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Lena Hall’s cover of “Rebel Rebel”

This is the fifth and final of Lena Hall’s videos for her collection, Obsessed: David Bowie, part of a series of cover albums she offers online. I wanted to post all the videos in part because I like them and in part because they are in fact videos. Previous covers posted on this site include her renditions of “As the World Falls Down;” “Lazarus;” “Queen Bitch” and “Five Years.”

This is a somewhat softened up version of “Rebel Rebel.” I like Lena Hall’s voice— part of the reason I’m posting this, but I feel this version is a bit defanged.

So, while I’m on “Rebel Rebel,” there’s a couple of lines from the song that I’m looking for the right opportunity to quote in the context of my job as a utility regulator. The first line is easy— “You’ve got your transmission and your live wire.” This line seems right out of the world of utility regulation. Of course that’s not what Bowie meant, but…what did he mean? It’s actually a pretty random line. While maybe in keeping with the “cut up” technique Bowie was using in making Diamond Dogs, which is the album on which the song first appeared, but there might be more to it. “Live wire” is a phrase that seems in line with the rest of the imagery of the song, even if it isn’t used here in an entirely coherent context.

And then there’s “transmission.” A few years later Bowie would use the word as part of the refrain in “TVC15”— “transmission; transition.” Since “Rebel Rebel” touches on gender ambiguity, was he playing a kind of trick by saying, “transmission,” but expecting “transition” to be what’s heard? Eh, probably not. But the word seemed to be rolling around in Bowie’s head.

The other thing about, “transmission,” is that it is in line with Bowie’s conflation of technology and human interaction. I’m thinking, for instance, of some of the science fiction imagery in “Moonage Daydream”: “ Keep your ‘lectric eye on me, babe; Put your ray gun to my head.” Or again, “TVC15,” in which the narrator’s girl becomes one with a television set. “Transmission” is a form of communication, but it sounds mechanical. “Rebel Rebel” isn’t generally thought of as one of Bowie’s science fiction songs, but maybe Bowie is hinting at a parallel between difficulty distinguishing boys and girls with difficulty distinguishing man and machine.

The other line I want to use at work? It’s the next one. The actual line is, “You got your cue line and a handful of ludes.” But for years I heard it as, “You got your fuel line and a handful of blues.” No, a “handful of blues” doesn’t make sense to me, either, but since when do we look to Bowie for straightforward lyrics?

Anyway, I can’t use the actual line, but hey, maybe if I mumble…

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