Who'll Love Aladdin Sane
Battle cries and champagne just in time for sunrise
Who'll love Aladdin Sane
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The RHMS Ellinis
If you’ve never listened to the album Aladdin Sane
by David Bowie, there’s a simple solution to that. Do it now. Like right
now. Stop watching cat videos on YouTube and go listen to that album. Because it is a very good album. The follow-up to Bowie’s successful Ziggy Stardust
, this was the first album that Bowie released as a genuine rock star and, according to many, as a genuine crazy person. Now, we could go on and on about all the songs on the album; there are many, even some with city names in them (because, remember, that’s what we do here). However, I’m going to talk about one song only, and that’s the title song, “Aladdin Sane.” It’s the second song on the album and it’s probably the most insane song on an album that’s fairly normal. Now, considering that Bowie’s drug habit was pretty much at the “shooting-paint-thinner-in-his-arm” stage, one can listen to this song and realize that he was probably on some pretty heavy drugs while composing this song. Regardless, I’m here to talk about it.
Technically, this song’s title, at least on vinyl, is “Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?) RHMS Ellinis.” I’m sure just about everyone reading this right now is reading that song title and thinking “I have literally no idea
what any of those things mean.” And I understand that. That’s what I’m here for. So calm down, it’s okay
. We’ll get through this together.
First, you’re probably wondering what “Aladdin Sane” even means. Well, Bowie thought it’d be kind of fun (in his own little Bowie way) to do a play on words. He took the phrase “A Lad Insane” and put it together. Get it? Yeah, neither did I. My first reaction when hearing the name of this album/song was “Hmm. Aladdin Sane? I wonder what that means? Whatever. David Bowie’s crazy.” And I dismissed it at that, like many people dismiss most things David Bowie has done (except for that “Dancing in the Street” video with Mick Jagger. Still not sure what was going on there). Second, there are those funny looking dates. The first two, 1913 and 1938, are the starting years of the first two World Wars. The third date, 197?, is the implication that Bowie believed that a third World War was impending. Now, unless there was a nuclear holocaust that I wasn’t aware of, I’m pretty sure he was a little off the mark there. The third thing, the “RHMS Ellinis,” is what I’m here to talk about. That was where Bowie wrote this song.
The RHMS Ellinis
has a long history. It was a luxury cruise liner that was originally called the SS Lurline
, the name coming from a variation on the name “Loreley” from the old poem about Loreley the siren, because apparently nothing says “get on this boat” like referencing the mythical deaths of hundreds of sailors who crashed into some rocks for a pretty face. The boat first set sail in 1931, and in 1963 it was given a brand new shiny name, the Ellinis
, and an entire makeover complete with an entirely new structure, and started cruising around the world until 1987, when her dreams, like many other people’s, ended in Taiwan when she was scrapped.
But back in December of 1972, David Bowie ended up on that cruise ship, having set sail from Philadelphia back to the UK after the first leg of his Ziggy Stardust
tour, and was struck with inspiration while reading Evelyn Waugh’s book Vile Bodies
, and so penned “Aladdin Sane.” And the rest, as they say, is drug-induced, cross-dressed, vaguely homosexual history. ~ Ben Palmer
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