“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.”