Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 200
Thurs. Aug 22, 2013
“The Bewlay Brothers”
David Bowie’s most personal song is also his most cryptic. No matter how many times I have attempted to dissect this mysterious like mantra, “The Bewlay Brothers” remains one of The Thin White Duke lyrical wonders of his career. I liken this Hunky Dory cut to John Lennon’s most famous Beatles ambiguous classics “I Am The Walrus” and “Glass Onion.” Unbeknownst to most, Peter Doggett in his book The Man Who Sold The World: David Bowie and the 1970’s, producer Ken Scott who helmed the “Bewlay” sessions also engineered Lennon’s “I Am The Walrus” and “Glass Onion” in the late sixties at Abbey Road studios. Factually, the only thing all three songs have in common, Lennon’s “Onion” and “Walrus” & Bowie’s “Brothers” is that they shared the same engineer. Lyrically, Bowie must have been inspired by the way Lennon used his wordplay to confuse the audience that was looking for clues inside his lyrics like his fans did with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
In Nicholas Pegg’s The Complete David Bowie, The Thin White Duke said this about “The Bewlay Brothers,” “The circumstances of the recording barely exist in my memory. It was late, I know that. I was on my own with my producer Ken Scott, the other musicians having gone home for the night. Unlike the rest of the Hunky Dory album, which I had written before the studio had been booked; this song was an unwritten piece that I felt had to be recorded instantaneously… I do believe that we finished the whole thing at that one night.” And what a night it was. I would have loved to have been there to see Bowie complete his lyrical pièce de résistance. A perfect description for “Bewlay” wouldn’t you say, for years, Bowie has resisted in sharing the inspired significance of one of his most mystifying songs.
Bowie admitted in Doggett’s book, “I like “The Bewlay Brothers” so much, only because it’s so personal. I’m sure it doesn’t mean a thing to anybody else, and I’m sorry if I inflicted myself upon people with that track.” No apologies necessary Mr. Bowie, for a rock ‘n’ roll scholar like myself I love the fact with each and every spin I discover new meanings of this Bowie classic. Is “Bewlay” really about Bowie’s now deceased brother Terry who suffered from schizophrenia? Or maybe “Brothers” is a multiple personality anthem who’s secret his hidden inside the lyrical mirror of “He’s Chameleon, Comedian, Corinthian and Caricature?” Or maybe, as Bowie sung so eloquently, the “he” focus of his song “could be me…” or you? Inspired by Lennon, the coda of “Bewlay” is the closest Bowie came to emulating the nursery rhyme genius of Lennon’s “I Am The Walrus.” Created for the American market, as Bowie told producer Scott in David Buckley’s Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive Story, “Well the lyrics make no sense, but the Americans always like to read into things, so let them read into it what they will.”
So relive the mysterious masterpiece of The Thin White Duke’s midnight musings, although we may never get the complete picture in the meaning of “The Bewlay Brothers,” the joy is in the listening and rediscovering the brilliance of Bowie’s most enigmatic tracks in his ever expanding song canon. One more time and maybe this time when the needle hits the Hunky Dory vinyl, we’ll finally capture the meaning of the lyrically unattainable ‘psycho-dellic’ mind trip that is— “The Bewlay Brothers.”