Monday, January 11, 2016

Song of the Day #253 - David Bowie - "Heroes"

We can be heroes, just for one day...

Song of the Day is on vacation while I finish year-end posts, but I had to come back for this. Yeah, there's been the return of G.O.O.D Fridays, and ~4 hours of new Lil B, but this is on another tier. I don't talk about classic rock much on this blog, and when I do it's often with the dismissive-seeming term "dad rock", but I hope the reverence I have for legends like Bowie goes without saying. His run of 15 indisputably solid albums, spanning three decades, is unmatched. Even his later work, coming forty years after his debut, still pushed boundaries and excited fans. And the core of his discography? Space OddityHunky Dory, Ziggy StardustAladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Station to Station, Low, "Heroes"... To many, these album titles alone are painfully evocative today. If not, I truly envy you, because there are hours and hours of a new world still available to you.

Not that I'm a huge Bowie expert by any stretch. I typically return to the hits, the ones you hear on the radio and in soundtracks and stuff, the ones that cemented your mind's working reputation of him. This is my favorite, off of my favorite of his albums, with my favorite of his album covers. "Heroes" is like a complete cross-section of Bowie's mentality and artistic sensibility at the time... by the end, we've explored pure Eno-fueled soundscapes, but we open with some of the best Bowie bangers, including this legendary title track.

The story goes that Bowie was inspired by seeing lovers sitting underneath the Berlin wall. I think the quotation marks around "Heroes" are key to this story... it isn't actually about the moment of victory, but the fantasy of it, just a dreamy conversation. It's what makes the "just for one day" so powerful... it's just the image of the single day, never presuming any sort of lifestyle, or future, or anything as grand as that. This is a very powerful line of thinking. It reminds me of the climactic speech in Kurosawa: Legend of a Strongest Man... the recognition that, although maybe ultimately futile, or just fantasy, there is value in a single critical hit. If you can see the value in a single day of victory, you can seize the greatness available in your whole life.

This isn't conveyed just lyrically, though... the sonic message hits you just as hard. Influenced by Eno's tonal qualities and the fractal folding of krautrock, and putting it in the hand of King Crimson's Robert Fripp, they manage to get this guitar sound that's just... unlike anything else. It was the template for All I Want, probably my favorite LCD Soundsystem song, and even after a 33 year gap it still sounds explosive and fresh. They recorded the vocals by having each verse be recorded on a mic that was further and further from Bowie, forcing him to sing louder and louder to maintain the same dynamic. In combination with the swirling but static soundscape, it produces a feeling of escalation that moves through a dimension not of time, or loudness, but some sort of "distance". It's what makes the song so addictive, I think... before any sort of completeness, before that one day, it's already moving away, and then it's behind you, and then it's gone. But it was there. You heard it. For six glorious minutes that pass in a flash, it was there. That victory. That power.

So yeah. We lost a great one. But you gotta remember, it happens to everyone. He gave us 69 wholly uncompromised years of artistic achievement. Even as he fought cancer, he recorded his farewell album. He lived long enough to see audiences and critics unite in praise. Going out, knowing that your artistic legacy, your life's work, would live on in the minds and hearts of millions for decades to come... I really don't think anyone could ask for anything better. Everyone's time is limited. All that we can ask is to be heroes.

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