The opening line of ‘Young Americans’ – “They pulled in just behind the fridge” – was a reference to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s stage show Behind The Fridge.
The title was a play on Beyond The Fringe, the hugely successful and groundbreaking comedy show starring Cook, Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller in the early Sixties.
Bowie and Visconti saw Behind The Fridge on 8 May 1973 at the Cambridge Theatre in London’s Covent Garden.
David and I were reunited socially after The Man Who Sold The World split up Hype (Woody Woodmansey, Mick Ronson and myself) in 1970. The ice was broken in 1973, when David and Angie invited my wife, Mary Hopkin, and I to see the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore show Behind The Fridge in the West End. We were on speaking terms again and kept up our renewed friendship via phone and the occasional visit to his flat in Chelsea.
Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) book
Bowie had become entranced with America during a three-week promotional tour in January and February 1971, and the Aladdin Sane album had shown his growing fascination with the country as the Ziggy Stardust Tour progressed.
‘Young Americans’, perhaps unsurprisingly, contained his most US-centric lyrics to date. After the opening vignette of the two young lovers, the imagery comes thick and fast: Ford Mustang, Cadillacs and Chryslers, the McCarthyist ‘Red Scares’ of the 1950s (“Have you been the un-American?”), Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement (“Sit on your hands on a bus of survivors”), Barbie dolls, and Afro Sheen hair products, “A product line for soulful black people” which sponsored the black music television show Soul Train (“Black’s got respect, and white’s got his soul train”).
The song even took in the Watergate scandal. Richard Nixon had resigned the presidency on 8 August 1974, just three days before recording started, making the paraphrase of the Beatles‘ ‘A Day In The Life’ – “I heard the news today, oh boy” – particularly apposite.
There is a thread of darkness running throughout ‘Young Americans’, from the young lovers’ functional, unsatisfactory lovemaking (“It took him minutes, took her nowhere”), to a reference to suicide (“Well, well, well, would you carry a razor/In case, just in case of depression?”). Bowie’s final lines, a tumble of questions with no given answers, remain among Bowie’s bleakest:
Ain’t there a man who can say no more?
And ain’t there a woman I can sock on the jaw?
And ain’t there a child I can hold without judging?
Ain’t there a pen that will write before they die?
Ain’t you proud that you’ve still got faces?
Ain’t there one damn song that can make me
Break down and cry?