa’, and ‘pink monkey bird’ create a randomness which gives the song and its narrator a rebellious, crazy excitement. Who or whatever Ziggy is addressing in the chorus, his fervour and zeal are evidenced both by Bowie’s energetic, powerful delivery and the imperatives which begin each line.

But there’s certainly a thrilling element of this song which is still difficult to analyse or describe. I’m definitely busting up my brains for the words – both appreciating Bowie’s power of expression, and searching for the right turn of phrase to summarise my own reaction to ‘Moonage Daydream’.

I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you

I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you

Keep your mouth shut, you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird

And I’m busting up my brains for the words

 

Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe

Put your ray gun to my head

Press your space face close to mine, love

Freak out in a moonage daydream oh yeah!

 

Don’t fake it baby, lay the real thing on me

The church of man, love, is such a holy place to be

Make me baby, make me know you really care

Make me jump into the air

 

Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe

Put your ray gun to my head

Press your space face close to mine, love

Freak out in a moonage daydream oh yeah!  x3

 

Freak out,

Far out,

In out…

 

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