Written by: David Bowie, Brian Eno
Recorded: January 1995; March-November 1996
Producers: David Bowie, Brian Eno; Reeves Gabrels, Mark Plati
Released: 3 February 1997
Look At The Moon! (Live Phoenix Festival 97)
At The Kit Kat Klub (Live New York 99)
BBC Radio Theatre, London June 2000
A Reality Tour
Nothing Has Changed
David Bowie: vocals, keyboards, samples
Brian Eno: keyboards, synthesizer, loops
Carlos Alomar, Reeves Gabrels: guitar
David Bowie: vocals, keyboards, samples
Reeves Gabrels: guitar
Mike Garson: electric piano
Gail Ann Dorsey: bass guitar
Mark Plati: keyboards, programming, samples
Zachary Alford: drums
David Bowie recorded two versions of ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’, which was the final single released from his Earthling album.
‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ was written by myself and Eno. It’s not as truly hostile about Americans as say ‘Born In The USA’: it’s merely sardonic. I was traveling in Java when the first McDonalds went up: it was like, ‘for fuck’s sake.’ The invasion by any homogenized culture is so depressing, the erection of another Disney World in, say, Umbria, Italy, more so. It strangles the indigenous culture and narrows expression of life.”
Earthling press release
In the studio
‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ was a 1.Outside outtake, recorded in Montreux, Switzerland, in late 1994 and completed at New York’s Hit Factory in the new year. It was initially recorded with the working titles ‘Dummy’ (the word was used throughout in place of ‘Johnny’) and ‘Johnny Downloader’, and the chorus was “I’m afraid of the animals”.
That’s fairly self-explanatory. It’s all wrapped up in one of those stereotypical ‘Johnny’ songs: Johnny does this, Johnny does that – in this particular one he’s hauled up as the most mundane, philistine elements of what everybody hates about America. The face of America that we have to put up with is the MacDonalds/Disney/Coke face, this really homogenous, bland cultural invasion that sweeps over us – which is unfortunate, because the aspects of America that are really magical to us are the things it seems to reject, like black magic, or the Beat poets: there’s an incredibly strong individuality about America that gets glossed over by the corporate invasion. The song’s not terribly hostile – actually, it’s just a bit whingey, I suppose. I have to be a bit careful, cos all my band are Yanks!
Mojo, March 1997
The first recording was originally intended for the film Johnny Mnemonic (also another working title for the song), but eventually found a home in Showgirls. The soundtrack album was released in September 1995.
The first version also became the basis for another 1.Outside song, ‘We Prick You’. Brian Eno took the drums from ‘Dummy’ and with the other studio musicians – guitarist Carlos Alomar and drummer Joey Baron – fashioned something new.
We didn’t do anything interesting until about 3.30. Then I started a new track based on my drums from ‘Dummy’. It’s a beginning, though the current vocal (‘We fuck you, we fuck you’) leaves something to be desired.
A Year with Swollen Appendices
Bowie revived ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ during the Earthling sessions, which took place at Looking Glass Studios in New York City in 1996.
This was reconstructed from an earlier version of the song done during the 1.Outside period for a soundtrack I think (don’t ask me which one). There were a couple of 48-track masters for it, and we pulled things off of several different reels to make this new composite. It was quite a clean up job, not the most enjoyable as we were trying to salvage something. Of course, it did come together! David added some new lyrics, Mike some electric piano, Reeves an amazing assortment of fuzz boxes to create a wall of noise (he wanted to use all the ones in his collection) and Gail and Zach their bits.
Interview for Strange Fascination, David Buckley
David Bowie performed ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ on just one occasion in 1996, on 14 October at New York’s Capital Theatre.
The next live outing came on 9 January 1997, at Bowie’s 50th birthday concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden, where it was performed with Sonic Youth.
It subsequently became a fixture of the Earthling Tour, played at every show in 1997. A performance from 20 July 1997 was released on the 2021 album Look At The Moon! (Live Phoenix Festival 97).
Another version, from the GQ Awards at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on 15 October 1997, was the lead song on the 2000 album liveandwell.com.
There were only nine dates in the Hours Tour in 1999. ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ was performed at five of the dates. The 19 November date was released in April 2021 as At The Kit Kat Klub (Live New York 99).
‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ remained a core part of Bowie’s live set for the rest of his touring days. Performances from 25 and 27 June 2000 were released on the respective live albums Glastonbury 2000 and BBC Radio Theatre, London June 2000.
Bowie’s final full show took place in Scheeßel, Germany, on 25 June 2004. ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’ was the penultimate song in his main set. A performance from earlier in the tour, in Dublin in November 2003, is available on the A Reality Tour album and DVD.