Monday, December 19, 2016

25 Songs About Addiction and Recovery: SCARY MONSTERS, David Bowie

Scary Monsters, from the album of the same name by David Bowie, is the second Bowie song on this list. It was also the album Ashes to Ashes was from, and it was another song that reflected the newly clean, in 1980, Bowie's more recent experiences and feelings. And I absolutely confess that I had no idea of what this song was about until twenty years after it was released.
But it was quite clearly about a relationship between two addicts. I am going to break from usual practice and break it down line-by-line:

She had a horror of rooms, she was tired, you can't hide beat
"Rooms" can be pretty generic--but it also is what addicts call the fellowships, both NA and AA, informally, often but not exclusively among themselves. Every using addict has a "horror" of them. Every using addict is also tired on a scale that non-addicts can barely imagine, and that contrary to the denial addicts live in, it's no secret to anyone else.
When I looked in her eyes, they were blue but nobody home
This could refer to simply being wasted or high, but it also is a pretty fair description of the vapid, empty look of a using addict. It isn't so much a physical effect as the lack of hope and belief that the misery will stop. It's the look of hopelessness, of an extinguished light.
She could have been a killer if she didn't walk the way she do
This is a double reference, both to the soulless start of the previous line--and also to the fact that, cleaned up and healthy, she could have been a stunning, beautiful women. "Walking" is slang among addicts and many earth people as well for street prostitution.
She opened strange doors that we'd never close again
This is partially a reference to the mind-altering properties of many drugs--something that non-addicts do not often understand or credit is that while the cost/benefit analysis of drug use ends up being overwhelmingly negative for addicts, there are positives. And one of them is that it does expand consciousness and often gives new perspectives on many subjects to the user. And some very central insights of my life came in active addiction, most notably into traumatized women's thought processes, and those doors will never be shut again--it's not possible to unknow something you learn.
She began to wail, jealousies scream, waiting on the lights, know what I mean?
There are few people, if any, in this world more jealous than the women addict that is in a relationship, whether the man is also using or not. The guilt and shame that comes from many women having to step outside a relationship to obtain the next one is often reflected in this jealousy. "Waiting on the lights" could mean many things--nice touch there, Mr. Bowie--but I've always taken it to mean that most rows and arguments between addicts end with police being called, because the ability to restrain deeply engage emotions is almost non-existent in full-blown addiction. MOTY and I became very well acquainted, to give a personal example, with the Johnson City police department in the last three months of my active addiction, when we lived in the apartment on Pearl Street; the cops were called there ten times if they were called once.
Scary monsters, super creeps, keep me running, running scared
Any fear-related emotions are heightened in addiction. To quote the Basic Text, "anything not completely familiar is alien and dangerous." Difficult people and authority are viewed as monstrous, and annoying people are viewed as creeps. "Running" is slang for a sustained period of drug use, and one of the defining characteristics of being high for a long time is paranoia--hence the rarely-apocryphal tales of people tweaking and geeking in closets, refusing to move, becoming very belligerent and argumentive, and seeing and hearing things that weren't said and aren't there.
She asked me to stay and I stole her room
This could mean many things, but one that readily sprang to mind was the rather common occurrence of women attempting to resolve drug-supply tensions by getting into a "relationship" with either the drug dealer or another user with (at the moment) deep pockets. The problem is, whatever desires the woman might have had and whatever ideas she might have believed about boundaries in the relationship soon go out the window. I can't tell you how many times I heard someone being told, "This is ain't your place anymore."
She asked for my love and I gave her a dangerous mind
Many women end up, whatever their initial feelings about someone, whether they be "sugar daddies" or dealers, getting fed a steady diet of drugs, and often get introduced to drugs they haven't used before. The results are often unpredictable, and can lead to serious psychological changes, not all of which snap back to "normal" when the inevitable end of using comes.
Now she's stupid in the street and she can't socialize
"Stupid in the street" I have come to believe means that the person is too dependent on the dealer/daddy to be a functional addict on their own any longer, that they have lost the ability to cop and use on their own. "She can't socialize" refers to both to the crushing control that most men in these situations exercise on "their" women, and the erosion of social skills and basic thinking ability that often accompanies heavy drug use.
Well, I love the little girl and I'll love her to the day she dies
"Love" is perhaps the most sickeningly ironic term addicts use. There is nothing of true love in the addict/addict relationship, and the "to the day she dies" bit is also ironic--the minute she no longer fills a purpose for him, he will drop her like a cigarette smoked to the filter.

The song closes with a drawn-out chorus of sound that isn't quite words, but does give the impression of gaining in intensity--mimicking the progress of addiction. And the entire song is aurally arresting--the drum beat is very odd and loud, the guitar song is all higher pitched and a eerie, keening wail, and the bass beat is very rhythmic and distinctive. It's a bit of a different song live, more a guitar player's chance to show off--but the bass line is so strong that to me, it reminded me of the serious crack smoker's constant heart pump/rush.

And of course, I knew nothing about any of this in 1980. I remember hearing this with about eight months clean and being absolutely blown away by the level of understanding and perception I now had.

I listed the lyrics. I am enclosing two videos. One of the studio version, and one from Bowie's 50th birthday extravaganza in 1997, in which Frank Black of the Pixies shares the vocals with Bowie.

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