Radio XXXVI, side A, track 10: “Under The God” by Tin Machine

Tin Machine - Under The GodOh, Tin Machine, any time I heard that a song involved David Bowie, I knew I needed to pay attention because David Bowie was important.  I didn’t know why David Bowie was important, besides that he was the Goblin King, of course, but I knew he was important all the same.  I didn’t necessarily understand all his music and I didn’t necessarily enjoy his music and it wasn’t necessarily music I would seek out if I had spending money to spend on a new cassette.  However, when the DJ said that this was a new song by David Bowie’s new band, which was you, Tin Machine, I immediately sat up a little straighter and paid more attention, because regardless of how I felt about David Bowie, it seemed like David Bowie was someone you needed to pay heed to even if you didn’t really know what you were paying heed to.

Now, as should come as no surprise to you, the only lyrics I understood and/or paid attention to was “Under the god”.  Other than that, I just felt cool that I was listening to a new hit song by David Bowie’s new band.  That felt pretty damn cool.  I felt like I was sitting in the back of the bus with all the high school seniors.  Which as I write that sentence, and considering that I’ve just now discovered that this song is about racism, it’s probably ironic, or maybe poor taste?, that this song invokes memories of sitting at the back of the bus.

Hear me out, Tin Machine.  Until I turned 15 years old, I had to ride the school bus.  That meant standing out at the end of the driveway by 7:15 every morning, from kindergarten on.  The first day I ever rode the bus was absolutely terrifying since it involved walking into an enclosed space full of kids from 8 years old to 18, all of them unwilling to give up their seat.

If you’ve never ridden a rural school bus, Tin Machine, you’re not missing out.  It’s about an hour and a half of bouncing up and down gravel roads to pick up kids standing at the end of their driveways, rain, shine, sleet, or snow.  And there’s a hierarchy to riding the bus, too.  The cooler you are, the farther back you get to sit.  Coolness usually was directly tied to what grade you were in, but there were some exceptions.  I was not one of those exceptions.  I had to bide my time until I was in high school to start sitting in one of those coveted back three rows of seats.

When I think back to riding the school bus, I have some good memories, like swapping comic books and passing notes and the occasional times that the bus would break down and we’d play “king of the hill” on snowbanks while we waited for someone to pick us up.  But I also remember that the school bus was an ugly, brutal place.  There were a couple guys on my route who were seniors when I was in second or third grade, and I’m firmly convinced that they were and still are sociopaths.  The kind of guys who beat up kindergartners for no other reason than that they felt like it.  They were mean just to be mean.  They were the kind of hateful thugs that Stephen King peppers in his books, except they were real.

And I’ll admit, Tin Machine, I had it pretty easy.  Yes, I was a mouthy little nerd, and yes, I got a few cracks across the skull from upperclassmens’ new class rings (we always dreaded when the class rings came in, because that meant some inbred shithead was about to test them out on our noggins), but I was about halfway up the pecking order.  There were kids that were considered even nerdier or poorer or whatever makes kids get picked on.

And then there were the Christian school kids.

Growing up, we had the public school, which I attended, and then we had the Christian school, which I guess would be considered a private school.  Some of the kids who attended the Christian school rode our bus (side note, our name for anybody who went to Christian school was “pooky”, as in “Don’t let any pookies sit next to you”  No idea what the etymology of that one is).  We hated them.  Not because they did anything wrong or acted snobby or anything.  Hell, they lived on farms and smelled like cowshit like the rest of us.  But because they went to Christian school, we thought they thought they were better than us.  And we made sure to let them know that they weren’t.  Which, conversely, proved that they were.

I don’t think I ever did anything outrightly mean to them, Tin Machine.  But I guarantee that I snickered when someone stole their stocking cap and I know that I sneered when I saw them get on the bus nervously looking for a place to sit down.  And maybe I didn’t necessarily agree when someone started fighting with them, but I absolutely didn’t stop it.

Ya know, Tin Machine, when I started writing this post, I was going to say something snarky about racists and swastikas and stuff and take the moral high ground.  It’s not hard to do when you’re talking about skinheads.  But as I’m sitting here remembering back to those bad old days on the school bus and thinking about how absolutely awful it must have been for those kids to have to get on that bus every day knowing that everyone hated them, and admitting to myself that I was at the very minimum complicit in their harassment, I have to come to terms with some hard truths.

Those kids were white lower-middle-class farm kids exactly like me except that they went to a school five blocks away from mine.  That’s the only difference.  And maybe I can blame some of what I did and thought about them as just good old-fashioned self-preservation.  Keep the “bully spotlight” on someone else so it doesn’t turn on you.  But I should have known better.  Considering how many Sunday school classes I attended and how many after-school specials I watched and how many issues of Spider-man I read, I should have been ashamed of myself for never doing anything.

Well, Tin Machine, I’m ashamed now.  And it’s a pretty humbling moment when you discover that you’re not that far removed from those skinheads as you’d so arrogantly assumed.  Thanks a whole goddamn lot, Tin Machine.

“Under The God”

<awesome Tin Machine jam>

Skin dance back’a the condo

Skinheads gettin’ ta school

Beatin’ on blacks with a baseball bat
Racism back in rule

White trash pickin’ up Nazi flags

While you was gone, there was war

This is the West
Get used to it
They put a swastika over the door

Under the god

Under the god

One step over the red line

Under the god

Under the god

Ten steps over the crazy crazy

Washin’ their heads in the toilet bowl

They don’t see supremacist hate

Right-wing dicks in their boiler suits

Pickin’ out who to annihilate

Toxic jungle of Uzi trails
Tribesmen just wouldn’t live here

Fascist flare is fashion cool
Well, ya dead, ya just ain’t buried yet

Under the god

Under the god

Oh yeeeeeeeeeeeaaah

Under the god

Under the god

As the waaaalls came tumblin’ down

So the secrets that we shared

I believed you by the palace gates

Now the savage daaays are heeeere
Under the god



<awesome Tin Machine jam>

Under the god

Under the god

One step over the red line

Under the god (under the god)

Under the god (under the god)

One step inta the crazy crazy

Crazy-eyed man with a shotgun
Hot-headed creep with a knife

Love and peace and harmony
Love you could cut with a liiife, under the god

Under the god

<awesome Tin Machine jam>

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One thought on “Radio XXXVI, side A, track 10: “Under The God” by Tin Machine

  1. […] close, maybe just a rung or two above it, but there were others who were even lower than I was.  I wrote about some of them already, but the main takeaway is that I was just as much of an asshole as the kids who were making fun of […]


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