David Bowie writes Watch That Man

David Bowie wrote ‘Watch That Man’, the opening song on Aladdin Sane, on 29 September 1972.

The previous day, Bowie had performed a triumphant sell-out show at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The after-show party inspired the song.

On the face of it, Bowie’s song took the listener back to the roaring Twenties: a party with high spirits and flowing alcohol, soundtracked by the jazz standard Tiger Rag, and a roll-call cast of guests including Lorraine (Cyrinda Foxe) who “shimmied and she strolled like a Chicago moll”, the Reverend Alabaster who “danced on his knees”, a “Benny Goodman fan” with painted stigmata, an “old fashioned band of married men”, and assorted others.

There were, however, hints of Bowie’s rock peers in the lyrics. The “Man” of the title recalled the Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, while the New York Dolls and Andy Warhol’s Factory entourage gave the song its sleazier fringes. In September 1972 Bowie saw two New York Dolls shows in New York, and was struck by their proto-punk sound and their androgynous and eccentric image.

Bowie also paraphrased a line from John Lennon’s 1970 song ‘I Found Out’. “The freaks on the phone won’t leave me alone” was respun as “The girl on the phone wouldn’t leave me alone/A throwback from someone’s LP”.

The verses of ‘Watch That Man’ pit Bowie as the observer, while in the choruses he becomes the prey. With his international stardom now confirmed, Bowie had moved beyond the wishful beginnings of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, with a new confidence and flamboyance that embraced being the centre of attention.

Last updated: 27 April 2023
Live: Carnegie Hall, New York
Live: Music Hall, Boston, Massachusetts
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