Regular readers know that I am a huge David Bowie fan, in fact, fellow Bowie fans will know that the blog title is taken from a 70s Bowie lyric. Mr. Bowie is easily my most listened to artist regardless of my mood. His music has helped me through so many periods of my life from extreme sadness to extreme happiness and everything in between. My “go-to” Bowie album in recent years has been ‘Heathen’ from 2002. When I first heard it in June 2002 I really believed that many of the songs were in response to the awful events of 9/11 around nine months before it was released. Bowie himself said categorically that this was not the case and I have a number of bootleg studio recordings that show quite a few of the songs on ‘Heathen‘ were initially tried out during the earlier ‘Toy’ sessions. This all proves that it almost certainly wasn’t written and recorded in response to 9/11.
I am writing this small piece based on how what is happening in Ukraine right now is permeating so many of my thoughts and no doubt many of yours too. When I was feeling particularly low last week I put together a playlist of songs that spoke of word war 3, armageddon, or the apocalypse. Then I had a word with myself and said don’t be so fucking depressive about it. Music can make us feel better in so many cases. So I started listening to ‘Heathen’ again. In particular: “Sunday”, “Slip Away”, “5:15 The Angels Have Gone” and “Everyone Says ‘Hi'”. Both lyrically and for the mood of the music, these are the tracks that made me originally think the album was a response to 9/11. There are obvious New York references on “Slip Away” (“Drags his bones to see the Yankees play” and “Sailing over Coney Island“) and there is a positivity about coming to terms with loss in “Everyone Says ‘Hi'”. But the song that I have played most is “Sunday”, which opens the album, it has a sad and sombre feel to it and I believe the lyrics can be seen as very positive or very negative, maybe that would depend on your mood. There is also a feeling that this song might be written in terms of a human, or even an animal, coming to terms with a post-apocalyptic world. It also has some apparent religious references which do crop up from time to time in Bowie’s songs.
“Everything has changed
For in truth, it’s the beginning of nothing
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed
For in truth, it’s the beginning of an end
And nothing has changed
And everything has changed”
The above, for me, can be heard as a positive and a negative. While the next part which closes the tune has some very dark and perhaps overtly religious connotations. Although equally, you might see it as a Pheonix rising from the ashes. I am spiritual but I follow no religion at all and I doubt that I ever will.
“In your fear
Of what we have become
Take to the fire
Now we must burn
All that we are
Through these clouds
As on wings”
Meanwhile, the following couplet carries a real sense of hope and purpose, and I wanted to draw this to a close in a positive way:
“In your fear, seek only peace
In your fear, seek only love”
I am very much a positive person in the main and my glass is always at least half full. ‘Heathen’ is really helping me become even more hopeful in spite of the shit show our world has become. What music gets you through really bad points in life? Also I would love to hear from you if you have a completely different interpretation of this song. If you want to read a really in-depth take on ‘Sunday’ click here and check out Chris O’Leary’s rather excellent ‘Pushing Ahead Of The Dame’ blog.
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