This is my first article in some time, and it comes in the days after David Bowie’s untimely and very unfortunate death from terminal cancer. As I have been oversaturating myself with David Bowie music, I’ve been taking particular notice of the lyrics to the song China Girl.
When I first heard this song several years ago, I just assumed he had met a nice Chinese girl on one of his tours and formed a relationship with her. Only after looking into it more did I realise it was actually an Iggy Pop cover (of which David Bowie makes shine). It was also around this time I had a lung collapse and was given a tonne of IV morphine while they reinflated my lung. I’ve also been on prescription painkillers for a good deal of years. Now the song started making sense. The lyrics to the song are very clearly speaking about heroin.
Let’s start with the first two verses:
I could escape this feeling, with my China Girl
I feel a wreck without, my little China Girl
I hear her heart beating loud as thunder
When I look at my China Girl.
I’m a mess without my little China girl
Wake up in the morning, where’s my little China girl?
I hear her heart’s beating loud as thunder
Saw these stars crashing down
Heroin, also known as China White is an addictive substance that once stopped constant intake of, causes withdrawal symptoms. He is feeling a wreck, and in the second verse, a mess, without his little China girl. Heroin addiction can cause a rush of anticipation when a user knows they’re about to take another hit. Heroin addiction can also cause high blood pressure and increased heart rate, or palpitations when in withdrawal, hearing her heartbeat could be his heart not beating in proper rhythm.
Obviously, waking up in the morning after being high the night before, in the starting throes of withdrawal will have you searching for your drugs.
The stars crashing is the feeling of IV opiates making their way to the brain. Vision goes black and you “see stars” as it returns. In this instance however, he has not yet taken a dose. This feeling could allude to a sense of dread or depression at sobering up.
The third verse:
I feel tragic like I’m Marlon Brando
When I look at my China girl
I could pretend that nothing really meant too much
When I look at my China girl
Feeling like Marlon Brando could mean he’s either feeling sorry for himself, or perhaps guilty. He is in the grip of an addiction, and isn’t sure how to pull himself away, he has drugs, he’s not going to just throw them away. He doesn’t care about anything else except getting his high. Nothing else means anything at that point. He must quench his ‘thirst’.
I stumble into town just like a sacred cow
Visions of swastikas in my head
Plans for everyone
It’s in the white of my eyes
We will assume he took his heroin for this verse, everything is brighter, everything feels better, all is good. Here I believe he feels bulletproof, he’s high and he’s king of the world. Some users inject into the whites of their eyes, but here I believe he’s in such ecstasy that his eyes have rolled back into his head. He’s probably lying on the floor off his face.
My little China girl you shouldn’t mess with me
I’ll ruin everything you are
You know I’ll give you television, I’ll give you eyes of blue
I’ll give you a man who wants to rule the world
This verse seems to talk about his constant use of the drug. The drug is addicting him, and he’s going to ruin the fantastic, fun, feel-good high by being addicted fully to it. To a constant user, shooting up is more like relief rather than feeling a high, causing frequent users to continually “chase the dragon” or up their doses looking for that “first rush” again. This often leads to an overdose.
And when I get excited
My little China girl says
“Oh baby, just you shut your mouth”
She says, “Shh.”
He’s in bliss and stupefied. Any higher and he’ll be dead. His heart rate has slowed, he can’t talk, just feel great. This could be after a second dose, or he could have overdosed.
If anyone has other ideas, feel free to drop a comment.