Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Heroes" (1977)

David Bowie/Brian Eno

All Music Guide:

Not even ending up as a Microsoft commercial theme could quench the sheer power and beauty of "Heroes," arguably David Bowie's finest individual song throughout his varied, fascinating career. The story of its inspiration got a bit muddled over time -- it might have been two employees at the recording studio near the Berlin Wall who Bowie saw in an embrace, or simply two random strangers in the shadow of that Cold War symbol. But inspired by that and with the collaborative help of Brian Eno and, with a jaw-dropping set of solos, guitarist Robert Fripp, Bowie, his backing band and producer Tony Visconti created a true classic. Clearly drawing from the various German influences he had absorbed while still relying on the dramatic power of rock and roll, the song becomes an anthem, Fripp's exquisite work at once celebratory and an electric requiem. That feeling of valediction is reflected in Bowie's lyric about individual connection and response in the face of a crushing, anonymous outside world -- but it wouldn't be half so grand without Bowie's simply breathtaking vocal. Starting with an almost conversational tone, by the end of the song he's turning in a performance that could almost be called operatic, yet still achingly, passionately human.
A Sonata for a Good Man and Woman. When I go to Berlin this summer, I aim to visit the Stasi detention center shown in The Lives of Others as well as the Hansa Ton Studio where Bowie recorded his Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti and where U2 recorded parts of Achtung Baby with Eno and Daniel Lanois. Bowie was rooming with Iggy Pop and trying to overcome a cocaine addiction in Berlin; U2 nearly broke up because of artistic differences before writing One together. Fascinating (though, of course, not intended to trivialize the savage political history of the place and time).

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