Chosen One of the Day: David Bowie's 'The Laughing Gnome'

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Jun 5, 2017

Over his long and storied career, beautiful space alien David Bowie contributed many indelible anthems to the musical landscape. "Space Oddity." "Starman." "Ziggy Stardust." "Rebel Rebel." "Modern Love."

However, did you know he also has a song that's wall-to-wall gnome puns?

It's true.

Meet "The Laughing Gnome."

 

Pay particularly attention to 1:17, when one of the gnomes — the sped-up voices of Bowie himself and engineer Gus Dudgeon, who would later produce "Space Oddity" — lets fly a less-than-delicate burp.

There are people — if it can be considered accurate to refer to them as such — who have the outright audacity to believe that somehow a song with the exchange "Here, what's that clicking noise?"/"That's Fred, he's a metro-gnome!" is something to be ashamed of. "The Laughing Gnome" was a flop when it initially came out in 1967, but it was then re-released — sans permission — six years later, when Bowie was well and properly famous.

From Nicholas Pegg's The Complete David Bowie: "In 1990, when it was announced that the set-list for the Sound + Vision tour would be determined by a telephone survey, the NME launched a 'Just Say Gnome' campaign — T-shirts and all — urging readers to jam the switchboard with requests for the song."

Quick question for the haters: Do you think this is a joke?

This is a matter of art.

How can you listen to David Bowie cheerfully criticize a mythical creature's shaggy hair by admonishing him "you look like a rolling gnome!" and not slide to the floor like Dean Pelton in this memorable Community moment?

For the final word on this unequivocal masterpiece, let's turn to Gus Dudgeon himself, who passed away in 2002. (Bowie sent flowers to his funeral with the message "Farewell to the Laughing Gnome" attached. Yes, really.) From David Buckley's Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive Story:

"And somehow we got this idea that we would try and incorporate as many jokes about the word 'gnome' as we could think of. I mean, it was pathetic really. Well, in fact, it is pathetic. Technically it worked, but it’s bloody embarrassing. We actually came up with those lines between us. I mean, what were we on?"

I’ll tell you what you were on: divine inspiration.