I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you
I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you
Keep your mouth shut, you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird
And I’m busting up my brains for the words
I love Moonage Daydream ; it’s probably my favourite Bowie song and I listen to it a lot. Until recently, though, I never got the lyrics. Turns out, neither did Bowie. Busting up his brains for them, he used a technique influenced by dada and known as ‘cut up’. Also used by William S Burroughs and later by Kurt Cobain, it is a method whereby words and phrases are cut from newspapers and magazines, or handwritten on pieces of card, and re-assembled randomly. Like “a very western tarot,” as Bowie calls it, the results are not necessarily meant to be ‘got’, but perhaps felt or understood on an intuitive level. Like reading tarot cards, the process focuses the mind and taps into intuitive senses and creative energy. It is a way of refreshing and deepening one’s relationship with words and images, of finding inspiration and answers that are already within.
“What I’ve used it for more for than anything else is igniting anything that might be in my imagination, and it can often come up with very interesting attitudes to look in to,” says Bowie in the clip above. “A lot of the things that I’ve done, it seems that it would predict things about the future, or tell me a lot about the past. It’s really quite an astonishing thing.”
Lining up his cards, like the lines of cocaine one can also see on the table, Bowie pushes himself towards the boundaries of creativity. Bowie was a visionary, an art-rock pioneer, and while I don’t endorse the cocaine and milk diet of his Thin White Duke period, the idea of using cut up as a means of scrambling established approaches, accessing inner visions and becoming a pioneer in one’s own creativity, appeals to me greatly.
As a technique for pieces longer than songs, cut up can be used to develop plots, and form connections and descriptions. It also appears to be an intriguing and effective way of accessing and influencing one’s overall creativity, of ‘igniting’ what might be in your imagination.
So what do you think of Bowie’s cut up technique? Is it one that you have tried? I’d love to know what you think. Feel free to leave a comment below.