We Can Be Heroes, David Bowie

It’s grey outside. It’s been this way for most of this year.

And while I love the grey,
on this particular day,
David Bowie went on his way.
The grey does not seem so great today,
if only David Bowie would stay.

And so I cranked up Bowie’s best, to have a listen and perhaps have a smile, to give one last ode to a rock gentleman that I’ve listened to for most of my life. Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane – you have all gone to a better place.

So here then is a list of my favourite David Bowie tunes, with YouTube links. Spotify has been on overdrive today.

#1 Heroes. My favourite Bowie tune bar none, with its gut-wrenching emotion of two people in love, so determined to be together that they meet every day under a gun turret on The Berlin Wall. Bob Dylan’s son Jakob, lead singer for the Wallflowers, sang a version of the iconic track. Interestingly, I randomly read the other day that Brian Eno had the very word heroes in mind when he composed the music, well before Bowie ever wrote the lyrics.

“I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day”

Bowie performed the song in Berlin against the wall in 1987 and said in his Performing Songwriter interview:

“I’ll never forget that. It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done. I was in tears. They’d backed up the stage to the wall itself so that the wall was acting as our backdrop. We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realize in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did ‘Heroes’ it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer. However well we do it these days, it’s almost like walking through it compared to that night, because it meant so much more. That’s the town where it was written, and that’s the particular situation that it was written about. It was just extraordinary. We did it in Berlin last year as well – ‘Heroes’ – and there’s no other city I can do that song in now that comes close to how it’s received. This time, what was so fantastic is that the audience – it was the Max Schmeling Hall, which holds about 10-15,000 – half the audience had been in East Berlin that time way before. So now I was face-to-face with the people I had been singing it to all those years ago. And we were all singing it together. Again, it was powerful. Things like that really give you a sense of what performance can do. They happen so rarely at that kind of magnitude. Most nights I find very enjoyable. These days, I really enjoy performing. But something like that doesn’t come along very often, and when it does, you kind of think, ‘Well, if I never do anything again, it won’t matter.'”

#2 Space Oddity. The song that introduced me to Bowie. Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, this song had everything. This last lines have so much raw emotion tied to it. I cannot imagine anything being more lonely than getting stranded in space.

“Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much she knows
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you “Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.”

#3 Under Pressure. The iconic collaboration with Freddie Mercury, Brian May and the rest of Queen. I listened to this track the other day, with everything but the vocals stripped highlighting Mercury and Bowie’s voices, both of which is nothing short of brilliant.

“‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
Under pressure

#4 Changes. One of the three best stutters in rock history (along with The Who’s “My G-G-Generation” and Elton John’s “B-B-Bennie and The Jets”), this song boasts some of rock’s most last lyrics as well.

“I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
And every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test”

#5 Ziggy Stardust. His coolest persona by far was Ziggy Stardust, the seminal frontman for the Spiders from Mars; but Ziggy became so cool that his band started to resent him. It unfortunately almost drove him mad, and so after a year, he gave up the persona.

“Ziggy played for time
Jiving us that we were voodoo
The kids were just crass
He was the nazz
With God-given ass
He took it all too far
But, boy, could he play guitar”

#6 Modern Love. My favourite of Bowie’s 80s tunes, this one had one of my favourite guitarists lending his chops to the tune, Stevie Ray Vaughn, as well as the structure of the song itself an ode to Little Richard.

#7 Man Who Sold the World. This song is special to me for so many reasons, but the one that always pops into my head is the moment in February 1995, when my roommate and friend DaveRisner and I were driving down I-55 from Chicago to St. Louis (and eventually New Orleans for Mardis Gras), in the middle of a raging blizzard, my car spun out of control, as Kurt Cobain was singing these words, right before we crashed. Yes, it really happened.

“Who knows?
Not me
I never lost control
You’re face, to face
With the man who sold the world”

Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Why Top 7 and not Top 10? Cos I’m busy.

“Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma’am!” (Suffragette City)

David Bowie

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