It’s Watchmen analysis time again, which means it’s Watchmen spoiler time again. You’ve been warned.

Gosh, there are a lot of references in this first issue, at least according to The Annotated Watchmen v2.0. Just two panels past the mention of Juvenal, the book pulls from a whole different corner of culture:
watchmen-ch1-pg10
Quoth the annotations:

The lyrics on page [sic] are from the song “Neighborhood Threat”, written by Iggy Pop and David Bowie. The original appears on “Lust for Life” by Iggy, and is sung by Iggy. A weaker cover is available on Tonight by David Bowie. Iggy Pop and the Stooges are a band who would fit well into the apparent anarchy and nihilism of the “Pale Horse” rock band.

Here’s the song, at least as long as YouTube lets it stay posted:

I won’t bother with the Bowie cover — the annotations are quite right that it’s weaker — but they do include a bit of interesting free-association about the Bowie/Iggy connection:

“I can think of no other link or importance, save that Pop and Bowie are far more important in the UK in terms of cultural credibility, and thus would be natural icons for Moore to draw inspiration from. Interestingly, the relationship between Pop and Bowie seems to be similar to the one between Rorschach and Dreiberg… where Rorschach is a mask, and Dreiberg pretends to be a mask. In the lates [sic] 70s Bowie and Pop hung out a lot together, but Pop was always far more ‘on the edge, and possibly over it’ than Bowie, who could always tell that his Rock and Roll persona was just that, a persona (mask).” (Steven Pirie-Shepherd, pirie@auriga.rose.brandeis.edu)

Unlike Mr. Pirie-Shepherd, I can think of some other links and importance for the song, but I agree that there’s an interesting biographical parallel to Watchmen. The Bowie part may be a bit of a reach, but maybe not. Tonight came out in September 1984, so could conceivably have been current as Watchmen was being drafted. In any case, Lust For Life was very much a joint Bowie/Pop production, so one could argue that the relationship is present as a subtext on any of its songs. The lyrics appear in the foreground of a panel with Dreiberg in the background, and by the end of the page, Rorschach has made his way up Dreiberg’s back stairs to break into his apartment.

Having recently read Paul Trynka’s Pop biography Open Up And Bleed, I learned that at first, Iggy Stooge was just as much of a put-on as Ziggy Stardust. He grew up in Michigan as Jim Osterberg, the boy Most Likely To Succeed, and gradually drifted into music, until it became his passion. He was a singing drummer in an Ann Arbor band called the Iguanas, and was derided by later bandmates as “Iggy.” Gradually, he pieced together a persona and a musical style, choosing his iconography quite deliberately. For instance, he decided to always perform shirtless after reading that the Egyptian pharaohs never wore shirts. (Shades of Ozymandias!)

In short, Osterberg crafted a new identity, into which he would disappear on stage. While Jim Osterberg was, well, mild-mannered, Iggy Pop was superhuman — lean, muscular, commanding, and impervious to harm, as he proved by rolling in broken glass or otherwise self-mutilating. The superhero parallels are obvious, so much so that Trynka explicitly refers to Iggy as a superhero and his stage outfit (or lack thereof) as a costume. He also points out that for a long time, Iggy and Jim coexisted peacefully, but as drug abuse and general 1970’s rock and roll craziness set in, the alter ego began driving more and more, until he virtually took over for long stretches. It’s a bit reminiscent of Rorschach, except that the personality shift wasn’t so sudden or so final. It’s even more reminiscent of a certain Green Goliath, and in fact the book acknowledges that too, in a story about photographer Art Gruen. Gruen was backstage at a 1996 show (after Osterberg had gotten his demons more in control):

…a couple of minutes before Jim was due to go onstage, Gruen saw him walk over to a quiet corner. The photographer was about to go up and offer some encouragement when [manager] Art Collins motioned him aside and warned him, “I wouldn’t do that now.” As Gruen looked on, he saw Jim immersed in some kind of deep-breathing exercise, “and then, suddenly, it was like watching the Hulk, when some normal person, the secret identity, turns into this incredible creature.” Gruen watched wave after wave of an almost inhuman energy surge through him: “You could almost see him become larger and more powerful; Jim had become Iggy and taken on all this mass, this power. And you just knew it was time to stay out of the way and not get anywhere near where he’d be.”

Quite the appropriate artist to select for a quick reference in the definitive superhero deconstruction, eh?

As for the lyrics themselves, on the most obvious level they’re a gloss on the source of the sound. Tattooed, smoking, leather-clad punks blasting loud rock and roll from a boom box hoisted on one shoulder — it’s a rather quaintly 80s image of menace now, but there’s no doubt these hoodlums are indeed a threat in Hollis Mason’s neighborhood. The one with the radio is Derf, who later ends up bludgeoning Mason to death. The panel with the lyrics foreshadows their deadly approach up his back stairs, wired on Katies and feeling no pain.

There’s another reading available, though, because certain lyrics in that song are quite directly applicable to Rorschach. Have a look:

Down where your paint is cracking
Look down your back stairs, buddy
Somebody’s living there and
He don’t really feel the weatherwatchmen-ch10-pg27
And he don’t share your pleasures
No, he don’t share your pleasures
Did you see his eyes?
Did you see his crazy eyes?watchmen-ch5-pg28
And you’re so surprised he doesn’t run to catch your ash
Everybody always wants to kiss your trash
And you can’t help him, no one can
And now that he knows
There’s nothing to get
Will you still place your bet
Against the neighborhood threat?

Somewhere a baby’s feeding
Somewhere a mother’s needing
Outside her boy is trying
But mostly he is cryingwatchmen-ch6-pg4
Did you see his eyes?
Did you see his crazy eyes?watchmen-ch6-pg7
And you’re so surprised he doesn’t run to catch your ash
Everybody always wants to kiss your trash
But you can’t help him, no one can
And now that he knows
There’s nothing to get
Not in this place
Not in your face
Will you still place your bet
Against the neighborhood threat?

One more thought about this song. From the first few pages of chapter 1, Rorschach perceives a danger to the superhero community. Various theories come up as to the nature of this danger. Political assassins? An old enemy on a revenge spree? A serial murderer targeting “masks”? In the end, it turns out that the danger comes from within the community itself — a neighborhood threat of an altogether different sort.

Next Entry: Fifteen Men On A Dead Man’s Chest
Previous Entry: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

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