Song of the Week: Rock & Roll Suicide, by David Bowie

Song of the Week: Rock & Roll Suicide, by David Bowie
The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust

The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust

Despite my mild pedestal-knocking of the Thin White Duke a few months ago, I am an unabashed David Bowie fan, especially his Space Oddity and Ziggy Stardust periods.  Bowie was smack in the middle of a wild, brief, and transitory moment in rock and roll, namely the glam movement and now more or less embodies the whole thing, historically speaking.  In the larger scheme of things, glam was a mere blip in the rock and roll timeline, but with its gender-bending (though still very much a boy’s club) fashion and melodramatic musical flair, it set the stage for both punk and disco and ultimately was the seed that bore our last truly great age of pop music innovation, the 80s New Romantic era.

In the early 1970s Bowie was more or less a peer with other acts like Queen, T Rex, Slade, and Alex Harvey, I think the lynchpin in why he has stood the test of time more than others is in the fact that he dug just a little bit deeper with his songs. All these bands took a great big page from the last couple Beatles albums and fucking ran with it, but Bowie (very much with the help of the grossly under-appreciated Mick Ronson) embraced an economy in his writing that – combined with a fragile emotional underscore in the lyrics – resulted in each song being like a mini-opera, where you were hit with hook after hook and great little parts that jumped out and disappeared before you hardly even knew they were there and then, boom! he was outta there.  There are a couple notable exceptions, but most of the tracks on The Rise and Fall… clock in at under or just over three minutes and very much leave you wanting more.

It’s difficult to choose just one song, but a favorite of mine has always been “Rock & Roll Suicide.”  Epic and brief all at once, it manages to go through three distinct movements, culminating in the melodramatic finish, all at just 2:57!  The ending could well go on for 25 minutes and still I wouldn’t tire of it.  Get your hands on it here, and check out a great live version below.


Special bonus: Morrissey’s “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” (from the Mick Ronson-produced Your Arsenal), which Bowie covered on his dreadful Black Tie, White Noise album, calling it (paraphrasing here) “Bowie doing Morrissey doing Bowie.” It borrows liberally from “R & R Suicide” and is a great song in its own right.  Betty Goo used to cover it and sneak a bit of Bowie in at the end.


Rock And Roll Suicide

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
Ohhh how how how, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide

You’re too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clocks waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don’t eat when you’ve lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don’t let the sun blast your shadow
Don’t let the milk float ride your mind
You’re so natural – religiously unkind

Oh no love! you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care

Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain

You’re not alone
Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful
Oh gimme your hands.