Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 271
Thurs. Dec 26, 2013

David Bowie


“♫ Yes
we’re lovers/
and that is

One of the most misunderstood songs in David Bowie’s eclectic song canon has to be 1977’s “Heroes.” While working on the title track to “Heroes” at now historic Hansa Studios in Berlin, producer Tony Visconti left David Bowie alone to come up with the lyrics, as Visconti told Sound on Sound, “He gets very, very tense, because he’s now got to commit. So, I could feel it in the air.” The cold winter air was where Tony went to meet his secret paramour, by the Berlin Wall, that Bowie witnessed, the scene of to illicit lovers that spawned the classic storyline to one of the most passionate songs David had ever written.

Visconti talked to author David Buckley in his book Strange Fascination about the background to Bowie’s historic lyric and verse when Tony explained, “David and I sang the backing vocals, embellishing and answering certain lines. You can hear my lovely Brooklyn accent on lines like “I remember” and “By the wall.” It had been erroneously written that Brian Eno and David sang back-ups on “Heroes”, but the album credits clearly state that they were sung by David, myself and sometimes Antonia Maass, a singer we met in a club in Berlin. Yes, Antonia and I were interested in each other, and we left David alone that afternoon, so he could have some quiet time to write lyrics to the title track. We stopped by the wall and kissed. David saw us from the control-room window and that inspired a verse for the song.

Bowie explained the impetus for the lyrics to “Heroes” when he told NME in 1977, “The situation that sparked off the whole thing was – I thought – highly ironic. There’s a wall by the studio – the album having been recorded at Hansa by the Wall in West Berlin – about there. It’s about twenty or thirty meters away from the studio and the control room looks out onto it. There’s a turret on top of the wall where the guards sit and during the course of lunch break every day, a boy and girl would meet out there and carry on. They were obviously having an affair. And I thought of all the places to meet in Berlin, why pick a bench underneath a guard turret on the wall? And I – using license – presumed that they were feeling somewhat guilty about this affair and so they had imposed this restriction on themselves, thereby giving themselves an excuse for their heroic act. I used this as a basis… therefore it is ironic.”

Ironic is the perfect word because Bowie’s song is not one for two soul-mates but for two hopeless lovers as author Thomas Jerome Seabrook explored in his book Bowie in Berlin a New Career in a New Town when he wrote, ““Heroes” is still widely mistaken to be an anthem to fist-pumping optimism, when in fact Bowie is singing about the self-delusion of clinging to a relationship that might last, at best, “just for one [more] day”.

I can remember an old flame that longed this Bowie to be one of ‘our’ theme songs; looking back now, “Heroes” was a lyrical reflection that doomed our affair between two starry eyed lovers lost in a moment we could only cling to nakedly. But she wasn’t the only one, many music lovers have misunderstood a more hopeful message inside Bowie’s classic song. It’s no wonder co-writer Brian Eno once described “Heroes” as, “It’s a beautiful song. But incredibly melancholy at the same time. We can be heroes, but actually we know that something’s missing, something’s lost.”

One thing I will agree with Bowie, as he told Allan Jones from Melody Maker, to me, “Heroes” will remain a soundtrack to a Boxing Day snap-shot moment captured, “the very simple pleasure of being alive,” inside this classic song between two star crossed lovers that will continue flickering on, misunderstood, eternally.