Misinterpreting David Bowie

“It’s big and it’s bland – full of tension and fear” sings David Bowie on his 1980 hit Fashion. I couldn’t believe my ears when the song was played at the 2012 London Olympics ceremony to accompany a section entitled “beautiful people” supposedly celebrating the British fashion industry! The song Fashion is no mere toast to tote bags but a full on attack on fashion. It’s a piss-take of fashion’s dictatorial creativity and its suffocating exclusivity.

“Fashion! Turn to the left! Fashion! Turn to the right!” went Bowie’s acerbic and catchy chorus while British supermodel Stella Tennant, the granddaughter of the Duchess of Devon, marched down a stadium runway in front of millions of viewers in a dazzling Christopher Kane suit. All I could think of was Hugo Boss designing Nazi ones, so rigid and harrowing the toneful screech of Bowie’s magnificent voice.

Then we had that medal ceremony at the end of the London Olympics where they played Bowie’s 1977 hit Heroes. Once again, a major misinterpretation of a song! Heroes isn’t about heroes, it’s about drowning in massive chunks of irreversible doom. Heroes tells the story of an ill-fated couple who cannot be together. Mixed and produced by Tony Visconti we hear Bowie’s voice fighting against the synthesisers, the louder he sings the more he gets pillowed until eventually his voice is defeated altogether by a final wave of feedback. 

Heroes isn’t a gold medal march, it’s more of a last tango before the truck to Auschwitz arrives. But let’s not bother listening to the song properly. It has the word Heroes in it! Yay! So there we have it - our Olympic heroes walking around in a big circle, grinning, cheering and waving glow sticks at the cameras. “WE CAN BE HEROES!!!

…just for one day

I’m sure it wasn’t the ceremony organisers’ intentions, but I found the choice of Heroes quite fitting actually, because the hero status of an Olympian is always fleeting. Time passes, their times are beaten and that glory is quite quickly forgotten.

1) Who won the Womens 100m in 1984?

2) Who had a song out that year called Material Girl?

Answers on the back of a Wenlock and Mandeville postcard please. The answers by the way are 1) Evelyn Ashford. 2) Madonna.

Good pop songs travel much further than sporting achievements. I’m tempted to make this paragraph longer to employ puns on the words records and tracks, but let’s not forget our subject…

So David Bowie has this new song out, Where Are We Now? Produced by Tony Visconti once again, we can be sure that every note, syllable and studio knob of it carries some kind of meaning. It can’t just be a simple poem to a former lover.

The obvious first interpretation of Where Are We Now? is that it’s a song of soulful questioning. Bowie is criticising the dystopia that we live in. What have we let the world become? Isn’t everything horrible etc.
Once again Germany features in both the lyrics and the video, archive footage pans through the streets while Bowie sings about “walking the dead”.

Is it a comparison between present day London and Nazi Germany? As we walk our gold medallists around the stadium singing Heroes in a ceremony that Bowie himself refused to sing at, perhaps his thoughts are with the ghosts of the 1936 Olympics? Are we, London, blinded and imprisoned by propaganda?

The video is interesting. Bowie and an anonymous woman have their faces superimposed onto a glum looking teddy bear that appears to be somehow mutant or Siamese. They sit slumped in a room full of antiques, junk, heirlooms, objets d’art, clutter. Among them a neoclassical busk, a giant fake diamond and the ear of a colossal statue. Like Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, is Bowie’s new song a comment on mortality and the transitory nature of power? Wealth can’t be taken to the grave etc. etc

I’m not sure. But Bowie’s no fool. The man is “a genius” as numerous fans will tell you in the comments carriage on YouTube. Perhaps like Fashion and Heroes, Bowie has created another song designed for misinterpretation.

Bowie knows that the press and society are bound to misinterpret him, so he may as well have a bit of fun with it. Mega fans will be writing theses on what the teddy bear represents. YouTube parodies are being filmed in bedrooms while you read this.

Where are we now?

Aged 66 and worth over £100m, David Bowie knows exactly where we are now. Treading water in the deep end of a terrible recession, an entire generation pushed down, underdeveloped and lost. Bowie’s seen the state of the world and he’s written an anthem to go with it.

It's a good song, and it's great that Bowie's still writing. I can't see Where Are We Now surpassing Let's Dance, Boys Keep Swinging and Modern Love though on my David Bowie iTunes play count.

Personally I’d rather watch Sky Ferreira. Born in 1992, half raised by Michael Jackson, totally sexy and making brilliant minimal pop records that capture quite accurately where we are now:

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