Ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah-ah
Johnny's in America
Low techs at the wheel

Ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah-ah
Noone needs anyone
They don't even just pretend

Ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah-ah
Johnny's in America


David Bowie first created I'm Afraid of Americans under the working title Dummy. In the song's first incarnation on the 1995 film Showgirls soundtrack, as well as its first Bowie album appearance on Earthling, I'm Afraid of Americans features Bowie on lead vocals and a collaboration between Bowie and Brian Eno on music. While there was some basic verse reordering in the pieces final evolution from movie soundtrack to artist release, the most discernible difference is the fact the song's protagonist has no name in the earlier working stages of production and is instead refered to simply as Dummy.



I'm afraid of Americans
I'm afraid of the world
I'm afraid I can't help it
I'm afraid I can't

I'm afraid of Americans
I'm afraid of the world
I'm afraid I can't help it
I'm afraid I can't


I'm afraid of Americans


The song's main appearance came not quite two years later, when Bowie released Earthling ( Virgin ) on February 11, 1997. I'm Afraid of Americans was the seventh track on the much anticipated album containing a total of nine songs. As with the sample which debuted on the Showgirls soundtrack, Brain Eno was called upon to help mix the album version of the song. The collaboration seemed reminiscent of Bowie's years ( 1977 - 1979 ) in West Berlin when he and Eno spent much time together and creatively produced the albums Hero, Lodger, and Low.



Ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah-ah

Johnny wants a brain
Johnny wants to suck on a Coke

Johnny wants a woman
Johnny wants to think of a joke

Ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah-ah
Johnny's in America
Ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah-ah

The fourth song off of Earthling selected to be a single, I'm Afraid of Americans was released as a maxi-single on October 14, 1997; again produced by Virgin Records. All tracks on this single with the exception of version #5 were remixed by Nine Inch Nails, better known as Trent Reznor. Additional production of all tracks was taken care of by British techno phenomenon Photek, lesser known as Rupert Parkes. Parkes was able to bring in his essentially jazz dominated background and curious blend of "classic" techno to create a dynamic and intricate drumming program which, beyond granting strength to an already distinctive song, would later help launch his career. The only other guest appearance on the maxi-single is by rapper Ice Cube on version #3. Ice is heard in a few of the choruses, but mainly offering additional sidenotes, perhaps lines that didn't make Bowie's final cut when writing the song. These lines, those which can be heard clearly, are "Shut up and be happy.", "Hey what's up, it's all about the Green.", and "TV got your brain." All lines are spoken rather than sung, and in fact screamed in an angry tone rather than spoken.



Chorus

US : CD : Virgin 72438-386182-8
1. I'm Afraid of Americans v1 ( with Trent Reznor ) 5:31
2. I'm Afraid of Americans v2 5:51
3. I'm Afraid of Americans v3 ( with Ice Cube ) 6:18
4. I'm Afraid of Americans v4 5.25
5. I'm Afraid of Americans v5 5.38
6. I'm Afraid of Americans v6 ( Photek mix ) 11.18

Ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah-ah

Johnny's in America
Johnny looks up at the stars
Johnny combs his hair
And Johnny wants pussy and cars

Johnny's in America, Ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah-ah

Johnny's in America, Ah-ah-ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah-ah


The cd single's cover art contains one crude sketching. It has a dead tree with stark limbs and roots; no ground is visible. A small man figure ( far away and shaded darkly ) is shown hanging from the tree. A pale man is running away ( close, in the foreground ) with a hand over his head screaming. David bowie is in purple lettering horizontal on the upper left side, while the upper right corner contains the song title at a downward 45 degree slant. At the base of the tree an American flag is present, also crudely sketched. The stars in this flag are, upon close examination, not actual stars but rather initials and dates.



Chorus

The album itself is black with "I'm Afraid of Americans" written in purple fading to white lettering just below the midline of the CD's right side. Album information is written in small white lettering in a wavy circle meandering closer to and then away from the CD's edge. The video for I’m afraid of Americans was filmed on location in the streets of New York City in October of 1997. The video's directors credited are named only as Dom and Nic. All in all, I'm Afraid of Americans appeared on five separate albulms; Bowie At The Beeb, Earthling, I'm Afraid Of Americans, Seven, and the Showgirls Soundtrack.



God is an American... x fade

Looking at the song from a character point of view, it appears that Bowie has written alternating sections of verse talking about both the song's protagonist, a "dummy" of an American named Johnny, and his own antagonistic views on Americana ( the chorus and final fade ). The verse relating to Johnny provides, on an artistic level, little new thought on the topic of American culture and may nearly be called simple stereotyping. The Johnny verses are part of the song to serve the one end of providing an image of an American citizen of whom Bowie is fearful. The real meat of the song can be found in the chorus and the final line.


Bowie begins his chorus by singing "I'm afraid of Americans / I'm afraid of the world." without providing the listener, at this point, any reasons for this fear. We listen on and are told "I'm afraid I can't help myself / I'm afraid I can't...". At this point it appears Bowie is confessing to being irrationally afraid of Americans and that in the final line, something is being left unsaid.



This perception changes dramatically, however, upon hearing the final line of the song.

This allusion that God is an American gives the listener new light under which to examine the chorus. Since God ( or any diety of your choosing ) is presupposed to be omnipotent and all-powerful what we have is a case where Bowie is saying that Americans are capable of anything. When he's admitting that he is afraid of Americans he is confessing that he is afraid of the Manifest Destiny side of Americans, that can be done attitude many Americans carry on them as if a badge. He can't help feeling this way because his primary fear is that he is incapable of doing something ( "I'm afraid I can't" ). Here we see that there is nothing left unsaid at the end of that line, Bowie is simply saying he doesn't think he can do something ( something rightfully left unsaid; open to speculation ) and that scares him. In a similar vein it equally frightens him that the average American has no such fear. Your average white bread eating American thinks that anything is possible if they put forth an effort. In the end, it is Bowie's own lack of this passionate determination that causes him to fear others who so vibrantly display that characteristic.





Sources:
http://www.davidbowie.com/users/neondisease/afraidofamericans.html
http://www.illustrated-db-discography.nl/cdsingle/index.html
http://www.teenagewildlife.com/Singles/IAOA1997/Title.html
http://www.algonet.se/~bassman/lyrics/e/iaoa.html
Citation:
Small type is the song I'm Afraid of Americans by David Bowie

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