Archive | July 5, 2019

SciFi SongFest, Songs 9-10

Has any other pop star written a hostile song about himself from the standpoint of his disgruntled and resentful back-up band?

Of course Bowie makes sure to have his band compliment his talent (“boy, could he play guitar”) and his appearance (“God-given ass”) along with their complaints about being relegated to back-up status (he “became the special man; then we were Ziggy’s band …. So where were the Spiders?”) while he “took it all too far” and was “making love with his ego.” And although the official moral of the song is supposed to be Bowie/Ziggy’s destructive vanity and narcissism, the band’s plotting to “crush his sweet hands” suggests rather that Bowie is casting the Spiders in the role of Nietzsche’s envious Untermenschen. (“Before you they feel petty, and their baseness glows and smoulders against you in invisible revenge,” Nietzsche writes in Zarathustra.) Small wonder that the partnership broke up unhappily soon after. (I love Bowie as an artist; but like many of my favourite artists, he seems to have been a bit of an asshole, especially – though not exclusively – during his early years.)

According to Wikipedia, the name “Spiders from Mars” was inspired by a “UFO sighting, where a stadium crowd thought they had witnessed Martian spacecraft, which turned out to be migrating spiders” – which, yes, is totally a thing:

But of course Nietzsche also uses spiders in Zarathustra as a metaphor for envy-ridden egalitarians. And Ziggy’s own status as either an extraterrestrial, or else a human specially chosen as a spokesman by extraterrestrials (depending on which interview Bowie was giving at the moment), cast Bowie neatly in the role of the “Homo superior” of “Oh You Pretty Things,” even if at other times he suggested that he was merely the harbinger of a development that he expected would surpass him and leave him behind. The song straddles self-aggrandisement and self-mockery – both genuine, I suspect:

9. David Bowie, “Ziggy Stardust” (1972)

A different version:

And continuing the Nietzschean theme of the resentment of the lesser against the greater:

10. Rush, “The Trees” (1978):


We Owe No Allegiance

We owe no allegiance, we bow to no throne;
our ruler is law and the law is our own ….
They claim our possession, the pitiful knaves –
the tribute we pay shall be prisons and graves.

Of some relevance to the holiday just passed:

As a kid I had (may possibly still have, packed away inaccessibly in a box somewhere) a much-loved set of four LPs of authentic historical American songs issued by National Geographic as part, I believe, of the Bicentennial celebration in 1976. They were:

(Check out the links to the liner notes above, as they were fascinating, and beautifully illustrated.)

My favourites among the set were the Rebels & Redcoats one and the Cowboy one. They’ve sadly never been re-released on CD. YouTube seems to have the first side (only, alas) of Rebels & Redcoats, and the whole of the Civil War one; haven’t listened to these in full yet but I’ve posted them below. (One of my favourites among the Rebels songs starts at 15:28. Check it out!) If anyone has the rest and is inclined to post them on YouTube, they would earn the thanks of a grateful nation.

15 Sept. 2020 Addendum:

Side 2 of Songs of Rebels & Redcoats is now also gloriously online:

Note to Sheldon: the Swamp Fox song, “Marion’s Men,” starts at 13:20. But the whole album is worth a listen; and see the extensive liner notes linked to above.


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