The Weekday Ramble is a daily dose of sports, music, culture, and more from Rambling On founder Erik Ritland. For more information check us out on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.
Thursday August 20, 2015
A meaningful song from my adolescence.
Time – David Bowie
from the 1973 LP Aladdin Sane
The song begins with the tumbling, jazzed up piano of Mike Garson. Bowie's vocal is strong but subtle to begin:
He's waiting in the wings
He speaks of senseless things
His script is you and me boys
He flexes like a whore
Falls wanking to the floor
His trick is you and me, boy
The imagery in the second verse is perverse but evocative. The third brings in thick, heavy layers of Mick Ronson, my guitar hero in Jr. High:
In Quaaludes and red wine
Demanding Billy Dolls
And other friends of mine
Take your time
The sniper in the brain, regurgitating drain
Incestuous and vain
And many other last names
I look at my watch it say 9:25 and I think
"Oh God I'm still alive"
We should be on by now
This is Bowie at his clever, whimsical best. The songwriting is deceptively simple, the verse repeated three times and slightly changed for the fourth. It then moves to the dramatic, pulsating repetition of the songs emotional lyrical center: “we should be on by now.”
Are not a victim
Just scream with boredom
Are not evicting time
Bowie's falsetto at “scream” is chilling. Mick Ronson, a master of texture and tone, shines in the following guitar break, knowing exactly when to hold notes and for how long.
The final verse, one of Bowie's most stunning lyrics, is simple but profound (and sung in another brilliant melodic change):
Goddamn, you're looking old
You'll freeze and catch a cold
'Cause you've left your coat behind
Take your time
Breaking up is hard
But keeping dark is hateful
I had so many dreams, I had so many breakthroughs
But you, my love, were kind
But love has left you dreamless
The door to dreams was closed
Your park was real dreamless
Perhaps you're smiling now
Smiling through this darkness
But all I had to give was guilt for dreaming
We should be on by now
“Breaking up is hard/but keeping dark is hateful”...“Perhaps you're smiling now/smiling through this darkness/but all I had to give/was guilt for dreaming”...wow. Bowie was rarely more inspired, and his vocal performance matches the lyrics. As in the middle section, emotion and tension build each time “we should be on by now” is repeated. A final singalong “lalala” part builds up to Bowie's final plea of the songs title, ending five of the most breathtaking minutes of '70s rock.
I still remember the moment I first checked out his biography. It was 3:00 AM and I was on a bulky, old style desktop computer at the middle school my brother worked at as an overnight janitor (I often helped him so I could spend time on a relatively new phenomenon called the internet). The carpet smelled new, the lights were low, and I was groggy from lack of sleep. I leaned in my chair and my jaw dropped when read the words “Died: April 29, 1993.” Not knowing any better, or having any immediate resources, I assumed (and hoped) that he was still alive. I was sad to find that cancer had taken him years before I ever heard his guitar playing.
Each of the Bowie albums he played on, The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane, are essential listening As far as pure rock n' roll songwriting Bowie was never better, and the Spiders From Mars are his most cohesive band. “Time” is only one example of how bright they shined.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.