ENSC200 Media Analysis Assignment - 20073649 Media Piece: Time Will Crawl by David Bowie (song) On April 25th, 1986, the greatest nuclear power plant accident in history occurred in the town of Pripyat, Ukraine. A flawed reactor design in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant caused a massive explosion, releasing a massive cloud of radiation into the atmosphere that resulted in immediate contamination of the surrounding environment, as well as around 31 direct deaths, and over 4000 indirect, delayed ones (WHO, 2018). Many of the chemical effects of the radiation are still being experienced today (Bourguignon, 2016). Chernobyl had a profound cultural impact, increasing distrust in the government and strengthening the anti – nuclear power movement (Mulvey, 2006). David Bowie’s “Time Will Crawl” uses writing and musical delivery to capture both of these themes. Bowie was recording in Switzerland in April 1986 when he learned of the disaster in fragments through the radio. He cited the memory of standing outside in the sunlight, anticipating the cloud of radiation that was sailing his way, as the main inspiration behind “Time Will Crawl” (Pegg, 2011). This song takes the listener through the causes and effects of the Chernobyl incident, beginning with the cultural values that laid the foundation for this type of manmade disaster. The first verse outlines two main forces that contribute to the idea of passivity in the face of destruction. In the first few lines of the song, Bowie describes a sense of powerlessness towards religion, stating, “I would not challenge a giant, I would not take on the church.” The next verse critiques the government driven space race, describing a blind government man who sends a “top – gun pilot”, or astronaut, into the air, never to return. Here, Bowie seems to insinuate a futility to the technological competition that was occurring between the United States and the Soviet Union at the time (Gosztola, 2016). Calling the astronaut top – gun only to use three lines to emphasize his demise at the hands of a “blind man” gives a disapproving undertone to this verse. It is clear that Bowie is aware of the absurd amount of trust and power attributed to religion and the government, two factors which, historically have proven to be the cause of countless wars. Interestingly, he doesn’t seem angry or roused, he is simply documenting what he has observed from a slightly disapproving, but mainly objective standpoint. After the chorus, the lines become more specific to the direct environmental effects of Chernobyl. The line “I saw a black, black stream, full of white eyed fish” explicitly describes the immediate contamination of aquatic environments by radiation poisoning and the destruction of wildlife as a result. The next line seems to use a metaphor to predict Bowie’s idea of the apocalypse: “And a drowning man with no eyes at all”. In this metaphorical vision, the fish and the stream represent the environment, suffering as a result of the tendency of humans to turn a blind eye to destruction in favor of selfish desires. The man represents mankind, and his drowning in a black, polluted stream suggests that the destruction of our own environment will be the eventual cause of our demise. This line brings the idea of blindness of man that was introduced in the second verse full circle; what was initially associated with a selfish technological race presents itself again in the face of death. Chernobyl had given Bowie a preview of how the end of the world would play out; a bureaucratic dispute fueled by greed and hate that no one was likely to take responsibility for. This graphic vision is followed up by a few lines describing Chernobyl specifically: “I felt a warm warm breeze, that melted metal and steel.” Bowie describes a “bad migraine”, most likely referring to radiation poisoning, the “pills [he] took” being anti-radiation pills, which were known for their dangerous side effects. Arguably the most striking aspect of this song is not the lyrics, but their delivery. Musically, the song has a rather harsh sound; Bowies vocals remain nearly monotone throughout the entire song, and he doesn’t seem to put much effort into rhyming his lyrics. The song sounds drained, and the singer sounds unmotivated, almost as if someone is forcing him to keep going. This sense of exhaustion adds depth to the sense of passivity in the face of environmental and social havoc that was established early in the lyrics. Chernobyl gave Bowie a glimpse of the apocalypse, and he did not see it as worthy of any sort of grand anthem. The fourth verse specifies the concept of technological development and its costs as the perspective shifts to an innocent civilian caught up in the destruction of this nuclear accident. When he describes a “talented child that came to live in our town”, he is likely referring to a scientist that came to work on the plant. The next few lines, “We never bothered to scream as your mask went on, we only smelt the gas as we laid down to sleep” suggest that the citizens were the ones who suffered the most by blindly putting their trust into the scientists, while the scientists protected only themselves. The chorus, which takes up essentially the rest of the song, continues to describe the destruction that was predicated by Chernobyl with an air of indifference. Bowie describes all the horrors we will experience if things don’t change, but he gives no solution or alternative. He seems certain that bloody streets, shrinking feet, eyes falling out and dry mouths are all in our near future if the 21st century doesn’t “lose”. This idea of the 21st century losing could mean a variety of things, but here, it seems like he is associating this time period with the impact of greed driven factors like warfare and technological development that led to the Chernobyl incident. It seems like Bowie believes that these factors will only grow in magnitude throughout the coming century. The repeated phrase “til the 21st century lose” reminds the listener that the only way to end the horrors he describes is to eliminate the modern values of greed and hate that predicate aimlessly destructive wars. Appendix: Lyrics: I’ve never sailed on a sea I would not challenge a giant I could not take on the church Time will crawl Till the 21st century lose I know a government man He was as blind as the moon He saw the sun in the night He took a top-gun pilot He made him fly through a hole Till he grew real old And he never came down He just flew till he burst You were a talented child You came to live in our town We never bothered to scream When your mask went on We only smelt the gas As we laid down to sleep Time will crawl and our heads bowed down Time will crawl and our eyes fall out Time will crawl and the streets run red Time will crawl til the 21st century lose Time will crawl and our mouths run dry Time will crawl and our feet grow small Time will crawl and our tails fall off Time will crawl till our mouths run dry Time will crawl til the 21st century lose Time will crawl till our feet grow small Time will crawl till our tails fall off Time will crawl and our heads bowed down Time will crawl till the 21st century lose Time will crawl and our eyes fall out Time will crawl and the streets run red I saw a black black stream Time will crawl til the 21st century lose Full of white eyed fish And a drowning man For the crazy child With no eyes at all We’ll give every life I felt a warm warm breeze For the crackpot notion That melted metal and steel I got a bad migraine That lasted three long years And the pills that I took Made my fingers disappear Works Cited: Gosztola, Kevin. “The Protest Songs Of David Bowie.” MintPress News, 13 Jan. 2016, www.mintpressnews.com/212665-2/212665/. Mulvey, Stephen. “Europe | The Chernobyl Nightmare Revisited.” BBC News, BBC, 18 Apr. 2006, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4918742.stm. “Chernobyl: the True Scale of the Accident.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 27 Dec. 2018, www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/index1.html. Pegg, Nicholas. The Complete David Bowie. Titan Books, 2011. Bourguignon, Didier. “European Parliament / Think Tank.” Chernobyl 30 Years on: Environmental and Health Effects - Think Tank, www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2016)581972.