Scream Like the Hour

Crash Course for the Ravers
Album: Scary Monsters…And Super Creeps, 1980
Prior Level of Acquaintance: Minimal
Three-Word Review: Frustrated, tragic, gorgeous

Scary Monsters…And Super Creeps: what a fucking appropriate album for the month of bombing in Baghdad, mass shooting in Florida, the multi-sided vitriol of the Brexit, and the collectively awful, unnecessary deaths of Lorne Ahrens, Philando Castile, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Alton Sterling, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa.

I am barred from the event
I really don’t understand the situation
So where’s the moral

Not to mention the assorted horrendousness going on around the world: in Syria generally, South Sudan, and against the Rohingya in Burma, to name just a few.

Documentaries on refugees
Couples against the target
Throw a rock against the road
And it breaks into pieces

Stephen Pinker and his ilk aren’t just bright-siding when they say there’s less overall violence now than at any time in the past, but David Sipress‘ now-classic cartoon nails how we sure don’t feel that way: “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.”

And I hide under blankets
Or did I run away
I really can’t remember

Scary Monsters is full of anger, frustration, and tragedy, especially the throat-shredding opening number. Yet it also lingers on two of the lushest melodies in Bowie’s entire discography, ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and ‘Scream Like a Baby.’ I keep catching myself humming them and then going oh, ick.

‘Scream Like a Baby’ anticipates the tuneful hyper-drama of the following decade’s rock-influenced musical theater. At the end of Act I, characters in the Claude-Michel Schönberg-composed Miss Saigon find false reassurance in a totalitarian government. Did Schönberg know he was ironing out the melody of Bowie’s government-abused character from a few years before?

Here’s an instructive demo of ‘Scream Like a Baby’

– and the amazing Lea Salonga and Miss Saigon reunion cast.

There’s little comfort to be found in Scary Monsters or in the news, even for people like me who aren’t directly suffering. As always, I return to history. Many situations that are utterly horrid now were even worse a few decades ago. Baby steps are intolerable – “no more free steps to heaven”* – but they are occurring. The world’s exploding. It’s been exploding for decades. Help? No. Context? Yes.

Draw the blinds on yesterday
And it’s all so much scarier

Next: A moment with Freddie Mercury. And cats.


*I first heard this lyric as “no more three steps to heaven,” like the 1960 Eddie Cochran song. I still suspect that was in Bowie’s head when he wrote this.

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