This much I remember from my International Law class, because this was the crux of it: states (nations, countries) can do what they want. They can forge agreements, and they can break them. There’s little to stop them from doing so. Sometimes sanctions work, sometimes they don’t; and with the number of states in the world, no matter how radical your political program, you’ll be able to find a neighbouring state that will side with you.
Really, it’s just a freakin’ mess.
And I think of this because of the first line in this song: “In the event that this fantastic voyage…” “In the event” invokes memories of contractual language. It makes me think of legal clauses that are broken, sometimes deliberately, because it’s better for the self-interested party to take the consequences of the breach than to uphold the promise.
Two of my law school colleagues, a few years ago, when they were still students, made an impression on the rest of us when they were invited to speak at the UN and somehow got some of the research they had worked on drafted into a few sentences into a resolution that was passed. They were heroes. Just for one day. Because at any time, resolutions can be tossed into the ether.
According to a few critics, The Next Day may indeed have some major political themes. Or it might not; depending on how you interpret Bowie’s lyrics. Political treatises are not a major feature of Bowie’s past work; but maybe, they will be part of his future catalogue. Fantastic Voyage is political, we know, because it talks about missiles.
This video is a static shot with the studio version of the song in the background. The live versions Bowie performed as part of the Reality tour are in many ways more enjoyable; but this version is deeper, more authentic; it’s the song as sung in a 1979 context instead of a post-9/11 one. And somehow, I feel, that’s where the song belongs.