David Bowie John Mendelsohn - Essay

John Mendelsohn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bowie's music offers an experience that is as intriguing as it is chilling, but only to the listener sufficiently together to withstand its schizophrenia.

Bowie deals throughout [The Man Who Sold The World] in oblique and fragmented images that are almost impenetrable separately but which convey with effectiveness an ironic and bitter sense of the world when considered together. His unhappy relationship with the world is traced to his inability to perceive it sanely….

In an album that, save for the impotently sarcastic "Running Gun Blues," is uniformly excellent, at least four tracks demand special attention: "Savior Machine" demonstrates that Bowie far from exhausted his talent for quietly moralistic rock sci-fi in his earlier "Space Oddity." The almost insufferably depressive "After All" contains the strangest refrain perhaps ever conceived—a haunting, mantric "Oh, by jingo." "The Width of the Circle" is both a hallucination with religious overtones that recall both Dante and Adam and Eve and a sound of enormity. And "She Shook Me Cold" contains some of the most bizarre sexual imagery ever committed to vinyl: "She sucked my dormant will," or "She took my head, smashed it up / And left my young blood rising."

You ambitious young film-makers out there comtemplating a brilliantly evocative psychologically-oriented film about despair, consider Kevin Ayers and then eventually decide on David Bowie to do the score.

John Mendelsohn, "Records: 'The Man Who Sold the World'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1971; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 76, February 18, 1971, p. 50.