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Nightmare Fuel / David Bowie

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Those eyes, Ah!

David Bowie was a master of brilliant music and the like... but he was also a subtle master of creepy fuel. And trust us, he truly knew how to scare people.


David Bowie (1967):

  • While most of the album is incredibly lightweight and silly music hall, the final song on the record "Please, Mr. Gravedigger" is the exact opposite. A morbid, eerie performance piece with no music whatsoever, instead being accompanied with dozens of sound effects of pouring rain, rustling and shovels. David speak-sings a grim story of a lonely, bitter gravedigger who’s only joy comes from the locket he found of a dead little girl who had been murdered. The narrator discovers this and admits to the Gravedigger that he was the one who killed her and that he’s dug a grave for him too. Add in incoherent mumbling between the ‘verses’ and the nasally, rambling performance and it comes off less like a song and more like the deranged ramblings of a Serial Killer.

Space Oddity:

  • If you listen to the end of "Space Oddity", you'll hear a lot of dissonant noises increasing in pitch. If you take the song by its literal meaning, it could easily represent Major Tom's brain going into its death throes from anoxia. And that's just one possible interpretation; we never find out what happened to the guy.
    • When Mission Control is calling out desperately to Major Tom, completely unable to do a thing about it.
    • Alternatively, the song could be about an astronaut who was given drugs by his superiors. In real life, the USAF makes drugs widely available for pilots, and it is a standard procedure to administer amphetamines to Air Force pilots, who are also informed they might be deemed unfit to fly certain missions if they refuse to take amphetamines. On April 17, 2002, Harry Schmidt and William Umbach were ordered to take amphetamines (which the USAF calls "go pills") to fly a mission over Kandahar, Afghanistan. Their altered state of mind caused them to open fire on Canadian soldiers, killing four and wound eight others.
    • This is what the song is describing (which fits with the revelation that "Major Tom's a junkie" in the later song "Ashes to Ashes"). Before the launch, ground control orders Major Tom to take something his superiors call "protein pills", but which has distinct effects on his perception, effects you wouldn't expect from proteins. And it's when Major Tom leaves his spacecraft for the planned spacewalk, that he starts having altered perceptions.

      • First, he realizes he is floating in a most peculiar way, which means unlike the normal way he was floating inside the capsule.
      • Then, he notices that the stars look very different, which means he is not seeing points of light, he is seeing something else, something conjured up by his mind.
      • Later, he becomes convinced that his spaceship knows the way to go. Not only his perceptions are being affected: he is also losing his ability to think logically and starts experiencing delusions.
      • Since he is now convinced that his spaceship can think for itself, he switches off the electrical circuits. Ground control warns him that his circuit's dead, but he no longer cares about hearing them.
      • Believing to be far above the moon, and thinking there's nothing he can do about the predicament he put himself in, he eventually burns up in an uncontrolled reentry.

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    • Nightmare Retardant did occur twice on this one, though. The earlier example was the 1969 promo video, which seems to imply that Major Tom got to sleep with two sexy aliens. The later example is "Ashes to Ashes" which proves that Major Tom did survive and he does regain contact, though it's not ground control.

The Man Who Sold the World:

Hunky Dory:

  • This album is Lighter and Softer than the previous one as far as the music is concerned, but the lyrics of some of the songs are another story. For example, "Oh! You Pretty Things" starts with the protagonist having an ordinary day which is suddenly interrupted by the apocalypse:
    Look out my window and what do I see
    A crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me
    All the nightmares came today
    And it looks as though they're here to stay
    • And what's the cause of this madness? It turns out that "Homo Sapiens have outgrown their use" and are being forced to "make way for the Homo Superior" — in the form of their own children.
  • "The Bewlay Brothers", one of Bowie's most esoteric songs, is a dreamer version of "Quicksand" with its spiritual leanings, with the ending being a Last Note Nightmare which ends on an unsettling bit. Needless to say, it's one of his more obscure songs, as nobody knows the meaning to it.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars:

  • Bowie's flip-flopped on what the plot of Ziggy Stardust specifically was over the years, but here's a particularly apocalyptic version mentioned (according to Wikipedia) in an interview Bowie conducted with William S. Burroughs:
    The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There's no electricity to play it. Ziggy's adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, 'cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. "All the Young Dudes" is a song about this news. It's no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite... The end comes when the infinites arrive. They really are a black hole, but I've made them people because it would be very hard to explain a black hole on stage... Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a Starman, so he writes "Starman," which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately... The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don't have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black hole jumping. Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe. In the stage show, one of them resembles Brando, another one is a Black New Yorker. I even have one called Queenie, the Infinite Fox... Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make them real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world. And they tear him to pieces on stage during the song "Rock 'N' Roll Suicide." As soon as Ziggy dies on stage the infinites take his elements and make themselves visible.
  • Most of the other interpretations aren't exactly a bundle of laughs either, mostly based on the lyrics of "Rock and Roll Suicide" or "Ziggy Stardust" — possibilities range from Ziggy being swarmed by his adoring fans, being swarmed by an angry mob, being murdered by his jealous band mates, dying in the apocalypse described in "Five Years," ending up a washed-up, no talent alcoholic or getting run over by a car.

Aladdin Sane:

  • As per usual (and suiting a character who's basically an American Expy of Ziggy Stardust), there are hints at Armageddon: References to "fallout saturation" in "Drive-in Saturday," which might be about sterility / lovelessness in a dystopian future (not that they're necessarily linked IRL, mind you) — and was also a smash hit in the U.K., the distinctly Charles Manson esque vibe to "Watch That Man" and, of course, the aggressive, bitter, cocaine fueled boasting of "Cracked Actor," probably about a washed-up has-been using his remaining money to buy a blowjob, made even creepier by the live performances, which had Bowie perched on a stool singing to a skull held in his other hand — he'd generally end the performance by, well, tonguing it with a bit more vigour than probably necessary. If anyone wants to see that horror show, by the way, it's on YouTube. The way it's staged also amps up the weird factor — it's arranged cleverly to make Bowie look more like a popular actor with delusions of grandeur cracking up from stress, to the point where it's hard to tell if he's accusing the crowd ("The best they ever... I sold you illusions for a sackful of cheques / You made a bad connection 'cause you just want my sex") or still locked in his own world.

Diamond Dogs:

  • "Diamond Dogs." Think about it. For one, the description itself, (Hunt you to the ground, they will / mannequins with kill appeal). And then you have, after the introduction of The Halloween Jack, (Meet his little hussy with his ghost-town approach / her face is sans features, but she wears a Dali brooch / sweetly reminiscent, something mother used to bake / wrecked up and paralyzed / diamond dogs are sableized). The diamond dogs know all about you, and are luring you out with (what, by description, seems to be) a dummy reminiscent of one's mother, complete with a familiar scent. Finally, (Just another future song / lonely little kitch / There's gonna be sorrow / try and wake up tomorrow). You have no chance of surviving, they WILL get you.
  • Things get worse the longer you listen to the album: It makes sense, since some of the songs were written for a never made 1984 adaptation nixed due to rights issues, but that doesn't make songs like "Dodo / 1984," "We Are the Dead," or "Sweet Thing" any less creepy. The first song, "Future Legend" deserves a mention just for its first line:
    "And in the death, as the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare."

Station to Station:

  • The entire character of the Thin White Duke is disturbing, especially when watching live videos of him. There's a lot of times where he'll be singing and the camera will turn to his face, and he'll look completely emotionless. Like, dead behind the eyes Empty Shell level of emotionless. Brrr... No wonder Bowie gave up on characters after that guy. It would be Nightmare Fuel even without the whole Fascism thing.


  • "Breaking Glass", with its eerie synthesizer bleeps and distorted drum sounds. It's obvious that Bowie was still dealing with his cocaine-induced psychosis in the lyrics of the song.


  • "Sense of Doubt," which is nothing but an eerie synth line, a constant descending piano, and what sounds like someone moaning in agony.


Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps):

  • "Ashes to Ashes" is already a bit eerie, beginning abruptly with that weird twanging rhythm and continuing with whispers and wails in the background, but the video veers even more sharply into Surreal Horror.
  • "Scream Like a Baby", a discordant nightmarish song about a political prisoner being tortured in a vague 1984-setting. Throughout the song, Bowie's voice slows down and distorts as to imply that the main character is loosing his own sanity due to the brainwashing, which is unnerving to say the least. Not to mention, the off-key synth line which plays for the entirety of the song.
  • On certain re-issues of the album, there's a scratching sound which plays at the very end of side B. While not necessarily noteworthy, It's entirely out of field as you'd assume that something went wrong with your record player, startling you.

Black Tie White Noise:

  • The Limited Lyrics for "Pallas Athena" are the preacher-like "God is on top of it, that's all", followed by a mass chanting of "We are, we are, we are, we are praying". The two lines are combined and repeated in such a manner that the song starts to sound more and more cult-like as it progresses towards the end.




  • The "Something in the Air" opening line: "Your coat and hat are gone" sounds quite mundane. But Bowie manages to distort his vocals to sound like the decidedly more chilling: "You're cold and had a gun" instead...

The Next Day:

  • "Valentine's Day" is a cheery 60s-style song about a school shooting, with the music video showing Bowie making subtle references to gun violence, such as the way he handles his guitar to the almost demonic facial expressions he makes. The first chorus makes the shooting quite clear, with the students "Teddy and Judy" gunned down.


  • "★"'s music video has its fair share of this, but the most prominent scene is when an alien girl finds an astronaut suit which contains a bejeweled skull. Commence Wild Mass Guessing over whether or not it is a continuation of the Major Tom Saga.
    • The video itself is surreal and the song doesn't help the unnerving feel. Bowie having his eyes covered with a cloth adored with tiny buttons, twitching sporadically, other people dancing as sporadic as Bowie is. The distorted intro vocals and the chanting of "I'm a Blackstar!" don't help either.
      • How about those living scarecrows?
      • Not to mention the thing that appears near the end. It looks like a hunched over vaguely humanoid figure covered in hair/tentacles/rope/something but it's only ever depicted in dim light making what it actually is hard to determine. It doesn't seem to fit into the rest of the already mind screwy music video at all, and just shows up to apparently kill the scarecrows right at the end. The fact that it first appears running through a wheat field at night and at several points we see it surrounded by flashing yellow and blue lights certainly doesn't help matters.
    • Throughout the entire video a common motif is people twitching or shaking in bizarre ways. It's disturbing enough as is but given the context behind the album it calls to mind someone in their death throes.
  • Even without the music video, the song "★" itself is pure Nightmare Fuel. The singer sounds like he's mad, the lyrics are full of symbolism that makes no sense and there's a bizarre section where there are wailing voices that sound like zombies. Even worse, in the middle section of the song it suddenly becomes much cheerier before plunging back into what it was like at the beginning. Finally, the insane singer directly addresses the listener throughout the song:
    I'm-a take you home (I'm a blackstar)
    Take your passport and shoes (I'm not a pop star)
    And your sedatives and booze (I'm a blackstar)
    You're a flash in the pan (I'm not a marvel star)
    I'm the great I Am (I'm a blackstar)
  • His death makes certain lyrics in the album (especially in the title track), haunting due to the factor that his cancer had been diagnosed 18 months before the album's release.
    • The fact that the song "Lazarus" is essentially Bowie singing a self-eulogy doesn't help.
  • The video for "Lazarus," with Bowie singing from a hospital bed, is starting to take on an eerie resonance in the wake of his death.


The Man Who Fell to Earth:

  • The scene where Bowie reveals himself to be an alien (Pictured above). Those eyes!


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