MUSIC NERD MOMENT OF THE DAY: David Bowie – Panic In Detroit

Currently I’m reading a book called The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s. I admit that I don’t really have the biggest knowledge on Bowie and his music, really just a few songs and album titles here and there that allows me to have the shortest of conversations about him. However, the book has made me even more curious about his music career, his alter egos, his albums and the impact he had on rock and pop during his heyday. In my Bowie studies, I’ve come across a song and story that is extremely intriguing: “Panic In Detroit”. Apparently, a meeting between Bowie and Iggy Pop in Detroit in 1972, where Iggy told Bowie about music manager, poet and activist John Sinclair, the founder of the White Panther Party, inspired Bowie to write the song for his 1973 album, Aladdin Sane. Apparently also drawing inspiration from Jimi Hendrix’ “Gypsy Eyes”, The Stooges’ “1969”, Bob Dylan’s version of “All Along The Watchtower” and the MC5 album Kick Out The Jams, Bowie created a song that captured what he is paraphrased as calling “a vague sense of impending catastrophe.” Bowie does a respectable job of capturing that sense of catastrophe, desolation, mistrust, isolation and alienation that permeated so many people’s lives in the early 1970s. The song lyrics are desperate and confused with straining abstraction, while the maracas, drums and cymbals compliment Mick Ronson’s sonically disturbing guitar and blanket Bowie’s words with a distorted sense of urgency, tension and angry melancholy. With “Panic In Detroit”, Bowie helped to give a face to the inevitable climate of desperation and apathy that the years immediately following the end of the 1960s would bring on.

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