No fancy urns to rub for me, Just Bowie’s Genie, the Gene Genie.
Seems strange that it was so long ago, 1972, and written while Bowie was in New York. Bowie always claimed that the main character Jean was loosely based on Iggy Pop and that the context was an imagined Americana. But he later suggested the name was a play on the name Jean Genet, the French thief who turned writer and political activist. Whichever of the two or both, Iggy Pop or Jean Genet certianly fit the song’s protagonist. The song was a minor hit at the time reaching No. 2 in the UK and 71 on Billboard in the US, but became a cult hit thereafter.
The story around the song and the video clip made for it, the time in Bowie’s life – being in New York and hanging with the Warhol crowd, all add to the song and its deeper meaning. The lyrics contain a sense of 60s, especially “let yourself go.” For me the song contains a sense of yearning for what might be. The abiding question that sits there is – what might happen if you let go? The song implies anything might happen, there’s also an edge to it that hints danger ahead, the Genie isn’t all good – “Sits like a man, but he smiles like a reptile.” The word frisson comes to mind. So, letting go includes risk.
And isn’t that the human condition? We want to let go, but we fear the risk? We might even imagine that new landscape of our lives, but we refuse to even let our eyes glimpse even a shadow of it. Fear is the most crippling feeling, it comes from the primitive brain, the one that tells us when to run, when it’s dangerous, but it can unfortunately overide the other parts of the brain, the logical, the creative, the reflective, and deny what they are saying. Sometimes we can be paralysed by fear. It takes a lot of work to undo what the primitive brain says, especially if we have learned to give it room.
That’s why so many books have been written on retraining the brain, it can be done, but it takes time to let go. Be your own genie, realise your wishes, let go.
“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. It’s like boats. You keep you keep your motor on so you can steer with the current. And when you hear the sound of the waterfall coming nearer and nearer, tidy up the boat, put on your best tie and hat, smoke a cigar right up to the moment you go over. That’s a triumph.” (Ray Bradbury, Farewell Summer)
Besides, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
Now where’s my best tie and hat?