Boys Keep Swinging


A few brief snare hits, and there he is, singing and dancing, looking conventional. It’s weird. He’s David Bowie; why is he wearing a well-fit suit? He even has attractive women as back-up singers, the only other people in the video, appearing in brief flashes. I knew his music became more commercial in the ’80s, but I didn’t know he became so normal. I’m standing in front of a large screen, arms folded. I’m in the middle of the David Bowie Is exhibit at the MCA Chicago. I’ve never heard this song before.

“Boys Keep Swinging” is deceptive. The music is propulsive and simple, relying on a few simple chords and a rubbery bassline, until a distorted and discordant guitar solo erupts. The lyrics, rather than celebrate traditional masculinity, poke and prod at the idea of gender. If “life is a pop of the cherry when you’re a boy,” should I be thrilled or scared? It’s as if Bowie took a ’50s rock-n-roll number about winning the big game and popped it in the microwave, leaving a melted-down, hollowed-out husk.

As the solo begins, the camera pans to a runway. One by one, the back-up singers strut towards me and pull off their wigs, revealing themselves to be David Bowie. He tosses the wig aside and smears his lipstick with the back of his hand. What a relief.

Originally published in edited form on NDSMCObserver

2016Jack Riedy