Who Can I Be Now?

Who Can I Be Now?

“Who Can I Be Now?” should have been dedicated to Bowie’s prospective biographers (though no one’s used it for a title yet). While “Changes,” Bowie’s quirky self-assessment from 1971, became the soundtrack of Bowie career clip montages, the outtake “Who Can I Be Now?” is an even more obvious fit, a song in which Bowie seems to assess his talent for fraud, and where he wonders, even as he’s donning his “soul boy” garb, what sort of role to play next.

The lyric also has some faint traces of Gnostic imagery—mankind in chains, being raised in blindness—that Bowie would develop much further in “Station to Station,” though it seems like stage dressing for a man who, unmasked by someone he’s in love with, fears that he might not be able to exist as himself. Unlike its fellow Young Americans outtake “It’s Gonna Be Me,” “Who Can I Be Now?” is fairly restrained in tone and tightly-constructed, with a confident, wide-ranging Bowie vocal and a chorus whose main vocal melody is so basic and sturdy it could support a highway. While there are some flaws (the mix on the chorus is a bit crowded, with David Sanborn’s saxophone apparently determined to fill every last bit of open space), discarding a track like this for the likes of “Across the Universe” was a minor injustice.

Recorded 11-18 August 1974, and cut from the final version of Young Americans; it first appeared on the 1991 Ryko reissue.

Top: Jim Brickett, “Washington Square Park, 1974.”

12 Responses to Who Can I Be Now?

  1. diamonddog says:

    I always liked this track and in my opinion was a far better piece than the decidely lukewarm cover Across the universe which in my opinion is a low point of one of Bowies finest albums, I always have an aversion to abeatles covers.

  2. snoball says:

    I would say ‘major injustice’. The mix might be a bit untidy, but it gives it a kind of live feel. This is a great song and would have been a perfect album closer.

  3. Joe the Lion says:

    I’ve recently wondered if the honesty of this song is one of the reasons Bowie chose to lift it, when it came to making room for the Lennon-associated tracks. “Please help me, who can I be now?” is quite an admission.

    I could do without Across the Universe (although I listened to the album this morning and realised it’s some years since I deliberately skipped the track) but Fame totally deserves its place. If I had to choose out of Who Can I Be Now? and It’s Gonna Be Me, then it’d be the latter.

  4. David L says:

    I agree with snoball, leaving this song out was a huge mistake. But what a pleasure to discover it years later.

  5. Brian says:

    For some reason I woke up with a craving to listen to this track. Really makes me sad that this song doesn’t get the love it deserves.

  6. Pierce says:

    Absolute rock solid classic.

  7. stuartgardner says:

    I’ve always loved this track. In the event of anyone’s interest; this is the 7″ boot of Who Can I Be Now? / Come Back My Baby which I purchased as part of a large set back in ’79 (if memory serves). The picture sleeve isn’t actually a sleeve, but a textured wrap-around folded in the middle.
    Note that it poses as a promo item, and that it spins at 33 1/3. Also, the sleeve dares invoke RCA in addition to “Mainman,” while the record draws back from that. “Sould Out” is a coinage I haven’t seen elsewhere, and finally the album being promoted seems to be “The Young American.”
    The sleeve:
    The record:

  8. rob thomas says:

    I know nothing about rare Bowie records, but these are great. Is your collection up on a blog or anything? thx. rob

    • stuartgardner says:

      rob thomas, I didn’t find your post until this moment… sorry about that! Were you addressing me? I’m not certain because your post isn’t indented beneath mine, but in any event, no I don’t have my collection on line anywhere.

  9. Leigh Walton says:

    The chord progression on the chorus seems to owe a lot to “Time,” don’t you think? The falling & rising chords under “who can I be now” vs “we should be on by now.”

  10. bols59 says:

    Listen to This Mortal Coil’s cover of “I Am the Cosmos.” I hear echoes of the rhythm section of this song. Tell me if I’m right.


    • col1234 says:

      timing doesn’t really work? YA outtakes didn’t come out until 1991, after the TMC album came out i think

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