THE SOBER PHILISTINE
With an absence of the desire for knowledge, and an absence of wonder, the sober philistine (a puppet, a toy, a beggar man) remains in bondage to fate, currying favor with the angels but even the angels, God's servant/messengers can not be relied on. A heathen-fool, the philistine lives his life on bended knee, uncertain of his destiny. His custody calls and what appear to be loyalty to the universal divine force is really only "bruised passivity," compliance, nonresistance, submission to the Gods.
Bowie suggests that the modern man (irrational, unthinking, unfeeling) is no longer in touch with his heart's core, his subliminal self. He no longer thirst for knowledge, yet he wants certainty.
The sober philistine turns a deaf ear to the world around him and loses his way. He becomes unable to experience the divine mystery and instead indulges in the reverie of "big screen dolls, tits and explosions."
Throughout "Outside," "Earthling," 'hours...' and "Heathen" Bowie exposes the philistine's poverty of intellect, his puerility, and lack of imagination.
Bowie introduces us to "mothers brutal vermin," "Leon Blank," "the crazed in the hot zone," and "the small, needlepoint life" of small friends, "sliding naked and new like bad tempered children on a rain slicked street."
He exposes the simple man's barbarism and vulgarity, the odourless men living in a sea of sham, the flesh punks burning in their gloom.
In the process, he also reveals the dreamer's heresy, hallucination and fallacy of vision, his self deceit and madness: "We had such wishful beginnings but we lived unbearable lives."
The dummy Johnny is still struggling with a joke. Ramona A Stone kills Baby Grace, thereby destroying all purity and elegance. Johnny slipped up. His life became a farce, a bad joke.
A broken man with a broken voice, his "slips of the tongue" revealed his imperfect speech. Like the protagonist of "Afraid," he wishes he was smarter, a wiser kind of guy.
In the song "Slip Away" from the album Heathen Bowie alludes again to the philistine, the clown, the lord of misrule: "We were dumb but you were fun," "the joke we always knew." And in "I Would Be Your Slave," the philistine becomes a laughingstock, a servile lackey, one of God's forgotten minions. The simple man is mistaken. He has a fatal flaw like the tin man-machine who longs for a brain.
In the song "I've Been Waiting For You," the philistine-dreamer becomes a waiter on Providence, looking for a woman to save his life. His pleas fall upon deaf/dead ears. The gods remain indifferent and impassive. The philistine becomes the forgotten man, hopeless, adrift, uncertain.
Bowie says he named his new album Heathen, because Philistine was too on-the-money. "But I was trying to rope in all the meanings for the word: a destroyer, someone who doesn't understand, somebody who recognizes no God. It's a quandary, which, I think, is current with the times."
Like the main character of "Thursday's Child," the philistine is a stammerer, a shuffler with "a whisper of hope that seems to fail," "a dreamer dreaming his life away."
Both a fool and a dunce, he remains unenlightened and blank, shallow and blinded. He stumbles through the world. "Caught tripping," the clown slips away. At sea and afraid, the dreamer becomes deranged. The heathen commits an absurdity and refuses to believe. That is when he yields to the darkness, a fatal mistake he can't afford to make.
16th July 2002.
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