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Monday, July 23, 2018

Dental Fricative

Episode Eighty-Four: Dental Fricative
...in which the Pharm Life Pills are in the dirt.

8 comments:

  1. David Bowie, Station to Station (1976). I can't recall what brought this to my attention earlier this week, but something hooked me in a way that made me realize the song had never before met with my scrutiny. As a sophomore in high school, I used the line 'It's not the side effects of the cocaine / So I'm thinking it must be love' on the daily quote chalk board that hung in my class' alcove hallway. I'm sure I saw the dichotomy of hope / despair that drives the song, but I don't believe I had ever heard the line 'One magical movement from Kether to Malkuth' until just now.

    The line "from Kether to Malkuth" grabbed me in the context of the deep despair in which Bowie was living in L.A., at the time of recording S2S. That, in the midst of chaos, we might seek grounding through counterintuitive (etherial) means. My own days at this point are filled with stress and chaos, and a map out would be welcome.

    The song S2S references Prospero from Shakespeare's The Tempest (1623), "Such is the stuff dreams are made," and so the nihilistic Duke introduces himself as an exile betrayed by his own sorcery...asking where do we go from here?

    My cartoon takes these lines out of context, knowing nothing as I do of Kabbalah, and knowing little of what Bowie meant when he wrote them into the song.

    For instance, Squidman's utterance comes here as a negative statement. Kether, I understand, is God-consciousness, represented by the head. Malkuth is the Earth, or, rather, the physical manifestation of God-consciousness, represented by the feet. We are both a part of and experiencing that manifestation now. So, taken that way, that line might be an utterance of awe: Here We Are both experiencing the blessing of life. But I also wonder whether it's a put-down: we move from God-consciousness to Earth, a step down, and now we're wallowing in shit. I have no idea which he was referring to, but my go-to is the latter. The character to whom Squiman is derisively pointing out our existence in the dirt is a shadow, ripples and deformities. I went for something utterly sad and dejected.

    Taking this as my cue, the comic is about my wallowing in the shit. I looked for a Soap Strip image to depict poverty and dejection, and came across this image from Paris in the '50s by Dutch photographer Sem Presser. It had a lot of feet in it in an arresting pose, and so I went for that.

    The Pharm Life frame a map of the Kabbalah Tree of Life, an image stolen from the Web site 'The Spirit of Scripture' (though I suspect the image predates them). I drew it from the perspective of the feet, accentuating that that place is where we are, and it is a long way home.

    The Art frame has Bowie advising me to remain focused and to move fluidly through spiritual transformations (though I don't know what the line refers to ... the stations of the cross?), and I flatly tell him "sorry, this is impractical and dangerous". Of course, as with the 'one magical movement' line, his suggestion of 'driving like a demon' might by misinterpreted here. Does he mention it in the song out of envy, or is he afraid?

    It is also possible that these lines just seemed right, or sounded right, to him at the time, and when he put them all together the song worked in it's own mysterious way that even he never really understood.

    In his blog:

    https://bowiesongs.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/station-to-station/

    Chris O'Leary takes apart the song piece by piece, and at one point notes that several sounds are 'Dental Fricative' in nature: meaning that they are made by expelling air through the mouth with the tongue held against the teeth. "ST" in "Station to Station", for example. The confluence of my feeling like "maybe they just sounded right" and the image of this dental fricative motion - an image of poised anticipation, and pressure, and of sharp release, seemed right to me. Hence the title.

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    1. I wish I'd known this before I wrote this weeks' strip.

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