Monday, September 29, 2008

Heroism in Music:"Heroes," quote-unquote...

Ah, David Jones, aka David Bowie aka Ziggy Stardust, aka, the Thin White Duke...he's had more costumed makeovers than some comic book characters, so it's only fitting that we take a in-depth look at his song, "Heroes," from the album..."Heroes."

 A little bit of background, first: The "quotes;" they are added to add a sense of irony to the triumphant feel of the song. Supposedly the song is based on another song, titled "Hero," by a band called Neu. This is important to know, because when you read the lyrics to that song, the irony becomes clear. Consider these lines:

"And you're just another hero riding through the night, 
Riding through the city, trying to lose your mind, oh yeah. 
Honey went to Norway, fuck the press, 
Fuck your business, fuck the press. 
Fuck the bourgoisie, fuck the bourgoisie. 
Your only trial is money. 

"You wanna live, you wanna die, 
You wanna love, you wanna fly, 
You wanna love, wanna fly, 
And you're just another hero and you fuck another hero. 
And you're just another hero. 
Just another hero, fuck another hero, 
And you're just another hero."

I don't know exactly "how" this song moved Bowie. But while that song's lyrics tell of a lover leaving for Norway while the only friend is "misusing," Bowie's characters are set against the Berlin Wall. And the song's music IS uplifting as the final verses build to a powerful end as the lovers stand together as the guns "shot above their heads." If you don't listen closely to all the lyrics, you'd be forgiven for taking this song at face value. But those quote marks, oh those quote marks...they are there for a reason:

"We can be Heroes
Just for one day
We can be Heroes
We're nothing
And nothing will help us
Maybe we're lying
Then you better not stay
But we could be safer
Just for one day"

 So the chameleon that is Bowie cannot commit to heroism without irony. Maybe he's lying...the shame is that I personally find the music so good. Can't take anything for granted, I suppose. 

 I should give Bowie the chance to defend/explain himself. He is said to have explained the song this way:

`The situation that sparked off the whole thing was - I thought - highly ironic. There's a wall by the studio, the album being recorded at Hansa By The Wall in West Berlin - abort there. Its about twenty or thirty metres away from the studio, and the control room looks out onto it. There's a gun-turret on top of the wall where the guards sit and every day a boy and girl would meet there and carry on. They were obviously having an affair. And I thought, of al L the places in Berlin to meet, why pick a bench underneath a guard turret on the wall? They'd come from different directions and always meet there..oh they were both from the West, but they would always meet right there. And I - using licence - presumed that they were feeling somewhat guilty about this affair and so they'd imposed this restriction upon themselves, thereby giving themselves an excuse for their heroic act.' 

 It could be said that Bowie is offering an "everyman" view of heroism, that we can all find moments to be "heroes." What does come through, however, is the sense of the "Byronic" tragic Romanticism, the idea that values are worth fighting for, though we are doomed never to achieve them in this life. 

But still, as with the Stranger in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, ("sometimes there’s a man who, wal, he’s the man for his time and place, he fits right in there..."), we are reminded that "we can be heroes...if just for one day...". It's a shame that this message has to be undercut with the cynicism and tragedy of Bowie's "Berlin" period...I'm willing to blame it on the drugs...but more likely, Bowie absorbed, along with the blow, some of that ol' German nihilism behind the quote, once again, the Coen Brothers, "We believe in NOTHING, Lebowski!"


Ted Keer said...

I think Heroes is one of the best songs Bowie ever did, and it has, on occasion, brought me to tears. For that reason I've never cared to analyze him too much, not wanting to shatter any illusions.

Joe Maurone said...

"And did she make you cry/
make you break down/
shatter your illusions of love?/
And tell me is it over know/
do you know how/
to pick up the pieces and go home?"

Ted Keer said...

Nice. Gold Dust Woman. Nice.

"True love's made by lovers/
You better put your kingdom up for sale"