Born in the 60s, I have often wished I had never lived through the 70s. It was a decade of highly-adept songwriters, with artists like Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Cat Stevens, and Al Stewart (to name but a few). And there was an ill-fated optimism still lingering in the air from my earlier childhood days, no longer unbridled, but still relevant, if more realistic and earthbound. While there was less of the gritty hardiness of previous generations, there were the simple beginnings of a consignment to acceptance of one another and a relatively untouched dose of freedom still ringing in our ears.
“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”
This was the heyday of David Bowie. The years beyond his earliest beginnings when he was finally gaining traction, nay acceptance, and truly able to be as openly freaky, and strange as he wanted. His gifts were not just his own as he too was part of the confluence of amazing music that surrounded him — and all the storied books. By all accounts, Bowie was a voracious reader until the day he died, perhaps reading tens of thousands of books over his lifetime. So many that, as his preference was to travel by train, his baggage always included a number of large suitcases custom-designed to most elegantly tote his library of latest, greatest 1000 favorite works wherever he went.
“If you come from art, you’ll always be art.”
It was during these days that he wrote his soulful song “Young Americans“. A song largely about a young newlywed couple unsure of whether they still liked each other, it was also a love song to an America that still brandished its freedoms like armaments against a world still attempting to catch up. This would be Bowie’s breeding ground.
Conversely, when he wrote “I’m Afraid of Americans” in the 90s, he was beginning to feel fear for a world that had perhaps fallen entirely too in love with the U.S. “It’s not as truly hostile about Americans as say ‘Born In The U.S.A.‘ : it’s merely sardonic,” Bowie explained in a press release. “I was traveling in Java when its first McDonald’s went up: it was like, ‘for fuck’s sake.’ The invasion by any homogenized culture is so depressing, the erection of another Disney World in, say, Umbria, Italy, more so. It strangles the indigenous culture and narrows expression of life.”
“Trust nothing but your own experience.”
Bowie’s appreciable association with Trent Reznor during his Outside tour would lead to the Nine Inch Nails frontman embarking on a project to remix the track, while still fully immersed in the throes of a drug addiction Bowie himself had already surmounted. Reznor would work up over 40 minutes of remixes, ultimately “[trying] to make it a bit darker” by stripping the production to its roots to create what biographer David Buckley called “an eerie, psychotic track“. Reznor would go on to co-star in the video as the titular Jonny, chasing Bowie around New York City while encountering numerous citizens sham-shooting each other. The vibe was to be an expression of an outsider’s view of “then” America, daresay today’s.
“All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience.
My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it.”
In relation to the song and video, Reznor remarked to Rolling Stone, “When I see that, I have mixed feelings – grateful to be involved, and flattered to be a part of it, but disgusted at myself, at who I was at that time, and wishing I had been 100 percent me.” Further relating, when connecting with Bowie a few years later, “I was met with warmth, and grace, and love. And I started to say, ‘Hey listen, I’ve been clean for…’ I don’t even think I finished the sentence; I got a big hug. And he said, ‘I knew. I knew you’d do that. I knew you’d come out of that.’ I have goosebumps right now just thinking about it. It was another very important moment in my life.“
“Religion is for people who fear hell, spirituality is for people
who have been there.”
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7 thoughts on “David Bowie ~ I’m Afraid of Americans ”
One of my all time Favorite music videos…Trent Carrying A Cross “God is An American”
Funny (strange), I had previously heard the track in an earlier incarnation that I didn’t enjoy as thoroughly and thus never watched the video until a few weeks ago by perchance. Like you, I think both the remixed song and the video are outstanding and I’m happy to have finally realized its truly beautiful darkness. Doesn’t surprise me that it’s one of your favorites, we have agreeable tastes, my friend. 💀
This is one creepy video…I can see why Bowie is afraid of Americans if that’s how he sees us. He needs to get out of the cities; too many crazies in them. lol
Seriously, it’s an outstanding video—dark, haunting, and intimidating. Sadly it’s what our county has become. As always, I love the background info you provide…so interesting to read the story behind the music.
You’ll probably think this weird, but my favorite Bowie video is a duet with Mick Jagger of “Dancing in the Street”. It never fails to make me smile when I watch it. I do wonder a little about those two, though. 😉
Kathy—or as my friends call me, Kath. 🖤
True, most of the gun violence does occur in the cities, which is the opposite of what “cities” are supposed to stand for. “Too many rats in a cage…” Songs like this one have so much story behind them, I could’ve easily doubled the article, but I’ve been trying to reign in my (at times) overzealous writing. I find it difficult to drop (what I consider) salient details, though I do often play with the definition of “salient”.
There were rumors about those two in the seventies. From what I’ve read, whatever they shared, Bowie was decidedly much less a fan than Mick Jagger, lol. Thank you for the kind words, Kath. 🖤
I’ve yet to read one of your posts that runs too long, Rann. I say throw in more of those “salient” details; they’re always interesting. 😊🖤
Quite frankly, I’m afraid of many Americans!
Me too, lol.